Press News: Vet Groups, VA Split Over Mental Health Expansion

Two years after Congress passed a high-profile law to improve health care for military veterans, lawmakers and advocates are again raising alarms that the sprawling Department of Veterans Affairs is not expanding help for the nation’s former fighters and their families as quickly or widely as intended.

This time the dispute is over two mental health measures: one to establish a network of peer counselors so that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have someone to consult with who shares their war experience, the other to give the families of National Guard and reserve members temporary access to mental health services at VA facilities.

Veterans Affairs, the second largest federal agency after the Defense Department, says it was already providing the help that Congress wrote into law in May 2010. Advocates for veterans, though, say the VA is effectively ignoring the law’s demand for those two steps…

“Congress has spoken on this issue and it’s time for the VA to move forward and implement these provisions,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), who led the effort to get the two programs into law after the original authors of the provisions — Republican Pete Domenici and Democrat Barack Obama — had left the Senate.

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