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Senior Spectrum Newspaper
May 2018
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Senior Spectrum Publications

Opinion
by U.S. Senator Dean Heller
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Nevada’s Veterans Supported in New Law

 U.S. Senator Dean Heller
U.S. Senator Dean Heller

Our state is home to 300,000 military veterans, and that’s why one of my top priories in Congress is ensuring these brave men and women have access to the benefits, care, and support that they have earned, and deserve, from this country.

In my role as a senior member of the U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee I’ve helped push a number of critical bills through Congress and into law over the last year, such as legislation to expand veterans’ education benefits, boost accountability at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), ensure veterans’ continued access to lifesaving surgeries, and give veterans more options when appealing their disability claims.

And I’m pleased to report that because of my efforts, the recently-enacted government funding bill contains several initiatives that I fought for to help Nevada’s veterans.

Specifically, my Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act, which I introduced with Senators John Cornyn and Marco Rubio in March, was signed into law as part of the fiscal year 2018 omnibus.

My bill provides veterans who were released from the military with an “other-than-honorable” discharge a mental health assessment and treatment from the VA. It also allows veterans to receive mental health services outside the VA health system if the Secretary deems treatment at the designated facility “clinically advisable” or too far from a veterans’ residence.

This legislation fixes an unfair issue for thousands of American veterans. Under current law, veterans with an “other-than-honorable” discharge do not have access to VA health benefits unless the VA deems otherwise. In fact, a joint investigation by NPR and Colorado Public Radio in 2015 revealed that the U.S. Army has separated an estimated 22,000 combat veterans diagnosed with mental health disabilities or traumatic brain injury for alleged misconduct since 2009.

But that is not the only important provision I helped secure and pass into law for our state’s heroes.

As many Silver State residents know, Nevada continues to face the challenge of combatting veteran homelessness, with hundreds of veterans still living in shelters or on the street. That’s why I’m proud to share with you that following my request, the government-funding measure directs federal resources to help end veteran homelessness and assist at risk veterans.

The omnibus contains $1.7 billion for homeless assistance programs at the VA, including $340 million for the homeless supportive services for low income veterans and families. It also includes $40 million for new housing vouchers for homeless veterans.

I’ve long fought veteran homelessness during my tenure in Congress, and earlier this year I reintroduced my Creating a Reliable Environment (CARE) for Veterans’ Dependents Act, bipartisan legislation to ensure that children of homeless veterans are eligible for services provided to that veteran by VA funded facilities. So while this funding does represent progress toward ensuring that not one more veteran is forced to sleep on the streets, we still have more work ahead of us.

Lastly, the bill directs $685 million to the VA’s State Home Construction Grant Program, which helps fund veterans’ homes including the Northern Nevada Veterans Home located in Sparks, NV. I’m proud to report that as a result of my efforts, the VA recently announced that the Northern Nevada Veterans Home will receive $33.5 million to assist with the construction of this soon-to-be completed facility. Last year I fought to insert funding for this Nevada facility, and all state veterans homes, because I believe our veterans deserve a home close in their own community surrounded by their loved ones.

Whether it is helping veterans receive treatment for the invisible injuries, or making sure programs aimed at preventing veteran homelessness have the funding they need to continue operating, I believe these initiatives will go a long way toward aiding veterans in Nevada and across the country. Rest assured that in my role as your U.S. Senator I will continue to fight for these warriors. Like so many Americans, I am thankful and forever indebted to these heroes and this deep gratitude is what drives me to push for legislation that reflects our country’s appreciation.