Montana's Congressman, Denny Rehberg, praised the passage of legislation in the U.S. House that would require every soldier to have a face-to-face mental health screening before they are deployed on a combat mission, upon their return, and every six months for two years following their return. Rehberg was the House sponsor of stand-alone legislation, the Post Deployment Health Assessment Act (H.R. 2058) which was included in the National Defense Authorization Act. Rehberg's bill was the companion legislation to a measure introduced in the Senate by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT).
The National Defense Authorization Act sets a comprehensive annual defense policy and authorizes the FY2010 budget for the Department of Defense (DoD). In addition to the mental health provisions, this year's Defense Authorization also contains a pay increase for military personnel and their families.
"The psychological toll of warfare can be every bit as debilitating as a piece of shrapnel or an enemy bullet," said Rehberg, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. "This effective solution came from a Montana pilot program, and was championed by the Montanans in the House and Senate. Senator Baucus deserves a lot of credit for adding this important language to the Defense Authorization Act, and I'm glad I was able to get it through the House."
Rehberg and Baucus' language creates new requirements for identification of mental health issues including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression among soldiers. Prior to deployment, a soldier would be interviewed in order to establish a baseline against which a subsequent interview upon return from a combat theater could be measured. By requiring these interviews to be timely and personal, the likelihood of identifying PTSD in order to begin treatment is dramatically increased.
In addition to introducing the legislation in the House, Rehberg rallied bipartisan House support when the bill language was included in the Senate-passed version of the National Defense Authorization Act. Rehberg drafted a letter encouraging the House negotiators to ensure that these critical mental health provisions were included in the final version of the bill. His letter included 54 signatures from members of both parties.
"I can't tell you how happy I am that the House passed this critical legislation," said Matt Kuntz, Montana's executive director of The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). "The mental health screenings required under the Post Deployment Health Assessment Act are going to help thousands of our men and women in uniform get help for their post traumatic stress injuries. That care will save our heroes' lives and help strengthen our military families. While Senator Baucus drafted the Post Deployment Health Assessment Act, Congressman Rehberg led a bipartisan coalition to support the legislation in the House. That coalition was critical to the Act's final passage."
The Defense Authorization Act also provides a 3.4 percent pay increase for military personnel in addition to increasing the maximum monthly supplemental subsistence allowance paid to low-income service members with spouses also increase from $500 to $1,100, to ensure that military members do not require food stamps. For active duty service members with catastrophic injuries or illnesses, the bill establishes a special compensation of up to $2,900.