Senate Approves Veterans Outreach Program

The Senate approved $10 million for a national outreach program to assist returning service members and their families. The program, proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders, is modeled on a first-of-its-kind program in Vermont funded with $1 million previously secured by Sanders.

"We have a moral responsibility to reach out to these soldiers and their families and to help them," Sanders said.

The Senate on Monday authorized the national pilot program in a Department of Defense policy bill. Then late on Wednesday the Senate okayed a separate appropriations bill that included $10 million for the national program.

Senator Patrick Leahy cosponsored the legislation setting up the national pilot program.

"My hope is that increased coordination between the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs and local and state organizations will mean that veterans and their families will be better informed and more likely to get the care they deserve," Sanders said.

Describing the problems some returning service members confront, Sanders told colleagues that "all across our country, men and women are returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in too many cases they are hurting.

"These are soldiers and military family members who are suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, or depression. They are watching their marriages and their families coming apart. They are suffering nightmares and panic attacks. Their symptoms sometimes include uncontrollable anger and various physical symptoms. Because of the stigma, many of these brave soldiers do not come forward for help. Others, where the military infrastructure is not strong, simply don't know where to turn. They and their families, in many cases, are hurting and we owe them our help. "

The pilot program will allow adjutant generals around the country to apply for funds to create state-based outreach programs. The programs will provide referral services on a wide range of issues including mental health counseling, veterans benefits, military benefits, marriage counseling, financial counseling, suicide prevention, substance abuse, financial counseling and other services.