(WASHINGTON) – Today, Congressman Jim Banks (IN-03), member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, introduced a bill to realign chaplains at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) directly under the VA Secretary. The bill is designed to create consistent religious policies across the VA, improve access to pastoral counseling and instruct the VA to install a Chief of Chaplains position that functions as an Assistant Secretary to the Secretary at the VA.
“Spiritual counseling and mental health services can be essential to suicide prevention. As veteran suicides are on the rise, we need to take every measure possible to get those struggling with the unseen scars of war the tools they need to survive,” said Rep. Banks. “The VA should support an individual’s religious freedom and provide faith-based services to those that want it.”
Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-CO) joins as an original co-sponsor.
“I am pleased to join Congressman Jim Banks on this crucial issue,” said Rep. Lamborn. “As the Representative for more veterans than any other Congressional district, I’m glad to introduce legislation addressing the structure for Chaplains in the VA which will streamline access to faith-based programs and policies. Chaplains, in addition to pastoral services, play a significant role in aiding in mental health and counseling. I’m grateful for the partnership of Congressman Banks on this important effort.”
As of now, the VA chaplaincy is organized under the lower levels of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). The current structure does not allow for a direct flow of policy from the VA Secretary – which has resulted in decentralized and inconsistent religious policies across VA. The services chaplains provide are largely focused at VHA – which has also created unnecessary barriers that limit the chaplaincy’s ability to provide care to veterans and VA employees throughout all agencies of the Department.
The bill is carefully crafted to ensure chaplains can provide clinical services (mental health and counseling) as part of their pastoral service and therefore can be done in a manner consistent with their faith tradition and endorsing body. This should enhance their work as they can be more readily utilized for services including suicide prevention.
This is companion legislation to S.3128, introduced by Sens. James Lankford (R-OK) and Jim Inhofe (R-OK)