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Legislation Improves Access to Care for Veterans

veterans access to care

Phrases like “Access is Power” are burned into the ears of anyone who has ever waited on hold trying to schedule an appointment through the TRICARE system. Access to care is a profoundly important aspect of healthcare.

Veterans’ Access to Care to Improve with New Legislation

When healthcare services are not easily accessible, they are not utilized and this leads to negative health outcomes.  The Sergeant Daniel Somers Veterans Network of Support Act addresses access to care issues faced by veterans.

Access to Care Influences Outcomes

Access to care involves health insurance coverage, the ability to use important services that prevent negative health outcomes, receiving necessary health care in a timely manner, and being cared for by qualified healthcare providers.

In 2013, the New York Times published a letter from the parents of Sergeant Daniel Somers, “On Losing a Veteran Son to a Broken System.” They tell the painful story of their son’s struggles to receive necessary care at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for his diagnoses of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and physical pain.

Sgt. Daniel Somers took his own life in 2013. In the New York Times letter, his parents described the roadblocks to health care he experienced within the VA system and asked for improvements related to access to care, advocacy, and accountability. The letter closed with an urgent call to action: “we must do better.”

If you are reading this and need help, The Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255; press 1 OR text 838255) is available 24-7 to help.

Sergeant Daniel Somers Veterans Network of Support Act of 2019

Sergeant Daniel Somers parents’ letter explained that he was refused treatment at both the VA and the local Department of Defense (DoD) because he was not officially a veteran and not active duty.

In December 2020, the Sergeant Daniel Somers Veterans Network of Support Act was signed into law as part of the Veterans COMPACT Act. It requires the VA to pilot a program that creates support networks for service members transitioning to civilian life. Service members can designate up to 10 people to receive information about available services from the VA and community partners. This will empower the immediate network of the servicemember to support the transition to civilian life and ensure that necessary health services are received.

Related [PREVENTing Suicide and REACH Public Health Campaign]

The Veterans COMPACT Act

The Veterans Comprehensive Prevention, Access to Care and Treatment (COMPACT) Act became law on December 5th, 2020. Including the Sergeant Daniel Somers Veterans Network Support Act, it implements programs, policies, and reports related to transition assistance, suicide care, mental health education and treatment, health care, and women veteran care.

The Veterans COMPACT Act improves access to care:

  • The VA must provide emergent suicide care either at a VA or non-VA facility for certain veterans.
  • A four-year education program for caregivers of veterans with mental health disorders must be established.
  • A Task Force must be established to evaluate the use of outdoor recreation as therapy for veterans.
  • The VA must pay for transportation in certain situations.
  • Annual training on the prevention of suicide must be provided to police officers and a plan must be developed to partner with local community organizations.

Related [Outdoor Recreation for Veterans: Free and Discounted Options]

Small Steps

The parents of Sergeant Daniel Somers explained to the New York Times in 2013 that it was disturbing to realize that people were aware of the issues, but “uniformly pessimistic” about making significant changes. The Sergeant Daniel Somers Veterans Network Support Act is a small but significant step toward progress. We must continue to make improvements for our veteran population.





About the author

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Julie Provost is a freelance writer, and blogger. She lives in Tennessee with her National Guard husband and three boys.