WASHINGTON, DC– Congressman Dave Joyce (OH-14) is one of the five Members of Congress leading a bipartisan, bicameral effort to strengthen the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Solid Start program. The Solid Start program, which began as a pilot program in 2019, aims to contact every new veteran multiple times in the first year after they leave active duty to check in and help connect them to critical services and benefits. Joyce, along with Representatives Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) and Jack Bergman (R-MI), and Senators Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH), formally requested a non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment of the Solid Start program and how it could be strengthened.
Last year, Joyce and Slotkin introduced a bipartisan billt o strengthen and codify the Solid Start program. Senators Hassan and Cramer, as well as Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) also introduced a companion bill last year in the Senate. Both pieces of legislation included a requirement directing the GAO to assess the Solid Start program to ensure that it is efficiently and effectively meeting its goals. However, due to the fact that those bills were not signed into law by the end of the 116th Congress, Joyce and his colleagues sent a formal request for the assessment to acquire the information necessary to begin strengthening the program. If provided, the GAO evaluation will expedite efforts to improve the Solid Start program once legislation to codify it is passed and signed into law.
In 2017, 62% of the veterans who died by suicide had not been in contact with the Veterans Health Administration in the two years leading up to their death. Thankfully, the Solid Start program has had success helping veterans understand the resources at their disposal as they transition back to civilian life. Data released by the VA late last year showed that in the first nine months of the Solid Start program, the VA successfully contacted almost 70,000 newly separated veterans, including over 12,000 veterans who had sought mental health support in their last year of service.
You can read the full text of the lawmakers’ letter to the GAO click here and below.
Dear Mr. Dodaro:
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) established the Solid Start program in 2019 to provide an important link between newly separated veterans and the resources the VA can provide, by connecting with each veteran through a one-on-one phone call three times within the first year after separation. These calls are an opportunity for veterans to learn about resources they may have overlooked, get connected to new resources, and receive support for immediate concerns, such as a mental health crisis.
We believe the Solid Start program will become a critical piece of the VA’s efforts to reach out to veterans who may not otherwise access the resources the Department has to offer. We therefore request that the Government Accountability Office assess the program to ensure that it is meeting its stated goals and to analyze whether any improvements or other changes should be made to the program. This assessment should include topics such as:
(1) Analyze how many veterans have been reached through the Solid Start program and how many have not. For those that have not been reached, determine potential reasons why and whether additional outreach is being attempted to make contact with those veterans;
(2) Examine the VA’s process for determining the optimal number of phone calls, or touch points, for each separated veteran, including the steps the VA takes to determine the value of these calls both for providing information about resources and for serving as a mental health check-in;
(3) Identify the annual costs of the program, including the source of funds the VA uses for the program and what other programs are funded from that same source and;
(4) Determine whether the program is effectively and efficiently accomplishing its stated goals of getting veterans connected to resources and note any improvements needed to increase its effectiveness, such as potentially requiring the VA to include veterans who separated from service before the program began in December 2019 or having the VA provide information on state resources and veterans service organization contacts; and
(5) Any recommendations the Comptroller General deems appropriate for our consideration.