Today, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) introduced legislation that would require the Pentagon to provide National Guard and Reserve units with embedded mental health counselors to improve mental health care services. The legislation, the Embedded Mental Health Providers for Reserves Act of 2010, would provide a consistent mental health professional in each unit to help earn the trust of soldiers, military leaders, and family members and provide access to support during drill weekends and family readiness events. The legislation comes as Guard and Reserve members continue coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom are suffering from mental health issues that could be treated earlier and more effectively with proper outreach and care.
"Members of the National Guard who return to their communities after serving in combat often have less access to the care they need than their active duty counterparts," Senator McCaskill said. "This bill is all about making sure the heroic men and women of our Guard have better access to mental health care, especially as mental health related illnesses are plaguing our veterans in increasing numbers, in the places where they serve their country."
"Members of the Guard and Reserve have sacrificed so much to serve their country and we owe them nothing less than our full support when they need our help," said Senator Murray. "These brave men and women deserve to have access to high quality, consistent mental health providers embedded right in their units so they don't have to work to find mental health care on their own. This bill will help Guard and Reserve members and their families build strong bonds with providers in order to destigmitize care and improve access."
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The Embedded Mental Health Providers for Reserves Act of 2010 builds on the Embedded Provider pilot program with the California National Guard, which currently supports 27 licensed behavioral health counselors embedded with 40 California National Guard units.
The data from this program suggests that easily available, early intervention can stem the need for more serious treatment in the long run. When this program first began in 2006, approximately 36% of the cases seen by providers were "self initiated" by Service members with the other 64% of the cases coming as a result of clinical outreach or military leadership intervention. In 2010, those numbers have almost reversed and now nearly 57% of those seeking assistance are self initiating interaction with the provider; suggesting that time, trust, and familiarity has reduced the stigma of talking with a counselor.