The Senate unanimously advanced legislation this week to create networks of support for veterans in transition to keep them connected to VA benefits and services.
The Sgt. Daniel Somers Veterans Network of Support Act would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish a pilot program information sharing between VA and designated relatives or friends of veterans about the benefits available to them.
Under the program, active-duty service members leaving the service could designate up to 10 loved ones to receive information from VA on what benefits and services are available to that veteran. By including family and friends, lawmakers hope VA will better be able to connect with veterans and help them understand their benefits and get help when they need it.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., was inspired by Sgt. Daniel Somers. Somers served two tours in Iraq and was diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder when he returned home.
Somers died by suicide in 2013. Sinema worked with Somers' parents, Howard and Jean, to introduce this bill and two others in his honor.
The Sgt. Daniel Somers Network of Support Act was included in last year's annual defense spending bill and required the Defense Department to establish a similar program for service members when they join the military, creating networks of support for them. That measure passed with the 2020 NDAA.
The Daniel Somers Access to Care Act, which would allow veterans who worked in classified jobs better access to mental health care. That bill also passed previously.
“Empowering veterans’ loved ones with crucial resources will help ensure veterans never feel alone during their transition to civilian life," Sinema said in a statement. "Passage of our bipartisan bill moves us one step closer to getting all Arizona veterans the care and benefits they’ve earned."
“The fact that VA will now have to share information with our veterans’ family members and loved ones regarding its programs and benefits will be of incalculable assistance," Somers' parents said in a statement. "If this policy had been available to us and our son, whereby we ourselves would have been aware of what VA has to offer, we feel that his tragic outcome might very well have been averted. This bill is a necessary companion piece to the already enacted Sgt. Daniel Somers DoD Network of Support legislation."
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. cosponsored the bill.
“The brave men and women who served our country were faced with challenging situations that many are still coping with and we must make sure they have the resources they need to get the appropriate care,” Tillis said in a statement. “One aspect of achieving that goal is ensuring they have a support system of family and loved ones to help them in times of need."