Buddy Check Week included in omnibus mental health bill
Legion members gather on the Wildwood, NJ boardwalk for the 2nd annual Buddy Check 1K Walk, to create awareness for The American Legion Buddy Check program, during the Department of New Jersey Convention. Photo by Denise L. Henhoeffer

Buddy Check Week included in omnibus mental health bill

Reducing the rate of veteran suicide is at the top of The American Legion mission. Now, The American Legion is turning its attention to encouraging new comprehensive legislation that aims to improve mental health care for veterans.

H.R. 6411 — the Support the Resiliency of Our Nation’s Great (STRONG) Veterans Act of 2022 — is a comprehensive mental health package that addresses mental health care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). It calls for VA to:

• Update training for its workforce and Veterans Crisis Line staff.

• Implement pilot programs to examine Veterans Crisis Line facilitation to increase use among high-risk veterans

• Expand access to mental health care.

• Conduct studies and research on best practices.

• Provide outreach to veterans regarding mental health resources.

During The American Legion’s recent national convention, National Legislative Division staff briefed attendees at the Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission meeting on the STRONG Veterans Act. Many provisions in the STRONG Veterans Act are efforts supported by The American Legion in stand-alone bills that have now been incorporated into this mental health omnibus legislation.

Notably, it includes a provision designating a national Buddy Check Week. The American Legion launched its Buddy Check program several years ago as a way to encourage Legionnaires to conduct veteran outreach. The idea is to reconnect with veterans who may need assistance but don't know where to go or who to ask.

The American Legion worked with Congress to draft the original bill that would establish a Buddy Check Week, as well as provide educational opportunities, materials, and references for veterans to learn how to conduct personal wellness checks and require expanded resources for the Veterans Crisis Line to handle any potential increased usage during the designated week.

“Far too many servicemembers return home suffering from the invisible wounds of war,” Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman, Jon Tester, D-Mont. said in a statement. “It’s on us to make sure the Department of Veterans Affairs has the tools it needs to connect those who served with their earned support.”

Other provisions in the omnibus bill include increasing the number of full-time equivalent employees at Vet Centers and paid mental health trainees in the VA's workforce, expanding eligibility for Vet Centers and reviewing and updating the training for Veterans Crisis Line responders and social service assistants.