Congressman Jake Ellzey has filed his first piece of legislation since being sworn in July 30 to serve U.S. House District 6. And, as he promised, the measure seeks to aid U.S. military veterans.
The legislation, entitled the VITAL Assessment Act, was filed Oct. 8. Upon joining the 117th Congress, Ellzey was appointed to the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the Science, Space and Technology Committee.
According to the congressman’s office, each year, thousands of veterans go to school using the G.I. Bill and other educational benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. In recent years, it has been shown that student veterans often have trouble adapting to their lives as civilians and as students.
The Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership program was introduced to provide mental health services to student veterans on college campuses to combat this issue and provide a solution. Since its introduction in 2011, the VITAL program has grown to 183 locations nationwide and has helped countless veterans adapt to their new environment.
The VITAL Assessment Act filed by Ellzey helps further this cause by requiring the VA to report to Congress about VITAL’s management, operations, and effectiveness in supporting student veterans’ mental health and educational goals, connecting student veterans with needed care and services, and preventing student veteran suicide. It also requires the VA to use the information gathered to create new best practices, goals, and performance measures for the VITAL program.
“Since the first day I took the oath of office, I have put veterans as a top priority of my legislative agenda,” Ellzey said. “It is only fitting that we as Americans take care of those who have taken care of us.
“Twenty-two veterans die from suicide every day, and this is unacceptable,” Ellzey said. “We have a duty as a country to do all that we can to help our veterans acclimate to their new lives as civilians and prevent these deaths from occurring. The VITAL program is an essential program that has proven to save the lives of our veterans, and the VITAL Assessment Act will give us the additional tools and resources needed to improve this program.”
The legislation is supported by the nonprofit Student Veterans of America, which focuses on addressing the needs and concerns of American military veterans in higher education. The organization has more than 1,500 on-campus chapters across the nation.
“The Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership program is uniquely positioned to provide mental healthcare and support services to student veterans by coordinating and collaborating with local VA medical centers, campus faculty, and community resources, but it lacks adequate support to perform its mission,” Student Veterans of America’s policy associate Justin Monk said. “SVA supports this bill as the first step to improve the program to better serve student veterans as they integrate into their campus communities by providing the resources needed to examine the program’s engagement, barriers to service, and outcomes.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, who serves as ranking member on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, also issued a statement of support.
“Congress must ensure that student veterans have what they need to succeed, including support for their mental health,” Bost said. “For many student veterans, VA’s VITAL program has been a lifeline. That is why I am excited to join my friend, Rep. Ellzey, in introducing his first bill today: the VITAL Assessment Act.
“Rep. Ellzey and I know the challenges our fellow veterans face,” Bost said. “Our bill will take meaningful action to strengthen and improve this important program for student veterans and get us closer to our ultimate goal of preventing veteran suicide altogether. I am grateful for Rep. Ellzey’s leadership and am proud to stand with him today.”
U.S. House District 6 includes Ellis and Navarro counties and a portion of Tarrant County.
For more information, visit https://ellzey.house.gov/.