I have some GREAT news for our veterans: last week, my bipartisan Solid Start Act was signed into law. This bill requires the VA to reach out to veterans three times in their first year of separation from the military to connect them with benefits and resources they’ve earned which can help with their transition.
I want to be clear: this will be huge for veterans exiting the service and will go a long way towards connecting them to the benefits they‘re entitled to. I’ve heard from many Michigan veterans who either don’t know which VA programs can help them, or feel that “go to the VA” sounds like nails on a chalkboard.
Now that the Solid Start Act is law, new veterans will have the chance to talk to a real person over the phone, rather than navigate the sprawling VA bureaucracy. Instead of holding on the phone for hours and scouring confusing websites, getting benefits will look more like:
“Hi there, I’m calling from the VA as part of the Solid Start Program, I wanted to check in on how we can assist your transition? I can help you understand all of the medical, employment, or housing assistance you qualify for.”
“Yeah, I actually was hoping to get a VA mortgage loan, but I’m having trouble finding reputable providers.”
“Sure, no problem, I’ll send a list right over!”
When those who served return home, many of them don’t know about the benefits they have earned, making it much more difficult to transition to civilian life. We also know that in the first year of separation, suicide rates for vets are at their very highest. We can’t make the same mistakes with the latest generation of veterans, and this legislation is an important step forward.
I first introduced the Solid Start Act in Howell on Veterans Day in 2020. But the story of this legislation did not begin there. It actually started with an organization called VETLIFE, located right here in Livingston County. They had been looking to identify ways that veterans could be better connected to their earned VA benefits, as well as identify how the VA could conduct better outreach to the transitioning veteran community. They identified and zeroed in on Solid Start, which at the time was only a VA pilot program with an expiration date.
VETLIFE reached out to one of my staff members in our Lansing office – a veteran himself who works on vets issues. Our team took a long look at the program to see how we could write it into law and how it could be improved.
Through these conversations, the idea for the Solid Start Act emerged. We wrote the bill and asked around for co-sponsors, eventually bringing on my Republican colleague Rep. Dave Joyce. We tried to get it into the 2021 defense budget, but it was stripped out at the last second.
But after months of advocacy and outreach to my colleagues in the Senate, including Republican Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND), we secured the support to pass Solid Start unanimously. The final hurdle was passing the bill through the House. After an 11th hour challenge to the legislation, and some fiery debate, it finally passed.
The story of Solid Start was a textbook case in how legislation should be developed and passed. It wasn’t part of a thousand page omnibus package drafted in secret by party leadership, nor was it taken from a shadowy Washington think tank. Instead, the bill began with an idea from a local constituent, was built and drafted by a Representative and her legislative staff, and was passed through Congress using old-fashioned bipartisan negotiation and advocacy. And now that it’s been signed into law, the Solid Start Act will begin to assist the very folks who inspired it.
I hear all the time from Michiganders who are frustrated by a Congress that never seems to get anything done. And while this institution is certainly broken in a lot of ways, there are still a number of us – Republican and Democrat – that came to Washington determined to deliver for the folks back home and who are committed to rolling up our sleeves and doing the work without taking shortcuts.
That sort of work is how the Solid Start Act was passed into law, and I will continue to do things the way I know Michiganders expect me to.
– Rep. Elissa Slotkin