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Ahead of Memorial Day, Phillips Introduces Legislation to Improve Veterans' Access to Lifesaving Mental Health Care

Today, Rep. Dean Phillips (MN-03) announced the introduction of the Vet Center Support Act, H.R. 3674, a bill that would identify barriers to constructing new Vet Centers and increasing staff capacity to assess how well veterans’ mental health needs are being met in underserved areas. Minnesota only has three Vet Centers statewide – one Center for every 100,000 veterans – one of the worst ratios in the country.

Vet Centers are community-based health providers that offer mental health services and readjustment counseling to veterans, active duty, National Guard members, Reservists, and their families. Yet, despite their proven track record of suicide prevention and excellent care, as well as the growing demand for their services, the state of Minnesota has not gained a new Vet Center in over a decade. After hearing from veterans, service organizations, state officials, and the Congressman’s own Veterans Advisory Council, Rep. Phillips wrote the Vet Center Support Act to address shortages in veterans’ mental health care across the country.

“The tragic rate of suicide in our veteran communities is a crisis,” said Rep. Phillips. “We must do more to support those who have sacrificed for our nation, and that means ensuring that every veteran, servicemember, and their family has access to the mental health care and readjustment services they need. The Vet Center Support Act would help ensure we bring these vital services to the veterans in our community who need them and inspire the change necessary to save lives and fulfil our promise to honor America’s heroic servicemembers.

Experts estimate that 17 veterans take their lives each day, and most who do so are not actively receiving care from a Vet Center or other VA provider. Timely access to assessment, intervention, and effective care – most often through Vet Centers – is a key component of the VA’s National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide.

 Larry Herke, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs

“Vet Centers provide an important community-based option to Veterans and their families seeking mental health services. As we continue to combat challenges – especially after a year of the COVID-19 pandemic – such as preventing Veteran suicide, ending Veteran homelessness, and supporting Veterans with PTSD and TBIs, the Vet Centers’ unique resources are sorely needed. Minnesota especially needs additional Vet Centers in Greater Minnesota to provide expanded access and geographic reach to support Veterans who are dealing with the tragedy of war, sexual assault, grief and transition back into society. The Vet Centers will also augment our critical work with the “Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families.”

Tiffany Kovaleski, Minnesota State Coordinator, Building Healthy Military Communities (BHMC)

"Mental health and wellbeing are crucial to our military and their families' ability to maintain readiness and resilience.  More than half of those currently serving in MN hold Veteran status.  Building Healthy Military Communities (BHMC) relies heavily on our incredible key partners at the Vet Centers to provide support to these Veterans.  The Vet Centers in Minnesota are working hard to serve these veterans, but beyond their full capacity.  Gaining additional Vet Centers would enhance comprehensive mental health services to those who need it statewide, especially in areas where resources are more limited."

Dan Tengwall, Veterans Service Officer, Carver County
“Vet Centers have the mission of conducting outreach to communities, but unfortunately that work isn’t currently being done in various areas in Minnesota because our Vet Centers are overworked and understaffed. This needs to change and the Vet Center Support Act will help identify the gaps in mental health care. As a veteran’s advocate, I fully support this bill as a means to help the VA do it’s important work with veterans experiencing readjustment issues.”

View full text of the Vet Center Support Act here.