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Legislation would authorize VA to establish healthcare system

The Department would establish between four and six residential health care facilities around the state.

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Bills filed in the House and Senate would authorize the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs to establish and operate a statewide integrated healthcare system for Alabama Veterans and their immediate families.

HB197 by State Rep. Chip Brown, R-Hollinger’s Island, and SB135 by Republican Sen. Andrew Jones would authorize that process.

As envisioned, the Department would establish between four and six residential health care facilities around the state, supported by as many as 25 outpatient clinics to be co-located or located adjacent the Department’s Veterans Service Offices.

“Suicide rates among Veterans are as much as twice those of non-Veterans. Veterans account for a little less than 10 percent of the state’s population, but Veteran suicides account for 18 percent of the suicides in the state,” said retired Maj. Gen. Mike Sumrall, former Adjutant General of the Alabama National Guard. “The tragic truth is that an Alabama Veteran takes his or her own life every 2.4 days. We owe it to our Veterans to provide them with better access to health care, including mental health care. This bill will go a long way to doing that by significantly shortening wait times for appointments and by providing peer-to-peer, culturally-competent programs that are specially tailored for Veterans, which no other health care provider in the state is currently doing.”

Every year since 2012, Alabama has led the nation in opioid prescriptions on a per capita basis. Opioid overdoses have increased nearly every year in Alabama since 2015, despite the Alabama Department of Mental Health’s spending $40 million per year on the Alabama Opioid Overdose and Addiction Council—which allotted no money for the specific care of Veterans or their families.

Many Veterans turn to opioids and other substances to deal with physical pain, emotional pain, and trauma, and studies have shown a clear link between opioid use and suicide by Veterans. Between 2010 and 2019, opioid overdoses among Veterans in Alabama increased 93.4 percent.

The Alabama Council of Chapters of the Military Officers Association of America is urging the Legislature to take up the bill in this session.

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“By implementing an integrated health care system designed to address the specific needs of Veterans, the Alabama Department of VeteransAffairs can successfully deliver primary care, mental health care and other life-saving services to thousands of Veterans and family members each year while providing relief to the overburdened federal VA health care system,” the council said in a statement.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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