December 20, 2019
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) today introduced a bill to realign chaplains at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) under the Secretary of the VA and also enhance their ability to provide mental health, counseling, and pastoral services to our nation’s veterans and VA employees. The move will centralize and streamline all faith-based programs and policies across the entire VA to improve consistency and the opportunity to have additional access to pastoral counseling, if and when a veteran needs it.
Currently, the Director of Chaplains and the VA chaplaincy, as a whole, are organized under the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), which can lead to decentralized and inconsistent religious policies across the VA, while also creating unnecessary barriers for the chaplaincy to serve veterans and VA employees throughout the rest of the Department. This bill would also provide additional mental health services to our veterans. In addition, it would align the VA chaplaincy practices and organization with how the Department of Defense’s chaplaincy currently functions, allowing for a more streamlined program.
“Chaplains are a vital part of supporting our nation’s service members and veterans, but the disjointed structure at the VA can make it difficult for chaplains to provide consistent care,” Inhofe said. “By streamlining the VA chaplaincy to more closely model the way the chaplain corps for each military service operates, we can provide greater access to religious counseling and mental health services for all veterans who want to receive it.”
“Our VA chaplains should be able to provide faith-based services and pastoral counseling to every veteran who wants it,” said Lankford. “By creating a Chief of Chaplains position at the VA, it will help to provide clear guidance across the entire department and for chaplains so they are able to administer pastoral services in a consistent and fair manner while also ensuring that chaplains have the ability to provide care for veterans in a way that does not violate their own deeply held beliefs. I believe that streamlining the VA chaplaincy to better serve our veterans is long overdue, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on advancing this legislation.”
Specifically, the bill would:
Create a Chief of Chaplains position to function as an Assistant Secretary
Chief of Chaplains reports to the Secretary of VA and oversees the VA chaplaincy and religious liberty policy at the VA
The position is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, similar to the Chief of Chaplain at the Department of Defense
Allow chaplains to preform and receive credit for clinical services
List chaplains as employees of the Chaplain Service and give the directive to serve the entire VA
Include conscience protections for chaplains