Suicide prevention, safeguarding veterans benefits among Legion’s 2024 legislative agenda

Ahead of The American Legion’s Washington Conference, taking place Feb. 25-28, the Legion has released its legislative agenda for the second session of the 118th Congress.

The trifold highlights just some of the areas of focus of The American Legion, which will strongly advocate for additional legislation to improve the lives of veterans, servicemembers and their families. Among the areas of focus listed on the agenda:

Suicide prevention and mental health. Suicide remains a top issue in the veteran community. The suicide rate among veterans is nearly double that of civilian counterparts. It is imperative that we simultaneously destigmatize mental health assistance, while increasing access. The American Legion encourages Congress to robustly fund VA’s suicide prevention outreach budget and peer support programs. We encourage all Americans to “Be the One” who is willing, ready and able to have a difficult conversation about suicide and other mental health issues. Legislation supported by The American Legion include PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Program (H.R. 2768) and VA Zero Suicide Demonstration Act (H.R. 1639).

Alternative treatments. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows that in 2021, approximately 2.8 million veterans experienced an illicit drug or alcohol use disorder, with 92.4 percent not receiving treatment. More must be done to ensure veterans have access to the effective treatments they desire. This includes expanding research and access into alternative treatments and emerging therapies. Legislation supported by The American Legion includes TBI and PTSD Treatment Act (H.R. 105).

VA healthcare modernization. The biggest issue in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthcare Modernization is the implementation of the new electronic health record modernization program (EHRM). VA has experienced difficulties as the EHRM rollout has progressed. Some issues identified were the differences in the training software compared to end-user software, along with inexperienced instructors providing the training to VA staff. VA made improvements on these identified issues. As the EHRM rollout is set to resume in 2024, The American Legion continues to call on Congress to provide oversight and to hold VA and other relevant parties accountable for the implementation and functioning of the EHR system. Legislation supported by The American Legion includes The Department of Veterans Affairs Electronic Health Record Modernization Improvement Act (H.R. 592).

PACT Act implementation and oversight. Since the implementation of Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, VA has screened more than 5 million veterans for toxic exposure. The average time to complete a PACT Act-related claim is 157 days. It is imperative that VA fully leverage the resources made available in the PACT Act to assist in the continued modernization of Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) information technology systems as well as the hiring of additional employees to ensure claims are adjudicated in a timely manner. The American Legion urges Congress to provide the necessary oversight and funding to ensure VA has the resources to properly implement this legislation.

Safeguard veterans benefits. Veterans are facing a growing threat from exploitative entities aiming to capitalize on the benefits rightfully earned through military service. These predatory actors range from claims companies charging exorbitant fees to lawyers seeking sizable portions of VA disability benefit payments. The American Legion urges Congress to pass legislation to restore criminal penalties for persons or companies that represent or charge veterans fees to file; prepare or prosecute initial VA claims without VA accreditation; and to oppose any legislation that would allow unaccredited parties to become legal representatives without completing the accreditation process. The American Legion’s advocacy role remains focused on safeguarding the well-deserved benefits of those who have served. Legislation supported by The American Legion includes Veterans Benefits Improvement Act (H.R. 1530).

Other legislative areas of focus include concurrent receipt, the GI Bill, military quality of life and more.

Download the complete legislative agenda here. For more details on the Washington Conference, click here.