U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) announced bipartisan legislation today to ensure new veterans receive proactive outreach and information on the benefits to which they are entitled after transitioning from service. Republican Rep. David P. Joyce of Ohio is joining Slotkin in introducing the Solid Start Act, which would make permanent a trial Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) program in which the VA contacts every veteran multiple times by phone in the first year after they leave active duty to check in and help connect them to programs and benefits.
“We honor our veterans not just with words, but with action,” Slotkin said. “And today, I’m proud to announce a new bill that would directly address one of the most common problems that veterans tell me they face — a lack of clear information on the benefits they’re entitled to as they begin to transition from active service. It shouldn’t be up to veterans to navigate the bureaucracy at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as they’re adjusting to civilian life. The VA should be proactively reaching out to veterans and making it as easy as possible to understand and access the benefits and services available to them.”
The Solid Start program has proven to be a valuable resource for veterans, helping them navigate the changes that come with transitioning out of the military.
“Through the Solid Start program, the VA reaches out to veterans at least two times within their first year of exiting the service to inform them about the different resources, benefits and services available to them,” Slotkin said. “In doing so, the program has high results in successfully connecting at-risk veterans with help for everything from mental health treatment to career training and development.
“I know the impact these services can have, because my family is a service family,” Slotkin added. “Service is the greatest love letter you can send to your country. Today, and always, we are grateful to the individuals, and the families, who have done so. To all those who have served, and to all those who support them in their return, thank you.”
“As a medically retired veteran, I remember what it was like to transition from the military and have no warm transfer to benefits and resources within the VA,” said Zaneta Adams, Director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency. “Having a delay in connection led to mental health challenges that could have been avoided with a program like this. That is why this legislation is so important to connecting our transitioning service-members to benefits and resources as soon as they become a veteran. I fully support the efforts to codify this program and look forward to seeing how it impacts the lives of our veterans here in Michigan.”
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 outreach 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 bipartisan bill, drafted in collaboration with her constituent-led District Veterans Advisory Board, would codify the Solid Start program so that it is permanent. The bill also ensures that the VA continues to improve upon the program by authorizing sufficient funds to support the program, requiring a Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment of the program’s efficacy, and specifying key requirements under the program, including:
• Calling each veteran at least twice within the first year after separation, which builds in redundancy while allowing the VA flexibility to determine the best number of outreach calls
• 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
Passing bipartisan legislation that can improve veterans’ lives has been a priority for Slotkin in Congress. Last March, President Trump signed Slotkin’s bipartisan bill into law that will expand the number of registered apprenticeship programs veterans can access with their GI benefits (H.R. 5314), and the House passed her bipartisan bill that would connect veterans suffering from PTSD with service dogs in their communities (H.R. 4305).