House Veterans' Affairs Committee Approves Bill to Expand Services for Veterans with Mental Illness
On October 10, the House Veterans' Affairs Committee approved a bill that would expand and enhance services in the Department of Veterans Affairs for veterans with severe mental illness. HR 2716, the "Homeless Veterans Assistance Act of 2001", sponsored by House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ), includes provisions that would increase services and enhance coordination in an effort to end chronic homelessness within 10 years. NAMI strongly supported provisions in HR 2716 that were included in the Heather French Henry Homeless Veterans Assistance Act that was introduced by Representative Lane Evans (D-IL), ranking member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.
Severe mental illness and co-occurring substance abuse problems contribute significantly to homelessness among veterans. Studies have shown that nearly one-third (approximately 250,000) of homeless individuals have served in our country's armed services. Moreover, approximately 43% of homeless veterans have a diagnosis of severe and persistent mental illness, and 69% have a substance abuse disorder. NAMI strongly supported provisions in this legislation that would mandate evaluation and reporting of mental illness programs in the VA and that veterans receiving care and treatment for severe mental illness be designated as "complex care" within the Veterans Equitable Resource Allocation system.
In addition, the House Veterans' Affairs Committee also approved HR 2792, the Disabled Veterans Service Dog and Health Care Improvement Act of 2001 by the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. HR 2792, introduced by Rep. Jerry Moran (R-KS) included measures to ensure that the VA maintains capacity for designated special populations, including veterans with mental illness.
Both bills HR 2716 and HR 2792 were approved by voice vote and are expected to be taken up by the full House next week. (The Heather French Henry Homeless Veterans Assistance Act has also been introduced in the Senate (S 739) by Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN)). NAMI members are encouraged to contact their Representatives in the House in support of both these bills. NAMI greatly appreciates the work of Chairman Chris Smith and his colleagues on the Veterans' Affairs committee for their efforts on behalf of our nation's veterans with severe mental illness.
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