Senate Sends Tester-Backed Bill Expanding Vet Center Eligibility for Guardsmen to President’s Desk

Ranking Member: “We are now one step closer to providing critical counseling and support to the men and women of the Guard at VA facilities nationwide”

The Senate unanimously passed bipartisan legislation today backed by U.S. Senator Jon Tester to expand counseling for members of the National Guard, Reserves, and Coast Guard at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities across the nation. This bill now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

“We are now one step closer to providing critical counseling and support to the men and women of the Guard at VA facilities nationwide,” said Ranking Member Tester. “The Senate came together to swiftly pass this bill to connect more Guardsmen and Reservists with the resources they need to transition to civilian life. I’ll continue fighting until every Guardsman and Reservist has access to the mental health screening, counseling, and treatments they’ve earned.”

Currently, servicemembers are only eligible for counseling services at Vet Centers if they have served in a combat theater, experienced military sexual trauma, or been part of an unmanned aerial vehicle crew that supported combat operations or have provided emergency medical care or mortuary services to casualties of war.

The Vet Center Eligibility Expansion Act would expand Vet Center eligibility to Reservists who mobilized in support of a national emergency or natural disaster, National Guard members who responded to a natural disaster or civil disorder, and Coast Guard members who supported drug interdiction operations. The bill would also require a Report to Congress on VA’s plan to provide Vet Center services to veterans living in geographic areas where no Vet Center is located.

Tester has been a longtime champion for improving Guardsmen and Reservists’ access to consistent mental health services, regardless of deployment status. His bipartisan Care and Readiness Enhancement (CARE) for Reservists Act of 2019 would allow members of the Guard and Reserve to access Vet Centers for mental health screening and counseling, employment assessments, education training and other services. Tester successfully included his bill in both the House and Senate’s must-pass annual defense bill for fiscal year 2021.

A copy of Tester’s bill can be found HERE.