Washington, DC – Recently, President Trump signed into law the Veterans COMPACT Act (H.R. 8247), bipartisan legislation to improve U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs mental health services and to address the epidemic of suicide among our nation’s veterans. Two provisions, authored by Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA) were included in the bill. These provisions previously passed the House as part of Brownley’s bipartisan Deborah Sampson Act (H.R. 3224).
“VA statistics show that women veterans are twice as likely to die by suicide than women who have never served,” said Congresswoman Julia Brownley. “As Chairwoman of the Women Veterans Task Force, this is simply not acceptable. My goal is to ensure VA is equipped to adapt to the complex and unique needs of women veterans.
“The inclusion of my legislation in the Veterans COMPACT Act will help illuminate resources available to women veterans and provide meaningful change that will help save lives. This is an important step forward in addressing the needs of women veterans, but there is much more work to do. We celebrate today. We roll up our sleeves and get back at it tomorrow.”
Women have served in every American conflict since the Revolutionary War; among them, Deborah Sampson and Margaret Corbin, were the first American women known to have served in combat. In the early 1800s, Congress granted both women veterans pensions for their service. Today, there are over two million women veterans in the United States. They comprise the fastest-growing, and most diverse demographic in both the military and veteran population.
Despite centuries of honorable service and constant, steady growth in the veteran population since the start of the all-volunteer force in 1974, women who serve our country are still often treated as second-class servicemembers and veterans. A visible minority in the military, women too often are made to feel like they do not belong. Worse, the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare system remains rife with barriers to basic care, like mammography and other gender-specific services.
The Women Veterans Task Force identified systematic deficiencies for women, including longer wait times, sexual harassment by fellow veterans, staffing shortages, and facilities that fail to meet basic environment-of-care standards. The Women Veterans Task Force also found that women veterans are largely satisfied with their care when it is properly resourced. Women veterans are remarkable Americans and deserve equitable access to the benefits and resources that they have earned. The Deborah Sampson Act is the result of several hearings, roundtables, site visits, and meetings with women veterans and their supporters across the country to identify issues and barriers they face. The bill, which passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support in November 2019, aims to create equitable access to healthcare, housing, legal services, and other resources and benefits.
In November 2019, the Deborah Sampson Act (H.R. 3224) passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support in a vote of 399-11. As Ranking Member, Senator Tester has been working diligently to move the legislation forward in the Senate. Senator Tester’s Deborah Sampson Act (S. 514) was approved by the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs with bipartisan support. Congresswoman Brownley and Senator Tester continue to work to see the Deborah Sampson Act voted on by the Senate and signed into law.
The provisions from the Deborah Sampson Act included in the Veterans COMPACT Act are:
Sec. 301. Gap analysis of Department of Veterans Affairs programs that provide assistance to women veterans who are homeless.
Requires VA to complete an analysis of programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs that provide assistance to women veterans who are homeless or precariously housed to identify the areas in which such programs are failing to meet the needs of such women.
Sec. 302. Report on locations where women veterans are using health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Requires VA to submit to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the House of Representatives a report on the use by women veterans of health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, and annually thereafter.
Additionally, on October 17, 2020, President Trump signed into law the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, which included other provisions from the Deborah Sampson Act authored by Brownley, including Title VI, “Improvement of Care and Service for Women Veterans.”
Sec. 601 of S. 785 will require VA to expand the capabilities of the Women Veterans Call Center to include text messaging. This provision will add another tool to the VA toolbox, giving women veterans another avenue to reach out for life-saving mental healthcare counseling.
Sec. 602 of S. 785 would require VA to create a centralized webpage dedicated to providing information on the services and benefits available to female veterans. This provision will help women veterans access information about the healthcare and benefits that they have earned and deserve.