With the lame-duck session underway, U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas, (D-N.H., 1st District) is pressing ahead with a bill that would provide additional support for veterans' mental health needs.

The congressman is optimistic that President Donald Trump will sign the bipartisan bill, given his past support for legislation supporting veterans. 

"He signed other legislation and issued executive orders on this topic as well, so I think his interest is there," Pappas told Cheddar. "It really should be about doing what's best for the end veteran and not based on politics."

The Veterans COMPACT Act of 2020 aims to improve the transition phase from active duty to veteran status with a more robust network of support services. This would include extending outreach to veterans about existing services, raising awareness among family members, setting up a pilot program to identify service gaps, and eliminating costs for emergency mental health care.

The bill passed unanimously in both the House and Senate. 

"This is an issue that is top-of-mind to so many of our policymakers and so many of our veteran service organizations," Pappas said. "We've got to find a way to lower the number of veterans that take their lives by suicide each and every day in this country."

A total of 6,435 U.S. veterans committed sucided in 2018, according to the latest data from the Department of Veteran Affairs, a rate 50 percent higher than for non-veteran adults. 

High levels of suicide among veterans have persisted since 2005, even as the demographics of the population have shifted over time. 

"The fastest growing group of veterans is women veterans, and they're not necessarily welcomed into VA," he said. "It's a service that was created for a different generation, so we've got to bring into the 21st century."

He'd also like to see a fresh face at the head of the agency. In particular, Pappas said that former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg would be a "transformational choice," but that he looks forward to "working with whoever is chosen by President Biden."

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