WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the last month, Rep. Greg Stanton has taken action on a number of bipartisan initiatives to deliver results for veterans on suicide prevention, transition assistance and homelessness. On May 21, the House unanimously passed nine bills to support veterans—those measures will now move to the Senate.

“For many veterans, the battles don’t end when they return home,” Stanton said. “Too many veterans face barriers when trying to access social services, quality jobs or affordable housing, and many suffer from mental health issues that put them at a higher risk for suicide. The brave women and men who served in our armed forces deserve to be protected, not just with equipment and training, but also with access to the benefits and healthcare they earned.”

Taking Action to Prevent Veteran Suicides

Five of the bills passed in May focus on the national crisis of veteran suicide and several others request more information from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on mental health and suicide prevention efforts. The VA estimates that roughly 20 veterans take their own lives every day—and 14 of those 20 have not received health care or services from the VA.

According to the Arizona Republic, Arizona had the sixth-highest rate of veteran suicide in 2016, attributed to both the states large and aging veteran population as well as the lack of resources in more rural areas of the state. [Source] Arizona is home to more than 500,000 veterans.

The Veterans’ Care Quality Transparency Act, H.R. 2372, would ensure both the VA and outside providers offer veterans high-quality mental health and suicide prevention services. Specifically, the bill would direct the Government Accountability Office to assess the effectiveness of agreements between the VA and third-party mental health providers to ensure they are providing adequate care.

The Support for Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act, H.R. 2333, would require a review of the current training, workload and staffing at VA centers. The high number of cases throughout the country, a result of the aging veteran population, have increased the workload on coordinators, often the first point of contact at the VA to address suicide. The bill would potentially put in place more coordinators and make more resources available to veterans seeking help.

Stanton also advocated for providing at least $222 million in fiscal year 2020 to fund veteran programs that offer suicide prevention counseling and peer-to-peer outreach services.

Standing Up for Gold Star Families

The House also passed the bipartisan SECURE Act, H.R. 1994, last week, which included the Gold Star Family Tax Relief Act. Stanton co-sponsored the bill, which alleviates a tax hike on Gold Star families—a consequence of the Trump tax law.

“It’s unthinkable that the Administration’s tax law put an additional burden on the families of our fallen servicemembers,” said Stanton. “Gold Star families have made the ultimate sacrifice, and we have a responsibility to make sure our government supports them and delivers the full benefits they deserve.”

Currently, dependents of fallen servicemembers receive two forms of compensation to help them cope in the aftermath of their loss.  To ensure that the family receives the benefits they have earned, spouses of the fallen sometimes sign over one of the benefits to their children.  Because the 2017 tax law brought changes to how children’s assets are taxed, Gold Star families who formerly were obligated to pay 12 to 15 percent in taxes on such income saw their tax rate jump to as much as 37 percent, the tax rate for trusts and estates.

The SECURE Act’s provision fixes this problem by repealing the “kiddie tax” provisions of the Trump’s tax law.  This results in taxing the income at the child’s parent’s tax rate, rather than at the rate for trusts and estates, thereby significantly reducing the family’s tax burden.

Creating Housing Solutions for Vets

Stanton is a co-sponsor of the Homeless Veteran Families Act, H.R. 95, which was introduced by Rep. Julia Brownley of California. The bill would help homeless veterans with children find a safe place to live.

The VA’s Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program funds community housing agencies that provide services to homeless veterans, but currently the VA does not have authority to provide the reimbursements for the costs of services for children of those veterans. This bill would change that and grant the VA the ability to pay a partial per diem for any child accompanying a homeless veteran.

Stanton also advocated for providing $47 million in fiscal year 2020 to fund the HUD-VASH—Veteran Affairs Supporting Housing. This program combines rental assistance in the form of HUD vouchers and also offers case management and supportive services to veterans in need.

Below is the full list of legislation passed on May 21:

H.R. 2359 – Whole Veteran Act

H.R. 1812 – Vet Center Eligibility Expansion Act

H.R. 1947 – To amend title 38, United States Code, to exempt transfers of funds from Federal agencies to the Department of Veterans Affairs for nonprofit corporations established under subchapter IV of chapter 73 of such title from certain provisions of the Economy Act, as amended

H.R. 2326 – Navy Seal Chief Petty Officer William Bill Mulder (Ret.) Transition Improvement Act of 2019

H.R. 2333 – Support for Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act

H.R. 2340 – FIGHT Veteran Suicide Act

H.R. 1200 – Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-living Adjustment Act of 2019

H.R. 2372 – Veterans’ Care Quality Transparency Act

H.R. 2045 – Veterans’ Education, Transition, and Opportunity Prioritization Plan Act of 2019