By a bi-partisan vote of 322-96, the U.S. House of Representatives today passed the $690 billion Defense Authorization, which included two amendments authored by Congressman André Carson.
Inspired by constituents from Indianapolis, Congressman Carson's first amendment would provide face-to-face mental health assessments during a soldier's deployment. Currently, service members only receive mental health screening before and after deployment.
"Injuries and trauma are most likely to occur during deployment," said Congressman Carson. "By adding regular screenings, we can improve early detection and treatment of mental illnesses like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury.
Carson added, "In too many tragic cases, undiagnosed mental illness has resulted in domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide."
The amendment also ensures that each assessment includes a full review of medical records from both the Department of Veterans Affairs and from past assignments to other units and branches of service. This process is frequently omitted from current screenings.
Gregg Keesling is an Indianapolis resident whose son, Army Specialist Chancellor Keesling, committed suicide in June 2009 while on his second deployment in Iraq. Keesling said that his son had been put on suicide watch during his first deployment, but due to the American Portability Act that prevents battlefield trauma from being shared with new units, his commander during his second deployment did not know about it.
"Congressman Carson's amendment is about more than just extra screenings," said Keesling. "It changes the lack information-sharing that currently exists. If this bill was in place prior to my son's second deployment it could have saved his life."
Indianapolis resident Shannon Blaylock lost her brother, Sergeant Jacob Blaylock, who served in Iraq. While Jacob's condition was detected after his deployment ended, he took his life the day before necessary medication arrived in the mail.
Jacob had a series of rescheduled appointments, both on Jacob's part and the VA's, before he was finally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He was running late for work on the day that he was to receive his medication, so the VA sent it to him in the mail.
Blaylock said, "Had Jacob been screened in Iraq prior to coming home, perhaps he could have been offered the counseling necessary to overcome his post-traumatic stress before returning to civilian life. At the very least, he could have received his medication sooner and maybe he'd still be here today."
Carson's second amendment expands the pre-separation counseling program to ensure that active duty service members receive the guidance they need to manage their personal finances upon returning to civilian life.
"Many in our military enlisted right out of high school or college and have served in the structured atmosphere of a military base or deployment operation. They have not had to manage day-to-day bills associated with living on a civilian income or engage in savings planning." Carson said. "My amendment will help reduce the number of families falling into unmanageable debt, bankruptcy, and foreclosure. We owe those who risk their lives to preserve our freedom the opportunity to stay debt free and get off on the right foot financially."