As Veterans Day approaches, it's a good moment to note U.S. Rep. Jim Banks' efforts on behalf of men and women who have served.
Wednesday, the House passed the 3rd District Indiana congressman's bill to require the Department of Veterans Affairs to look at how effective its hotline is meeting the needs of troubled veterans.
The bill asks the VA to study how well its Veterans Crisis Hotline responds to calls from ex-servicemen and -women contemplating suicide. The department would be required to report how many of those callers are referred for mental health treatment or to suicide-prevention specialists. This is an urgent problem. As Banks noted on the House floor during discussion of his bill Tuesday, 20 veterans die by suicide each day, but the effectiveness of the hotline has not been formally evaluated since it began in 2007.
Monday, the House also passed a bill Banks authored to close a gap in federal codes regarding headstones for members of a veteran's family who pass away in an accident in which their remains are never found. A law passed on Nov. 11, 1998, directs the government to provide headstones for veterans' spouses. Another law, passed in 2006, makes dependent children of veterans who passed away after that date eligible for headstones.
“It is unfortunate that these two laws did not go into effect at the same time,” Banks explained to House members Tuesday. His bill, he explained, would change the eligibility date for both spouses and dependent children to Nov. 11, 1998.
“In some cases,” Banks told House members, “a spouse and child have passed away in the same accident, and the spouse received a headstone while the child did not. My bill addresses this unfortunate situation.”
Bills on suicide hotlines and family gravestones are not the focus of consequential congressional debates – both passed with bipartisan support. But both measures are steps toward ensuring America keeps faith with those who have served.
It also is noteworthy when a freshman congressman authors and passes bills. Banks, a Navy reservist, promised as a candidate to champion veterans' issues; he is keeping that promise as a member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.
Banks, a Republican, tends to be more like traditional, follow-the-leader freshmen on such matters as health care, foreign policy and the tax-cut proposaI. He has demonstrated the energy, determination and chops to apply a critical eye to safe issues. Hoosiers will be even better served if he expands that focus to more controversial issues as well.