Rounds bill would enlist independent patient advocates on behalf of veterans; improve mental health, substance abuse programs

Legislation recently introduced by U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) aims to improve oversight of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mental health and substance abuse treatment programs.

The Protection and Advocacy for Veterans Act, S. 3141, would place independent patient advocates in low-performing VA facilities to monitor the health care and substance abuse treatments of patients, and to intervene when necessary.

“Making sure all veterans receive the quality health care they have been promised remains one of my top priorities,” Rounds, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said. “While there are many problems plaguing the VA, the agency’s study on veteran suicide is a sobering reminder that mental health care is among the most important. Even one veteran suicide is one too many.”

The VA recently released the findings of a comprehensive analysis of veteran suicide rates in the U.S. that found that approximately 20 veterans commit suicide each day, and that the overall suicide rate for veterans enrolled in the VA system has continued to increase.

“Our returning service men and women struggle with the invisible wounds of war long after they leave the battlefield and many suffer in silence,” Rounds said. “My legislation will give a voice to veterans who need mental health care or who are unhappy with the care they have been given by the VA by supplying them with independent advocates who will act on their behalf.”

The pilot program established under the bill would be administrated under the Protection and Advocacy program, which aims to protect the rights of patients through advocacy.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) introduced a House version of the bill in April.

“For 40 years, protection and advocacy agencies have monitored the quality of care in state-operated hospitals, psychiatric wards, and other facilities,” Roby said. “They have the authority to inspect medical records, make recommendations to providers, and, when necessary, take legal action on behalf of patients. I believe bringing this high degree of patient advocacy expertise to the VA can greatly benefit our veterans.”

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