WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) today introduced bipartisan legislation to expand veterans’ access to peer counseling specialists to better combat the risks of suicide and treat associated mental health conditions.
“Our nation has a responsibility to ensure our veterans have access to quality behavioral and mental health treatment,” said Blunt. “Given their shared experiences, peer specialists are uniquely positioned to provide veterans the support they need in their care and recovery. I urge my colleagues to support this bill, and help connect more veterans with peer counselors who can make a difference in their lives.”
“The Veteran PEER Act would establish peer specialists in patient-aligned care teams within VA medical centers to undertake veteran outreach,” said Blumenthal. “The peer to peer relationship among veterans is an effective way to enable more access.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) currently employs peer specialists to assist veterans in treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders. Peer specialists support fellow veterans and encourage recovery by helping veterans access health services, navigate the VA health care system, and teaching coping and positive health-affirming behavior. The VA was instructed by a 2012 Executive Order to hire and train 800 peer counselors by December 31, 2013, to treat the estimated 1.5 million veterans requiring mental health services.
The Veteran Partners’ Efforts to Enhance Reintegration Act (Veteran PEER Act) would expand veterans’ access to peer specialist services by specifically targeting shortcomings in the current program, including peer specialists’ restricted participation in primary care services; persistent stigma attached to seeking treatment for mental health disorders; and under-promoted proven successes of the peer specialist program in veteran reintegration.
The Veteran PEER Act would:
· Authorize the VA to establish peer specialists in Patient Aligned Care Teams within VA medical centers to promote the use and integration of mental health and substance use treatment services in the primary care setting.
· Implement the program in 50 locations across the nation over two years, with required consideration of rural and underserved areas when selecting program locations.
· Require regular reports to Congress with information on the benefits to veterans and their families derived from use of peer specialists.