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Senate passes Shaheen amendments to Defense Authorization bill

(Washington, D.C.)U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen's suicide prevention and Yellow Ribbon Plus amendments were unanimously adopted to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2010, which passed the Senate late last night. Both amendments, which are based off successful New Hampshire pilot programs, will improve counseling services available to National Guard, Reservists and their families across the country. The Senate-passed bill now goes to conference committee to be joined with the House-passed bill.

"The New Hampshire National Guard has led the way in the development of comprehensive programs to ensure that our state's citizen soldiers receive the support they need and deserve," said Shaheen. "This legislation will build on these successful programs to help other states prevent suicide in the armed forces and provide personalized support to soldiers and their families before and after deployment. These programs are essential to honoring the great sacrifice of our citizen-soldiers, and I am very happy Congress has acted to help our brave troops as they adjust to civilian life."

"Sen. Shaheen's amendment will ensure our citizen-soldiers and their families receive the best possible support and care before, during and after a deployment," said Maj. Gen. William Reddel, the Adjutant General of the New Hampshire National Guard. "Our National Guardsmen took two oaths, one to serve their state and the other to serve their country. They are part of the one percent of the population who, in essence, signed a blank check up to and including their life to preserve our freedoms and liberties. We owe it to them and their families to return the favor two-fold. Sen. Shaheen and our state congressional delegation understand that all too well."

The suicide prevention amendment requires that the Department of Defense's (DoD) Office for Reintegration Programs establish a program to provide National Guard members and Reservists, their families, and their communities with training in suicide prevention and counseling in response to suicide.  It also requires the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury to work with State National Guard and Reserve organizations on developing suicide prevention and community response programs.

The Yellow Ribbon Plus amendment seeks to evaluate and improve the nationwide Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program-a support program for National Guardsmen, Reservists and their families.  The amendment also calls on DoD to identify and incorporate lessons learned from programs that have expanded beyond Yellow Ribbon, including a successful New Hampshire pilot program that identified the need for more personalized counseling and support services for National Guard and Reservists and their families.

The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program provides important support services to Guard and Reserve members through  informational events and activities throughout the pre-deployment and deployment phases, as well as 30, 60, and 90 days after their return. However, the New Hampshire National Guard found that these programs do not always meet the needs of all service members and their families.

The pilot program developed by the New Hampshire National Guard assigns a "care coordinator" to each Guard member and Reservist, and develops a personalized plan to ensure they are ready for deployment and are able to transition back to civilian life once they return. The program is funded through a unique partnership with the New Hampshire National Guard, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, Easter Seals in New Hampshire and 22 other civilian and veteran service organizations.

Since taking office in January, Shaheen has continuously advocated for soldiers and veterans. As her first act in the Senate in January, Shaheen introduced the Veterans Health Equity Act of 2009 requiring the VA ensure that every state has a full-service veterans' hospital, or that comparable services are provided by contracting with in-state hospitals. 

Shaheen was also successful in passing legislation that prevents unnecessary financial hardship for veterans.  The bill was prompted by retired Air Force Sergeant Wayne Merritt of Dover, New Hampshire who lost over half his monthly retirement pension in April due to the unfair repayment formula and faced losing his home because of the decreased pay.

The passage of these amendments comes as the nation has become increasingly more reliant on National Guard and Reservists to service multiple deployments overseas.  Recently, it was announced that more than 1,100 soldiers from the 197th Fires Brigades are expected to deploy to the Middle East in the coming year. This deployment, the largest in the New Hampshire Guard's history, will mark the second, third or fourth deployment for many soldiers.

Shaheen co-sponsored seven other amendments included in the final Defense Authorization bill.