Underwood Works to Improve Access to Quality Health Care for Veterans

September 12, 2019
Press Release

The ACE Veterans Act expands veterans’ access to contraceptives, includes an option for full-year supply

The Post-9/11 Veteran Suicide Prevention Counseling Act would improve suicide prevention for post-9/11 veterans

WASHINGTON— Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (IL-14) introduced the ACE Veterans Act and the Post-9/11 Veteran Suicide Prevention Counseling Act to improve veterans’ health by improving access to contraceptives and preventing veteran suicide by offering proactive screening and counseling to address the unique needs of post-9/11 veterans.

The Access to Contraception Expansion for Veterans (ACE Veterans) Act (H.R. 4281) would improve access to contraceptives for women veterans by giving them the option to receive a full year’s supply of birth control pills, patches, or rings at the VA. Currently, most veterans are only given a three-month supply, which can negatively impact the ease and efficacy of contraceptive access and use. According to a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, a  full-year dispensing option for oral contraceptive pills at the VA could reduce unintended pregnancies among women veterans and produce substantial cost savings for the VA. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia currently require insurers to cover a full-year supply for oral contraceptives. This legislation is co-sponsored by Congressman Conor Lamb (D-PA) and endorsed by the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) and AMVETS.

ACE Veterans Act Fact Sheet

“Our veterans have served and sacrificed so much for us—the least we can do in return is ensure they get the best possible health care. The ACE Veterans Act will make it easier for veterans to get contraception, which in turn increases its efficacy. When you ask a veteran to pick up their contraception every few months rather than just once a year, it’s more than just a burden of a few extra drives to the pharmacy each year, it’s a burden that costs the VA money and makes women veterans more susceptible to unintended pregnancies. The ACE Veterans Act will reduce this burden and bring the VA’s current policy up-to-date with evidence-based policies implemented across the country,” said Underwood.

"The Service Women's Action Network encourages Congressional leaders to pass the Access to Contraception Expansion Act for Veterans. Veteran women should receive the same level of care and support that servicewomen and civilian women enjoy. Birth control should be easily accessible and at no cost. This bill would improve access to birth control, and help improve health outcomes for women veterans,” said Ellen Haring, Ph.D., CEO, Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN).

The Post-9/11 Veteran Suicide Prevention Counseling Act (H.R. 4282) takes a proactive approach to address the veteran suicide crisis. The most recent VA National Suicide Data Report found that the highest rate of increase of veteran suicides is among veterans aged 18-34, a rate which has nearly doubled since 2005. As of 2018, every veteran in that age group had begun their service after September 11, 2001. Underwood’s legislation would help veterans and VA health care professionals address younger veterans’ unique health care needs by providing all post-9/11 veterans with suicide and lethal means counseling as a part of their first visit to a VA facility. 

Post-9-11 Veteran Suicide Prevention Counseling Act Fact Sheet

“The suicide rate for veterans in Illinois is almost double the rate of the general population. The numbers are troubling, of course, but these are not just numbers—these are our neighbors and friends and heroes who have served and sacrificed so much for our community and our country,” said Underwood. “In order to truly address the veteran suicide crisis and continue to destigmatize mental health care, we need to proactively provide veterans with counseling and mental health support. It’s crucial that this is an option before veterans have to ask for it, which sometimes is too late.” 

As a member of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Underwood is committed to making sure that veterans are receiving the quality, affordable health care they have earned, including by addressing the veterans suicide crisis. Last month, Underwood introduced the Veterans Preventive Health Coverage Fairness Act with Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) to make health care more affordable for veterans and eliminate copays for preventive health services including contraception, immunizations, and cancer screenings. Underwood’s legislation would help reduce out-of-pocket expenses and co-pays for women veterans who choose to receive a full-year supply of contraceptives. In April, Underwood introduced the Veterans’ Care Quality Transparency Act to ensure both the VA and outside providers are offering veterans high-quality mental health and suicide prevention services. In May, this bipartisan legislation passed the House of Representatives and is awaiting consideration in the Senate.