Today U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced legislation to help meet the growing demand for better access to mental health services for members of our military and their families. The TRICARE Mental Health Care Access Act will provide licensed mental health counselors with the same status as all other major groups of mental health counselors currently working in the TRICARE system, which provides health services for active duty military, military retirees and their families. By granting this status, these licensed mental health counselors will be able to help meet the military's demands for more comprehensive services, while eliminating current administrative hurdles.
Our military is facing a growing need for more and better mental health care -- but demand often outstrips supply. A recent study found that as many as 20 percent of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan experience post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders. However, under existing TRICARE requirements, patients seeking mental health services provided by a licensed mental health counselor require a physician referral and subsequent physician supervision in order to access treatment. This act will help eliminate that barrier and put patients in contact with fully-licensed and qualified counselors in a timely manner.
"These are men and women who have made tremendous sacrifices for our nation overseas and they shouldn't have to wait to receive mental health services when they return to the home front," McCaskill said. "By providing timely and quality care, our men and women in uniform will be able to get the help they need and have greater access to qualified mental health professionals."
"I am very pleased to introduce the TRICARE Mental Health Care Access Act, legislation that will help our troops obtain vital mental health care services with fewer administrative hurdles," said Lieberman. "Now is not the time to hinder access to health care. With increasing rates of PTSD, suicide, and other mental health conditions among our service-members, we have an obligation to provide timely and accessible health care services to our brave men and women in uniform."
"Our service members are under tremendous physical and mental strain as a result of multiple deployments and frequent combat situations. We must help ensure that they have access to the comprehensive health care services that they need and deserve, including mental health care. This bill would make it easier for our service members to access immediate mental health care services by eliminating the referral process and the burdens associated with it," said Collins.
The TRICARE Mental Health Access Act is the outcome of an effort by Senator McCaskill in the Fiscal Year 2009 National Defense Authorization Act that required a comprehensive, independent study by the Institute of Medicine reviewing whether mental health counselors could be given full access to the TRICARE system so that they can help the Department of Defense meet the substantial demand for mental health care services. This bill is consistent with the recommendations included in the independent study, including that qualified licensed mental health counselors be allowed to practice without additional administrative hurdles.