Obama, McCaskill Introduce Bill to Evaluate Needs of Returning Service Members
U.S. Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) today introduced the Homecoming Enhancement Research and Oversight (HERO) Act, legislation that would launch a comprehensive research endeavor to evaluate the physical, mental health, and readjustment needs of service members returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Between family commitments, widespread traumatic brain injuries and mental health disorders, and multiple redeployments, today's service members and their families face a unique set of needs that must be identified and addressed.
"Caring for our returning service members is one thing we can still get right about this war," said Senator Obama. "We must ensure that we give our service members, veterans and their families receive the treatment, care, and assistance they need to rebuild their lives. The challenges do not diminish for many service members when they return home because the legacy of war takes a physical and emotional toll. As we bring this war to a resolution, it's our duty to honor the commitment of these heroes by meeting their long-term needs."
"Those who have fought this war and felt its effects most personally, our servicemen and women, deserve to have a real researched plan for dealing with the aftermath of their sacrifice, so that the mistakes made by the administration in war planning are not repeated in planning for the readjustment needs of these heroes," Senator McCaskill said. "Such a comprehensive research effort proved invaluable for Vietnam veterans but came ten years late. We need to deliver the same level of analysis and planning for today's veterans right now."
After many Vietnam veterans had difficulty readjusting when they returned from war, a national Vietnam veterans study was conducted to evaluate their needs, but it was completed more than a decade after the war ended. This war has been described as a "family war." According to the American Psychological Association, 60% of deployed service members have family responsibilities, and at any given time, some 500,000 children have at least one parent deployed. There is a lack of research focused on mental health and other readjustment needs of returning service members, including service-connected PTSD and increasingly complex Traumatic Brain Injuries.
The Hero Act would direct the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to launch a national research study which would achieve the following in two phases:
Phase One Research (completed in 180 days)
* Preliminary findings on the mental health and adjustment needs as well as gaps in care facing service members, veterans and their families;
* Description of research tracks and parameters for Phase Two research.
Phase Two Research (completed in 3 years)
* An assessment of the psychological, social and economic impacts of deployments on service members, veterans and their families, including the particular impacts of multiple extended deployments and the long-term effects of untreated physical and mental health disorders, such as PTSD;
* An assessment of the particular needs and concerns of female members of the Armed Forces and female veterans
* An assessment of the particular needs and concerns of minority members of the Armed Forces and minority veterans;
* An assessment of the particular educational and vocational needs of returning service members, veterans and their families;
* An assessment of the full scope of the effects of TBIs on service members and former members, including effects on the family members and caregivers; and efficacy and accessibility of current treatment options within the DOD and VA;
* Recommendations, based on Phase Two findings, of remedies or strategies to prevent, minimize or address the impacts, needs and gaps in care identified.
Follow-Up Action Planning
* The VA and DOD must submit joint planning documents, with cost estimates, which respond to the NAS findings; and the GAO will audit these documents.
The Hero Act has been endorsed by Veterans for America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Coalition to Salute America's Heroes and the Brain Injury Association of America.
Senators Obama and McCaskill also sponsored the Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act, which takes a comprehensive approach to improving treatment for returning service members, from improving facilities, to increasing caseworkers and counselors and easing the transition from the DoD to the VA. Senator Obama is also the sponsor of the Lane Evans Veterans Health and Benefits Improvement Act, which would make veterans who served on active duty during a period of war eligible for a mental health evaluation and provide hospital care, medical services, nursing home care, and family and marital counseling for any identified mental health condition.