Ernst introduces first piece of legislation in U.S. Senate

Joni ErnstBy The Iowa Statesman


Monday, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) introduced her first piece of legislation, the Prioritizing Veterans’ Access to Mental Health Care Act, which prioritizes veterans’ mental health care first and provides a back-stop to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs mental health care treatment, and prioritizes incentives to hire more mental health care professionals at the VA.

“One veteran’s life lost to suicide is too many. We must ensure our returning men and women, who served so selflessly in defense of our freedoms, have access to the quality mental health care they rightfully deserve,” she said. “This legislation works to ensure the invisible wounds of war do not go unnoticed. There is absolutely no excuse for delays in mental health care treatment when a veteran is suffering. We must live up to the promises we have made to our veterans.”

According to the VA, there are approximately 22 veteran suicides each day, while the average wait time for a mental health appointment at the VA is 36 days. Ernst said her legislation provides an option for our veterans to receive mental health treatment, until they can receive comprehensive treatment at the VA.

“There is no acceptable VA wait time for mental health care treatment for our veterans,” she said. “The limits to how much suffering a veteran can endure simply cannot be accurately measured by the VA or any medical professional.”

The VA has 90 days from enactment to provide the following elements of the Prioritizing Veterans’ Access to Mental Health Care Act:

  • Amends the Veterans’ Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 to allow a veteran instant authorization of non-VA care if the veteran provides an electronic or hard-copy statement in writing that they are not receiving adequate or timely mental health care at the VA.
  • Eliminates the 40-mile and VA wait-time triggers under the Choice Act for mental health care.
  • Prioritizes incentives for the hiring of mental health care professionals at VA.
  • Uses Choice Act funds to pay for the bill.

Ernst referenced the bill in her maiden speech on the Senate floor earlier today. Scroll down to see the speech.



This morning, U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and John Cornyn (R-TX) announced they had joined on as original co-sponsors of the bill. The bill has also been endorsed by the Wounded Warrior Project and Concerned Veterans for America.

A veteran at risk for suicide can’t afford any delay in treatment,” Grassley said.  “He or she needs mental health treatment as soon as possible.  As a matter of common sense, sometimes the first available facility is outside the VA system.  This bill is a good idea to help veterans get the care they need when they need it.”

“North Carolina is home to nearly 800,000 veterans, and that population is growing every day,” Tillis said. “Unfortunately, we have not even begun to get a handle on the mental health needs of the many brave men and women who have served our nation. This legislation is an important first step towards getting more mental health professionals into the VA system and giving veterans the ability to quickly access mental health services when the VA cannot meet their needs.”

“We can’t allow bureaucratic hurdles to stand in the way of veterans receiving prompt, accessible mental health care,” Cornyn said. “When they can’t wait for care, they shouldn’t have to, and this bill will help ensure veterans get the treatment they need.”


“The Prioritizing Veterans’ Access to Mental Health Care Act of 2015 addresses the unacceptable wait times for mental health care at many VA facilities by giving veterans more control over their own health care- not VA bureaucrats,” said Pete Hegseth, CEO of Concerned Veterans for America. “It is outrageous that even after the implementation of the Choice Card program, veterans are still waiting on average over 30 days for a mental health care appointment, and we are grateful that Senators Ernst, Grassley, Tillis, and Cornyn are proposing concrete solutions to help get veterans the care they deserve.”