WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Tina Smith (D-MN) are leading bipartisan legislation to examine the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) resources in underserved areas and study the need to expand Vet Centers, the community-based counseling branch of the VA.

The senators introduced the Vet Center Support Act, legislation that directs the VA to assess its ability to furnish the full spectrum of mental health and counseling services, to identify barriers to building new Vet Centers in underserved areas and analyze staffing shortages. Additionally, the legislation assesses the effectiveness of Vet Centers in reaching veterans and directs the VA to identify gaps in outreach resources by examining states with a ratio of only one Vet Center per 100,000 veterans such as in Arkansas and Minnesota.

Arkansas’s two Vet Centers are responsible for serving a veteran population of more than 200,000. The Vet Center Support Act would correct these inequities and identify solutions to help improve the delivery of mental health care and counseling services to our veterans, servicemembers and their families who are most in need.

“Vet Centers have proven to be a critical component in providing mental health services to our veterans. Arkansas veterans should have reasonable access to these services and I’m concerned the two Centers in our state are overwhelmed with the number of veterans they support. The Vet Center Support Act will review and ensure the Vet Centers have the resources to deliver care and benefits so we can continue our commitment to those who serve in our nation’s uniform,” said Boozman, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

“We know that so many Americans, including many veterans, often struggle with mental health issues,” said Smith. “Our Vet Center Support Act will ensure veterans, servicemembers, and their families can get the vital mental healthcare and counseling services they need.”

The legislation is supported by the National Association of County Veterans Service Officers (NACVSO) and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).

“Vet Centers are a vital resource for service members, veterans and their families. For 42 years, they have been offering an array of services, including individual and family counseling, benefits explanation, substance abuse assessment and referral, and many others. These centers operate without a proper staffing model to provide service for an increasingly eligible group of service members, veterans and their families. The VFW strongly supports the Vet Center Support Act, which would require VA to assess the mental health care services provided by Vet Centers. Understanding who uses these facilities and why helps coordinate adequate staffing, resources, and funding to continue or create beneficial programs and services for those who are eligible,” said Tammy Barlet, VFW Deputy Legislative Director.

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