May 19, 2016
WASHINGTON, D.C. –Legislation to promote better access to needed mental health resources for veterans in rural areas was unanimously approved by the Senate and will be included in a spending bill the U.S. Senate is currently considering and is expected to pass. The legislation was introduced by U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and cosponsored by Senator Angus King (I-ME).
“We can all agree that we can never fully repay the debts that we owe our veterans, but we must provide each of them with the health care that they have earned,” said Senator Collins. “Our commitment to veterans should remain firm whether they reside in urban, suburban, or rural communities. Our legislation will ensure that veterans without easy access to mental health services can receive care at VA facilities that can help meet their needs.”
“No matter where our veterans live, they deserve access to quality health care and support services,” said Senator King. “Mental health services are an absolutely critical part of the support we owe the men and women who have served this country. This important legislation will improve access to those services for rural veterans in Maine and across the country.”
To help address many of the challenges veterans in rural areas confront transitioning to civilian life, this legislation expands readjustment and mental health counseling services for veterans in rural areas – particularly for those returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The legislation also requires the VA to report within a year on its plan to increase capacity to provide rural veterans with these critical resources.
Specifically, the legislation would require better coordination between the Readjustment Counseling Service and the Office of Rural Health within the VA to make sure veterans in rural areas can access the support they need, which is often difficult to find in small towns or remote regions. It was incorporated into the fiscal year 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs funding bill.
Vet Centers help veterans readjust to civilian life by providing free counseling, screening, and referral services, while removing the stigma of seeking mental health care. The VA has five Vet Centers in Maine – in Bangor, Caribou, Lewiston, Portland, and Springvale.