Text: H.R.3368 — 111th Congress (2009-2010)All Information (Except Text)

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Introduced in House (07/28/2009)


111th CONGRESS
1st Session
H. R. 3368


To enhance benefits for survivors of certain former members of the Armed Forces with a history of post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury, to enhance availability and access to mental health counseling for members of the Armed Forces and veterans, and for other purposes.


IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

July 28, 2009

Ms. Markey of Colorado introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and in addition to the Committees on Armed Services and Ways and Means, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee concerned


A BILL

To enhance benefits for survivors of certain former members of the Armed Forces with a history of post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury, to enhance availability and access to mental health counseling for members of the Armed Forces and veterans, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. Short title.

This Act may be cited as the “Honor Act of 2009”.

SEC. 2. Scholarship program for veterans for pursuit of graduate and post-graduate degrees in behavioral health sciences.

(a) Scholarship program.—

(1) PROGRAM.—The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall carry out a program to provide scholarships to qualifying veterans for pursuit of a graduate or post-graduate degree in behavioral health sciences.

(2) DESIGNATION.—The program carried out under this section shall be known as the “Department of Veterans Affairs HONOR Scholarship Program” (in this section referred to as the “scholarship program”).

(b) Qualifying veterans.—For purposes of this section, a qualifying veteran is any veteran who—

(1) during service on active duty in the Armed Forces, participated for such period as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, shall specify for purposes of the scholarship program in a theater of combat or during a contingency operation overseas;

(2) was retired, discharged, separated, or released from service in the Armed Forces on or after a date (not earlier than August 2, 1990) specified by the Secretary of Defense for purposes of the scholarship program;

(3) at the time of the submittal of an application to participate in the scholarship program, holds an undergraduate or graduate degree, as applicable, from an institution of higher education that qualifies the veteran for pursuit of a graduate or post-graduate degree in behavioral sciences; and

(4) meets such other qualifications as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs may establish for purposes of the scholarship program.

(c) Application.—Each qualifying veteran seeking to participate in the scholarship program shall submit to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs an application therefor setting forth such information as the Secretary shall specify for purposes of the scholarship program.

(d) Agreement.—Each qualifying veteran selected by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for participation in the scholarship program shall enter into an agreement with the Secretary regarding participation in the scholarship program. The agreement shall contain such terms and conditions as the Secretary shall specify for purposes of the scholarship program.

(e) Scholarships.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall provide to each qualifying veteran who enters into an agreement under subsection (d) a scholarship for such number of academic years as the Secretary shall specify in the agreement for pursuit of a graduate or post-graduate degree in behavioral health sciences at an institution of higher education offering such degree that is approved by the Secretary for purposes of the scholarship program.

(2) ELEMENTS.—The scholarship provided a qualifying veteran for an academic year shall consist of payment of the following:

(A) Tuition of the qualifying veteran for pursuit of the graduate or post-graduate degree concerned in the academic year.

(B) Reasonable educational expenses of the qualifying veteran (including fees, books, and laboratory expenses) in pursuit of such degree in the academic year.

(C) A stipend in connection with the pursuit of such degree in the academic year in such amount as the Secretary shall specify in the agreement of the qualifying veteran under subsection (d).

(f) Obligated service.—Each qualifying veteran who participates in the scholarship program shall, after completion of the graduate or post-graduate degree concerned and as jointly provided by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the Secretary of Defense in the agreement of such qualifying veteran under subsection (d), perform service as follows:

(1) Such service for the Department of Veterans Affairs in connection with the furnishing of mental health services to veterans, and for such period, as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall specify in the agreement.

(2) Such service for the Department of Defense in connection with the furnishing of mental health services to members of the Armed Forces, and for such period, as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, specify in the agreement.

(3) Such combination of service described by paragraphs (1) and (2), and for such period, as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, specify in the agreement.

(g) Breach of agreement.—Each qualifying veteran participating in the scholarship who fails to complete satisfactorily the terms of the agreement of such qualifying veteran under subsection (d), whether through failure to obtain the graduate or post-graduate degree concerned or failure to perform service required of the qualifying veteran under subsection (f), shall be liable to the United States in such form and manner as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, specify in the agreement.

(h) Contingency operation defined.—In this section, the term “contingency operation” has the meaning given that term in section 101(a)(13) of title 10, United States Code.

SEC. 3. Program of employment, training, and deployment of former members of the Armed Forces with combat experience as psychiatric technicians and nurses for members of the Armed Forces in deployment.

(a) Program required.—The Secretary of Defense shall carry out a program to employ and train qualifying former members of the Armed Forces as psychiatric technicians and nurses of the Department of Defense for the provision of mental health counseling and services to members of the Armed Forces who are deployed to a combat zone.

(b) Qualifying former members of the Armed Forces.—For purposes of this section, a qualifying former member of the Armed Forces is any member who—

(1) during service on active duty in the Armed Forces, participated for such period as the Secretary shall specify for purposes of the program in a theater of combat or during a contingency operation overseas;

(2) was retired, discharged, separated, or released from service in the Armed Forces on or after a date (not earlier than August 2, 1990) specified by the Secretary for purposes of the program; and

(3) meets such other qualifications as the Secretary may establish for purposes of the program.

(c) Employment and training.—

(1) EMPLOYMENT.—Each qualifying former member of the Armed Forces selected by the Secretary for participation in the program may be employed by the Secretary as a civilian employee of the Department of Defense for such minimum period as the Secretary considers appropriate for purposes of the program.

(2) TRAINING.—Each qualifying former member of the Armed Forces employed by the Secretary under paragraph (1) shall be provided such training in the provision of mental health counseling and services to members of the Armed Forces deployed to a combat zone as the Secretary determines appropriate in order to qualify such former member to serve as a psychiatric technician or nurse, as applicable, of the Department of Defense for the provision of such counseling and services to such members of the Armed Forces.

(3) SERVICE.—Upon the successful completion by a qualifying former member of the Armed Forces of training provided under paragraph (2), the Secretary shall require the former member, as a psychiatric technician or nurse (as applicable) of the Department of Defense, to provide such mental health counseling and services to members of the Armed Forces deployed to a combat zone as the Secretary considers appropriate.

(4) DEPLOYMENT TO COMBAT ZONE.—Each qualifying former member of the Armed Forces serving as a psychiatric technician or nurse of the Department of Defense under paragraph (3) shall agree, as a condition of participation in the program, to deploy to a combat zone to perform service as a psychiatric technician or nurse, as the case may be, for members of the Armed Forces deployed to the combat zone for such period (if any), and under such terms and conditions, as the Secretary determines appropriate.

(d) Contingency operation defined.—In this section, the term “contingency operation” has the meaning given that term in section 101(a)(13) of title 10, United States Code.

SEC. 4. Restoration of authority of Vets Centers to provide referral and other assistance upon request to former members of the Armed Forces not authorized counseling.

Section 1712A of title 38, United States Code, is amended—

(1) by redesignating subsections (c) through (f) as subsections (d) through (g), respectively; and

(2) by inserting after subsection (b) the following new subsection (c):

“(c) Upon receipt of a request for counseling under this section from any individual who has been discharged or released from active military, naval, or air service but who is not otherwise eligible for such counseling, the Secretary shall—

“(1) provide referral services to assist such individual, to the maximum extent practicable, in obtaining mental health care and services from sources outside the Department; and

“(2) if pertinent, advise such individual of such individual’s rights to apply to the appropriate military, naval, or air service, and to the Department, for review of such individual’s discharge or release from such service.”.

SEC. 5. Eligibility of members of the Armed Forces for counseling and related mental health services through Vet centers.

(a) Eligibility.—Section 1712A of title 38, United States Code, as amended by section 4, is further amended—

(1) by redesignating subsections (f) and (g) as subsections (g) and (h), respectively; and

(2) by inserting after subsection (e) the following new subsection (f):

“(f)(1) The Secretary shall, upon the request of a member of the Armed Forces, furnish the member through a center the following:

“(A) In the case of a member of a regular component of the Armed Forces, mental health services authorized to be provided under this section.

“(B) In the case of a member of a reserve component of the Armed Forces, readjustment counseling and related mental health services authorized to be provided under this section, including readjustment counseling to assist the member in reintegrating into civilian life after demobilization from active duty in the Armed Forces.

“(2) Any general mental and psychological assessment furnished a member under this subsection shall include such criteria, and be performed in such manner and with such protections for the member, as the Secretary and the Secretary of Defense shall jointly prescribe for purposes of this subsection.

“(3)(A) In the event a physician, psychologist, or other counselor furnishing counseling or mental health services to a member under this subsection determines that the member may be a danger to the member or others, the physician, psychologist, or counselor, as the case may be, shall notify an appropriate official of a military medical treatment facility designated in the procedures under subparagraph (C) of the determination.

“(B) An official receiving a notification under subparagraph (A) with respect to a member shall transmit the notification to an appropriate officer in the chain of command of the member, as designated in the procedures under subparagraph (C).

“(C) The Secretary and the Secretary of Defense shall jointly prescribe procedures for notifications under this paragraph. The procedures shall include the following:

“(i) A designation of the military medical treatment facilities to which notice with respect to members is to be submitted under subparagraph (A).

“(ii) A specification of the officers who shall constitute appropriate officers in the chain of command of a member for purposes of the transmittal of notice under subparagraph (B).

“(4) The Secretary shall carry out this subsection pursuant to a memorandum of understanding jointly entered into by the Secretary and the Secretary of Defense.”.

(b) Outreach on eligibility.—Subsection (g) of such section 1712A, as redesignated by subsection (a)(1), is further amended by inserting “and members of the Armed Forces” after “veterans”.

SEC. 6. Treatment of suicides of certain former members of the Armed Forces as deaths in line of duty for purposes of eligibility of survivors for certain benefits.

(a) Treatment as death in line of duty of suicides of certain former members of the Armed Forces.—The suicide of a former member of the Armed Forces described in subsection (b) that occurs during the two-year period beginning on the date of the separation or retirement of the former member from the Armed Forces shall be treated as a death in line of duty of a member of the Armed Forces on active duty in the Armed Forces for purposes of the eligibility of the survivors of the former member for the benefits described in subsection (c).

(b) Covered former members of the Armed Forces.—A former member of the Armed Forces described in this subsection is any former member of the Armed Forces with a medical history of a combat-related mental health condition or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

(c) Covered benefits.—The benefits described in this subsection are the benefits as follows:

(1) Burial benefits.

(2) Benefits under the Survivor Benefit Plan under subchapter II of chapter 73 of title 10, United States Code.

(3) Benefits under the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

(4) Benefits under the Social Security Act.

(d) Dates for purposes of certain determinations.—

(1) DATE OF DEATH.—Except as provided in paragraph (2), for purposes of the benefits under this section, the date of death of a former member of the Armed Forces described by subsection (a) shall be the date of the separation or retirement of the former member from the Armed Forces.

(2) DATE FOR NATURE OF ELIGIBILITY.—In determining the scope and nature of the entitlement a survivor of a former member of the Armed Forces described by subsection (a) to benefits under this section, the date of death of the former member shall be the date of the suicide of the former member.

(e) Refund of reduction in retired pay under SBP.—Any reduction in the retired pay of a former member of the Armed Forces described by subsection (a) under the Survivor Benefit Plan under subchapter II of chapter 73 of title 10, United States Code, during the period beginning on the date of the retirement of the former member from the Armed Forces and ending on the date of the suicide of the former member shall be refunded to the surviving spouse or children, as applicable, of the former member.

SEC. 7. Annual reports on effectiveness of mental health training and related counseling under reintegration programs for members of the Armed Forces and veterans.

(a) Annual assessments.—Not later than 18 months after the date of the enactment of this Act, and annually thereafter, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall jointly conduct a review and assessment of the programs of the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs for the reintegration of members of the Armed Forces and veterans into civilian life after retirement, discharge, or release from the Armed Forces in order to assess the extent of the effectiveness of the mental health resiliency training and transition counseling provided to members of the Armed Forces, veterans, and their families under such programs both before and after retirement, discharge, or release from the Armed Forces.

(b) Reports.—The Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall jointly submit to Congress a report on each review and assessment conducted under subsection (a). Each report shall set forth the results of the review and assessment concerned and shall include such recommendations for legislative or administrative action as the Secretary of Defense with respect to Department of Defense programs, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs with respect to Department of Veterans Affairs programs, or the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs jointly consider appropriate.