U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) will introduce the bipartisan Solid Start Act, a bill to ensure that the Department of Veterans Affairs proactively reaches out to service members in their first year transitioning back to civilian life to connect them with critical benefits and services they have earned. U.S. Rep. David Joyce of Ohio is the Republican co-lead.
The bill would make permanent a pilot program at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), in which the VA contacts veterans multiple times by phone in the first year after they leave service to check in and help connect them to programs and benefits. Slotkin also spearheaded the bill in the 116th Congress.
“The Solid Start program continues to be an important asset to veterans just as they leave the military and are transitioning back to civilian life,” said Slotkin. “It’s shocking to me the sheer number of veterans across Mid-Michigan who simply aren’t aware of the services and benefits available to set them up for a successful transition.
“As a military spouse and step-mom, and as someone who served alongside our troops in Iraq, I know how tough this adjustment can be, and it shouldn’t be up to brand new veterans to navigate the bureaucracy at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) right as they’re trying to settle into civilian life,” Slotkin said. “We owe it to our service members to do everything in our power to help them start this new chapter off on the right foot. The Solid Start program will help connect at-risk veterans with everything from mental health treatment to career training and development, and making it a permanent program is a critical step in bridging the communication gap between our service members and the VA.”
“Our nation’s heroes shouldn’t struggle to understand or access mental health care, education benefits, suicide prevention resources or any other service they’ve earned following their discharge, separation or retirement,” said Joyce. “But the reality is that navigating the wide range of benefits and programs designed for veterans is so complicated that many are unaware that they might qualify for them or that these services even exist at all. As the son of a World War II veteran, I refuse to allow the brave men and women who have served our country to slip through the cracks. I’m proud to reintroduce this legislation alongside Rep. Slotkin so that the Solid Start Program can continue to successfully connect veterans with the resources at their disposal as they transition back to civilian life.”
Newly separated veterans encounter changes in job status, lifestyle, housing, health care, and location. The rate of suicide among veterans within their first year of transition is nearly two times higher than the overall veteran suicide rate. In 2017, among veterans who died by suicide, 62% had not been in contact with the Veterans Health Administration in the preceding two years, and 40% of veterans responding to a recent survey by the American Legion were not sure whether they were eligible for VA mental health services.
In 2019, the VA launched the Solid Start program, which was designed to ensure that separating service members receive multiple outreaches from the VA within one year of separating from the military to ensure they are aware of the VA benefits and programs that are available to them. 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.
Slotkin’s bill would codify the Solid Start program to make it permanent. The bill also ensures that the VA continues to improve upon the program by authorizing sufficient funds to support the program and specifying key requirements under the program, including:
• Calling each veteran three times within the first year after separation
• Prioritizing outreach to veterans who accessed mental health resources prior to separation
• Ensuring that calls are tailored to the needs of each veteran by conducting quality assurance testing
• Collecting up-to-date contact information during the transition process
• Encouraging transitioning veterans to authorize alternate points of contact who can reach them in the event the veteran is unavailable for direct outreach from the VA
• Following up on missed phone calls through mailings and other outreach to ensure the veteran still receives similar information
• Including Solid Start information in VA booklets, on the VA website and through other resources
• Striving to reach veterans who separated prior to the beginning of the Solid Start program, to offer them similar explanations of resources
As a military spouse and Army step mother, Slotkin has prioritized legislation around supporting veterans during her time in Congress. Earlier this month she introduced the bipartisan Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act, a bill aimed at addressing the specific needs of veterans exposed to open-air toxic burn pits while serving in the Armed Forces.