Esty Praises House Opioid Bill, Funding for Female Veterans
September 28, 2018
Bill includes Esty initiative to improve access to female veteran counseling
WASHINGTON, D.C.–Today, Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (CT-5) praised her Republican and Democratic colleagues coming together to pass H.R. 6, the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act. The bill also included language from Esty’s bill, H.R. 4635, Women Veterans Peer Counseling Enhancement Act, which would direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to increase the number of peer-to-peer counselors providing counseling for women veterans. The Women Veterans Peer Counseling Enhancement Act took language and initiatives from Esty’s original bill, H.R. 2452, the Deborah Sampson Act, which Esty introduced in March 2017.
"I am pleased to see strong bipartisan passage of this important legislation today. This bill will bring much-needed assistance to many of our communities that have been hit hard by opioid addiction. We need to make sure appropriate attention and resources are given to fighting this epidemic. By expanding social services that also promote access to health care and support our children and seniors, this bill we passed today will help make our communities stronger.
“I am also pleased that the legislation also included my bill, the Women Veterans Peer Counseling Enhancement Act. Supporting the women who put their lives on the line for our country is something we should all embrace. The peer-to-peer counseling program will help to ensure that our women in uniform, who often face higher risks for serious mental and behavioral health challenges, will receive the care and support they deserve,” said Esty, ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee.
The VA Peer Support Program currently employs more than 1,000 peer counselors in VA health care facilities and Community Based Outpatient Clinics around the nation who are trained to help veterans manage and overcome mental health conditions, substance use disorders, homelessness, and other challenges. Peer counselors are veterans themselves and can relate in profound ways to the mental health challenges facing veterans.
Women veterans rely on the VA Peer Support Program and face significant mental health challenges. A 2016 VA report on veterans' mental health found that the "risk for suicide was 2.5 times higher among female veterans when compared with U.S. civilian adult women." The VA has also observed that women veterans "who experienced military sexual trauma, who have mental health conditions, and/or who are at risk of becoming homeless face numerous barriers in seeking and accessing assistance, including through VA." There's a demonstrable need for the VA to increase peer counselors with experience in issues affecting women veterans - but only about 16% of peer counselors are women.
The Women Veterans Peer Counseling Enhancement Act directs the VA Secretary to:
- Ensure that the VA hires a sufficient number of peer counselors providing mental health counseling services to women veterans.
- Emphasize the availability of peer counseling for women veterans who suffered sexual trauma while serving in military, endure post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health condition, or are at risk of homelessness.
- Conduct outreach to inform women veterans about the VA's Peer Support program and the types of assistance offered under the program.
- Work with community organizations, state and local governments, school systems, business groups, legal aid groups, and other appropriate entities to support women veterans' transition to civilian life.
H.R. 6 includes several provisions that improve services and resources for several federal agencies and social programs, including improvements to Health and Human Services (HHS), Medicaid and Medicare, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institute of Health (NIH), and the United States Postal Service (USPS). Additionally, H.R. 6, a multi-year funding bill, addresses significant needs in Connecticut such as:
Improving telehealth coverage and electronic prescribing
H.R. 6 included language from H.R. 3528, the Every Prescription Conveyed Securely Act. Esty is a cosponsor of the bill. Connecticut is one of the first states to implement an electronic prescribing requirement to help deter opioid misuse. Additionally, the bill expands telehealth coverage for substance use disorder treatment for Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries, as well as better support for health professionals seeking to obtain waivers to provide Medication Assisted Treatment.
Support for sober living facilities
As communities across Connecticut continue to grapple with the opioid epidemic, this bill includes language from H.R. 4684, the Ensuring Access to Quality Sober Living Act, which would help improve the quality and accessibility to sober living facilities. Elected officials and health care providers across Connecticut have expressed their repeated concerns about ensuring those with opioid use disorder and other substance use disorders can access high quality sober living facilities to support a patient’s recovery.
Student loan forgiveness for health providers in high-demand areas
The bill also calls for providing student loan forgiveness to providers serving areas with a shortage of mental health professionals.