Washington, D.C. – U.S. Representative Mike Coffman (CO-06) and Representative Scott Peters (CA-52) introduced H.R. 5830, the ‘Veteran Partners’ Efforts to Enhance Reintegration (PEER) Act’. The bill authorizes the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) to expand the peer-to-peer counseling program to better address the complex mental health care needs of veterans.
“The VA’s existing peer-to-peer counseling program has already seen great success in helping veterans in their time of need, and Congress should build upon this proven foundation” said Rep. Coffman. “Integrating mental health counseling in VA’s primary care teams provides an additional entry point to engage veterans suffering from PTSD or other mental health conditions. As a Marine Corps combat veteran, I believe it is critical to ensure those who have fought in defense of our freedom get the proper access to care they deserve and the proven benefits of peer support.”
If enacted, the bill would expand the existing peer counselor program, which was created by a 2012 Executive Order that required the VA to hire and train 800 peer specialists before 2014. Specifically, the ‘PEER Act’ embeds the peer counselors into patient-aligned care teams (PACT) into an additional 25 VA healthcare sites, providing expanded access to counseling services as part of primary care and in under-served areas.
“Men and women who have served our country may come to the VA seeking care and not know where to look for mental health services. This bipartisan, bicameral bill equips veterans with the best guide to care: a fellow veteran,” said Rep. Peters. “I urge the House to consider this legislation quickly to make sure veterans can access this critical service, and combat the pervasive stigma associated with accessing mental health services.”
The bill also requires regular reports to Congress on the effectiveness of this program. Peer specialists are identified by the VA as veterans who have recovered or are recovering from a mental health condition for at least a year and are certified by a nonprofit or a state according to a VA-determined process. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced an identical bill to H.R. 5830, which passed unanimously in the Senate in January.
Representatives Coffman and Peters have long championed veterans’ counseling and access to mental health services. Both serve on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and have worked in finding bipartisan solutions to better the care and services veterans receive nationwide.