On July 28th, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee unanimously passed the Guaranteeing Healthcare Access to Personnel Who Served (GHAPS) Act, legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) – ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) – that would address gaps in veteran health care to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is serving veterans in hard-to-reach places.
This legislation works to create uniform access standards for care in the community to help veterans receive timely health care, remove bureaucratic barriers to care and mandate a VA telehealth strategy to incorporate and apply lessons learned during the pandemic to close the gaps in VA health care.
Senator Jon Tester is the Chairman of the Committee. He said, “It’s on us to ensure all veterans have equal access to high-quality and timely health care—especially when it comes to treating invisible wounds of war,” said Chairman Jon Tester. “I’m proud of the Committee work we’ve accomplished connecting more veterans in Montana and other rural areas with life-saving care and services through bipartisan efforts like my Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act. But the reality is one life lost to suicide is one too many, and I’ll keep pushing commonsense solutions to provide more at-risk veterans with the care and benefits they’ve earned, no matter where they live.”
NAMI Montana worked closely with Senator Moran’s staff to incorporate recommendations from the Creating Options for Veterans Expedited Recovery Commission report into this Legislation.
Here is a breakdown of the four sections of the bill that we worked on:
Sec. 401. Analysis of feasibility and advisability of Department of Veterans Affairs providing evidence-based treatments for the diagnosis of treatment-resistant depression.
**** This is a major issue because a significant percentage of veterans who have depression have a kind of depression that most VA facilities cannot treat. This is true in Montana. Montana veterans have effectively been unable to access care for treatment resistant depression from the VA, even though these same types of care (TMS and ECT) are available through private insurers and Montana Medicaid.
Sec. 402. Modification of resource allocation system to include peer specialists.
**** The peer support system cannot truly succeed unless its practitioners are counted in the VA healthcare accounting. This needs to be fixed for all states, but it is especially important for states like Montana where we need peer support to help relieve pressure from our overworked clinicians.
Sec. 403. Gap analysis of psychotherapeutic interventions of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
**** There is a real question to whether the VA is offering appropriate, research-proven psychotherapeutic techniques to veterans. Which ones are being offered/why, and which ones aren’t being offered/why. This is especially important to rural parts of the country like Montana where no VA psychotherapeutic research takes place, because psychotherapeutic research is not “seeding” new research-proven techniques among these geographically isolated clinicians.
Sec. 502. Exclusion of application of Paperwork Reduction Act to research activities of the Veterans Health Administration.
***This removes a critical bureaucratic barrier to analyzing the effectiveness of the VA healthcare system through gathering current and changing feedback from veterans. Removing this bureaucratic barrier will also improve the VA research process by removing an unnecessary and time-intensive task.
Montana friends, please help support this effort by contacting Senator Steve Daines and asking him to support this legislation. You can reach him at this link. https://www.daines.senate.gov/connect/email-steve
NAMI Montana’s advocacy work for veterans is greatly supported by the Trans Montana Snowmobile Ride. We are so grateful for the hardworking snowmobile riders and donors that help ensure that we are able to continue showing up to support veterans year in and year out!