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Bill would improve vets' mental-health care
Melissa Blondin
Melissa Blondin is a University of Southern California School of Social Work graduate student and U.S. Army veteran. She lives in Ludowici. - photo by Photo provided.

Despite attempts from the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide additional providers and resources for mental-health services to serve the growing number of veterans seeking mental-health care, veterans are still experiencing long waits or traveling lengthy distances to get appointments. To help alleviate the growing issue, House Resolution 1604, the Veterans’ Mental Health Care Access Act, was introduced to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on March 25.

This common-sense bill would expand the eligibility of veterans to receive mental-health care at non-VA facilities by eliminating the 30-day waiting period and 40-mile distance provisions currently set by the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014.

There is a growing concern of how many service members and veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other service-related mental-health disorders.

With more veterans reporting symptoms of PTSD and other service-related mental-health disorders, immediate access to mental-health-care needs to be made to veterans.  

The effects of PTSD on veterans are still being discovered. One study showed that out of six anxiety diagnoses, PTSD was the leading diagnosis associated with suicide. Anger, intrusive memories and flashbacks and impulsivity associated with PTSD can increase the risk of suicide. Additionally, some veterans experience combat-related guilt stemming from actions committed during war or survivor’s guilt. The guilt can overpower the veteran’s ability to effectively cope, leading to suicidal ideation or attempts.

According to the 2012 Suicide Data Report published by the VA, on average, 22 veterans commit suicide every day, which is roughly one every 65 minutes. Sadly, of those 22 veterans, 17 never pursued mental-health care from the VA. The Veterans’ Mental Health Care Access Act gives veterans who are struggling with the invisible wounds of war the option to seek mental-health care through a non-VA mental-health provider. Veterans would be allowed to seek mental-health treatment at any location that is reimbursed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services by the use of the Choice Card. This would allow veterans in need of mental health services to receive treatment in a timelier manner.

While the main purpose of the bill is to provide veterans easier access to mental-health services, there are additional benefits. Mental-health problems in veterans increase the risk for family instability, homelessness and joblessness. In fact, mental-health problems and the lack of treatment of those problems are the leading causes of homelessness among veterans. More than a half-million veterans become homeless at some point after transitioning into civilian life. If veterans have easier access to mental-health treatment, it is possible that we can lessen the second- and third-order effect of untreated mental health in veterans.  

The Veterans’ Mental Health Care Access Act is not designed to be the be-all and end-all in providing mental-health care to veterans. Concerns on the costs of such an ambitious policy in times of budget cutbacks need to be addressed. Additionally, transparency between the VA and outside providers is needed for veterans to receive the proper benefits and treatment. I will be the first to state that the Veterans’ Mental Health Care Access Act is not without its limitations, but it is a step in the right direction.

Since the introduction of the legislation, it has stalled in the House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee, and no further action has taken place. With Congress set to convene shortly to discuss legislation for 2016, I urge you to contact your representative or senator and request that action be taken. We cannot afford to lose any more veterans. Battlefield casualties are an accepted outcome of war. However, a veteran should never die at home because of negligence and bureaucracy.

Feel free to contact Blondin at for further discussion on the legislation.

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