Rep. Sherrill Testimony Supporting Vet Center Bill During House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Hearing

October 13, 2021
Press Release

Washington, DC –– Today, Representative Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11) testified in front of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in support of her bipartisan legislation H.R. 5543, the Vet CENTERS for Mental Health Act.

This bipartisan legislation would expand the number of Vet Centers and support veterans across the country, improving access to life-saving support to veterans. Vet Centers provide a range of services to veterans and their families, including mental health counseling for combat veterans, support for those who suffered military sexual assault, and bereavement services to families of servicemembers who die on duty.

Additionally, this legislation has been endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the American Legion, and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).

To watch her testimony, click here.

Full written remarks included here:

Well, thank you so much and good afternoon.

I’d like to thank the subcommittee for holding this hearing today and offering this opportunity to advocate for increased Vet Center access through my bill, the Vet CENTERS for Mental Health Act. I want to offer my thanks to the subcommittee’s Chair Representative Brownley, and Ranking Member Bergman. I also want to thank one of my partners on this piece of legislation, Representative Sablan, who sits on this subcommittee, as well as give my thanks to Committee Chairman Takano, who has graciously supported this bill.

I know that the bipartisan members of this committee are well aware of the mental health challenges our veterans face, particularly our combat veterans and those veterans who have experienced sexual assault. I also know that this committee is well aware of the important work done by the mental health professionals at our nation’s Vet Centers to serve them.

Vet Centers are routinely identified as the most successful, and therefore coveted, parts of our VA health system. However, for a host of reasons like shifting populations or accidents of history, some veterans have been locked out of easy access to the benefits of our Vet Centers. For example, the veteran constituents of our colleague Representative Sablan in the Northern Mariana Islands currently have no easy access to VA mental health services whatsoever, and are left only with options that require expensive airfare and overnight accommodations, hundreds of dollars from their own pockets, to access in-person support.

That experience is the extreme –– but it's indicative of the challenges that many veterans all across the country must overcome to access the care they need.

In my home state of New Jersey, we have the highest population density among all the states, the 11th largest in population despite being the 4th smallest geographically. Our veterans may not need to get on a plane to make it to their appointments but they do need to fight traffic, inconsistent public transportation access, expensive toll roads, and other obstacles that make it impractical or impossible to consistently make it to badly-needed appointments.

Even in states like North Carolina, the ratio of veterans to Vet Centers is nearly double the national average despite the robust military presence in that state, and in California and Illinois, the combination of sprawling metropolitan areas with rural agricultural areas create challenges for those diverse communities to access services.

Unfortunately, because of these obstacles, whether in New Jersey or the Northern Marianas Islands, whether North Carolina or Illinois, many veterans are forced to choose to forgo, or simply are unable to access, Vet Center services that could save their lives.

My bill provides an answer: a modest but strategic increase in the number of Vet Center locations in states that face challenges like these. Our solution amounts to a less-than-4% increase of the total of 300 Vet Centers nationwide that will make a world of difference to these veterans. All of the states and territories I’ve mentioned, as well as the underserved states of Minnesota, Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, states home to 8 million veterans would see an additional Vet Center as a result of my bill.

Earlier this year I was honored to be a cosponsor on Representative Axne’s Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act, co-led by Representative Miller-Meeks, who sits on this subcommittee. That critically important bill increased much-needed mental resources for veterans in rural areas. New Jersey may not have as many rural areas as Iowa, but just like Iowa, just like the Northern Mariana Islands, North Carolina, Illinois, California, Pennsylvania, and Florida, our veterans deserve increased access to potentially life-saving services and unique solutions to combat their current challenges.

I humbly ask for your support of my bill. Thank you and I yield back.