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VETERANS: Senator Murray Proposes Major Mental Health Care Expansion as Part of Defense Authorization Bill

Nov 28 2012

Murray’s amendment would make improvements to ensure that those who served have access to consistent, quality behavioral health care

(Washington, D.C.) – As it becomes increasingly clear that the Pentagon and VA are losing the battle on mental and behavioral health conditions that are confronting so many of our servicemembers and veterans, Senator Murray gave a speech on the Senate floor today to offer an amendment to the defense authorization bill that seeks to improve mental health and suicide prevention services.  The amendment is derived from her servicemembers and veterans mental health legislation, the Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012, which unanimously cleared the Veterans’ Affairs Committee earlier this year.  Senator Murray’s amendment would require the Department of Defense to create a comprehensive, standardized suicide prevention program; expand eligibility for a variety of Department of Veterans Affairs mental health services to family members; strengthen oversight of DoD Mental Health Care and the Integrated Disability Evaluation System; improve training and education for our health care providers; create more peer-to-peer counseling opportunities; and require VA to establish accurate and reliable measures for mental health services.

Key excerpts from Senator Murray’s speech:

“I think everyone in this body knows about, and is distressed by, the alarming rate of suicide and the mental health problems in our military and veterans populations.  We know our servicemembers and veterans have faced unprecedented challenges: multiple deployments; difficulty finding a job here at home;  and isolation in their communities. Some have faced tough times reintegrating into family life, with loved ones trying to relate but not knowing how.  These are the challenges our servicemembers and veterans know all too well.” 

“We must have effective suicide prevention programs in place.  It’s often only on the brink of crisis that a servicemember or veteran seeks care. If they are told ‘sorry, we are too busy to help you,’ we have lost the opportunity to help, and that is not acceptable.”

“While the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have taken important steps towards addressing this crisis, we know more must be done. We know that any solution depends upon reducing wait times and improving access to mental health care; ensuring proper diagnosis; and achieving true coordination of care and information between the Departments.”

The full text of Senator Murray’s speech:

“Mr. President, today I am offering an amendment to the defense authorization bill to improve mental health and suicide prevention services.

“This language is derived from my Mental Health ACCESS Act, which was unanimously approved by the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. 

“This amendment is critical legislation that improves how DOD and VA provide mental health care. 

“I think everyone in this body knows about, and is distressed by, the alarming rate of suicide and the mental health problems in our military and veterans populations. 

“We know our servicemembers and veterans have faced unprecedented challenges: multiple deployments; difficulty finding a job here at home;  and isolation in their communities.

“Some have faced tough times reintegrating into family life, with loved ones trying to relate but not knowing how. 

“These are the challenges our servicemembers and veterans know all too well. 

“But even as they turn to us for help, we’re losing the battle.  Time and time again, we’ve lost servicemembers and veterans to suicide. 

“But while the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have taken important steps towards addressing this crisis, we know more must be done.

“We know that any solution depends upon reducing wait times and improving access to mental health care; ensuring proper diagnosis; and achieving true coordination of care and information between the Departments.

“This amendment would require a comprehensive, standardized suicide prevention program across the DoD. 

“It would require the use of the best medical practices, in suicide prevention and behavioral health programs to address serious gaps in the current programs.

“This amendment would expand eligibility for VA mental health services to family members of veterans.

“The amendment would also give servicemembers an opportunity to serve as peer counselors to fellow Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and create a quality assurance program for the historically troubled disability evaluation system.

“It would require VA to offer peer support services at all medical centers and create opportunities to train more veterans to provide peer services. 

“This bill will require VA to establish accurate and reliable measures for mental health services.

“We must have effective suicide prevention programs in place.  It’s often only on the brink of crisis that a servicemember or veteran seeks care. 

“If they are told ‘sorry, we are too busy to help you,’ we have lost the opportunity to help, and that is not acceptable.

“I would like to thank Senator Levin and Senator McCain for their work on the defense authorization bill, and for their help bringing this amendment to the floor today.

“Thank you Mr. President.”