The two recent wars fought by American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have brought much needed public awareness to the problem of veteran mental health issues. Studies from the Department of Veterans Affairs show an increase in suicides among those recently discharged and a high rate of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD among those veterans who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Internal VA reporting shows that of the 1.7 million veterans who served in the wars 20 percent suffer from PTSD.
While there is a great need for increased access to mental health care among veterans a recent scandal involving the VA’s health care services has also shown that much work needs to be done to make sure veterans are receiving the access to needed services. The scandal showed that veterans were being made to wait for extended amounts of time to receive treatment. As a result of this scandal and the growing concern over veteran health care a number of legislative proposals have been introduced, below is a summary of the most active proposals.
After months of negotiations between Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chair Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Jeff Miller (R-AZ) the sides drafted a $16 billion Veterans Health Care reform bill: H.R.3230 - Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014. This legislation addresses many veteran mental health care needs, chief among them is the ability of veterans who are not near VA faculties offering mental health care to seek private care from non VA doctors. This legislation was enacted when President Obama signed it into law on August 7, 2014. Sen. John Walsh (D-MT), the only veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars serving in the Senate, worked with the IAVA or the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association to draft S.2182 – Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. S.2182 is a comprehensive veteran suicide prevention bill and is supported veteran groups as a necessary step to combat the record number of veteran suicides seen since the outbreak of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Sen. Walsh introduced this legislation on March 27, 2014 which was also the IAVA day of action in Washington DC. On July 31, 2014 Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and veteran Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) introduced identical legislation: H.R.5336/S.2730 – Mental Health Exposure Military Official Record Act of 2014. Their bills aim to better identify the causes of veteran mental health issues by tracking traumatic exposures among members of the active military.
A complete listing of related bills in Congress
- H.R.3230 - Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL): is a $16 billion Veterans health care reform bill that includes many provisions related to veteran mental health care including rural service access issues and suicide prevention. This legislation is a landmark bill that involved months of negotiations between Senate and House leaders. (Enacted 8/7/2014)
- H.R. 3499/S.1155 - Rural Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, sponsored by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) and Sen. John Tester (D-MT): is a bill to improve the access of mental health care for rural veterans who do not live near a VA facility that offers appropriate services. The spirit of this legislation was included in H.R.3230 (Introduced 11/13/2013)
- H.R.5336/S.2730 – Mental Health Exposure Military Official Record Act of 2014, sponsored by Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH): is a bill to better track traumatic exposures among members of the active military. (Introduced 7/31/2014)
- S.2182 – Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, sponsored by Sen. John Walsh (D-MT): is a comprehensive bill to prevent veteran suicides by streamlining access to mental health care. (Introduced 3/27/14)
- H.R.3717 – Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2013 , sponsored by Rep. Patrick Murphy (R-PA): is a bill to give families, including veteran families, access to extra help during a crisis, such as counseling. (Introduced 12/12/2013)
Data Source, The American Psychiatric Association: http://www.apa.org/about/gr/issues/military/critical-need.aspx
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association: http://iava.org/press-room/press-releases/historic-legislation-introduced-combat-veteran-suicide