WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Kevin Cramer (R-ND), all members of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, reintroduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen the Solid Start program, created by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 2019, to contact every veteran three times by phone in the first year after they leave active duty to check in and help connect them to VA programs and benefits. The newly reintroduced bipartisan legislation includes specific language to help connect women veterans to VA resources and ensures that the VA provides information about state and local resources, as well as connections to local chapters of Veterans Service Organizations.
“The transition to civilian life is not always easy. This bill gives veterans the support they need to ensure they receive the benefits they earned,” said Dr. Cassidy.
“We have seen great potential in the Solid Start program to help connect veterans with critical services at the VA when they leave active duty, including physical and mental health care and employment support,” said Senator Hassan. “After hearing from women veterans in New Hampshire about the barriers that they have faced in accessing VA services, our bipartisan legislation now specifically helps to connect women veterans with the resources that they need. I look forward to working with Senators Cramer and Cassidy to strengthen the Solid Start program and make it permanent.”
“Our bill would codify a flexible, personalized program which helps veterans return to civilian life,” said Senator Cramer. “These patriots put their lives on the line each day. We should give them all the resources they need to make that transition as easy as possible.”
The VA launched the Solid Start program in December 2019 with the goal of reaching out to all newly separated veterans three times within their first year of separation to check in and help connect them to VA programs and benefits, regardless of separation type or characterization of service. The program also prioritizes outreach to veterans who accessed mental health resources prior to separation in order to quickly connect at-risk veterans to services. The bipartisan bill would codify the program and authorize sufficient funding so that it can continue to serve veterans, and also makes improvements such as:
- Helping ensure that veterans can be reached by collecting up-to-date contacting information during the transition process
- Following up by mail or other outreach if a veteran does not respond to phone calls
- Including Solid Start information in VA printed materials and on the VA website
- Providing women veterans with information that is tailored to their specific health care and benefit needs
- Connecting veterans with state and local resources, as well as local Veterans Service Organizations
Earlier this year, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office started to assess the Solid Start program to ensure that it is efficiently and effectively meeting its goals. Additionally, data released by the VA late last year showed that in the first nine months of the Solid Start program, the VA successfully contacted almost 70,000 newly separated veterans, including over 12,000 veterans who had sought mental health support in their last year of service.