New Bills Aim to Improve Military Mental Healthcare



Mike O'Brien
04/11/2013

Two new bills aimed at improving mental healthcare for military personnel were introduced on Wednesday.

The Military Suicide Reduction Act, HR 1463, seeks to build on the mental health assessments already provided to troops when they return from deployments on contingency operations. The bill calls for better screening to help identify people who need counseling.

Related: Crisis at the Health of Military Behavioral Healthcare

The Military Mental Health Empowerment Act, HR 1464, focuses on the need to encourage more people to seek mental health counseling. Under this bill, notice will be given in the first days of military training about the availability of help.

The bill also calls for the eliminatuion of the perceived stigma associated with seeking help by strengthening privacy policies, MilitaryTimes.com reports.

Both bills were introduced by Rep. Andre Carson, a Democrat from Indiana. He said the goal is to reduce suicides by improving access to mental health services and, ultimately, reinforcing the notion that there is nothing wrong with seeking help.

"We are quick to diagnose and treat service members who are injured in combat, with medics rushing to those who are struck by enemy IEDs or gunfire," he said.

"When it comes to the mental health challenges placed on our service members, we abandon them through months of deployment to deal with post traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicidal thoughts."

Mr. Carson added: "Seeking help shouldn’t be something our service members have to second guess. They shouldn’t have to fear drawing unwanted attention to themselves or derailing their careers."

Related: Examining the Current Trends in Military Healthcare

In his 2014 budget proposal on Wednesday, President Obama asked for $235 million to fund mental health initiatives. From that amount, $130 million would be used to train teachers and others on how to identify signs of mental illness in students and provide them with access to treatment.

ABC News reports that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius wrote on her department’s website on Tuesday that the funds include $205 million to help identify mental health problems, improve access to mental health services and support safer school environments. The extra $30 million would be put towards public health research on gun violence.

In a blog post, she wrote: "We cannot ignore the fact that 60 percent of people with mental health conditions and nearly 90 percent of people with substance use disorders don't receive the care they need."

Military healthcare will be the focus of IDGA’s DoD/VA Healthcare 2013 summit next month. Among the topics discussed will be Traumatic Brain Injury / PTSD / Wounded Warrior Care, Post Combat Care / Battlefield Healthcare and Mental and Behavioral Health. For full details, go to www.DoDHealthcare.com