On the heels of Memorial Day, U.S. Congressmen and fellow New England freshman legislators, David Cicilline (D-RI) and Bill Keating (D-MA) joined together to introduce the SERV Act, H.R. 2026, legislation to aid our nation's veterans suffering from mental health and substance abuse issues.
According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 76% of our veteran population experience alcohol, drug or mental health problems. Further, according to a study released earlier this year by the advocacy group, Veterans for Common Sense, nearly 50% of our veterans returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan reported receiving some form of mental health care. That's approximately four times the rate of the general population.
The same group found that 122,175 veterans were diagnosed with depression, 102,767 with neurotic disorders and another 72,952 with a combination of depression, anxiety and mood swings. More than 78,000 were diagnosed with a variety of other conditions, including alcoholism and drug abuse.
The SERV Act would authorize the Department of Justice to award state and local governments with grants to create veterans' drug treatment courts or expand those already in existence. These courts would integrate multiple treatments and programs including substance abuse and mental health treatments, mandatory drug testing and relapse prevention, as well as education, job training, housing placement and child support services.
"Out of respect for our nation's heroes, many of whom are suffering from mental health and substance abuse issues related to their time in service, I am proud to introduce legislation to ensure justice for our country's veterans," said Congressman Cicilline. "And in honor of my predecessor, Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who originally introduced this legislation last Congress and who has demonstrated great leadership in the field of mental health, I am pleased to push this legislation forward today because far too many of our veterans are suffering from illnesses that cannot be seen on the outside but are destroying their health and deserve attention and proper care so they can again begin to live the kind of lifestyle they fought so hard to protect."
"After selflessly serving to protect this country, no service man or woman should return home to find themselves struggling and without help. Advancements in the medical field have showed just how many of our returning heroes are suffering from invisible injuries. We need to make available services more accessible and our strategy to combat these issues more comprehensive," said Congressman Keating. "Helping our veterans is not a partisan issue; it is our national obligation. I hope that all Members -- regardless of party affiliation -- support this very worthwhile legislation."
The veterans' drug treatment courts established by the SERV Act would provide treatments and programs to military members in a judicially supervised court setting. These courts would have jurisdiction over nonviolent offenders with substance-abuse or mental health problems; however, violent offenders would not be eligible for the veterans' treatment court. In addition, the National Drug Court Institute would provide training programs to state and local communities in order to improve quality and access to care, as well as technical assistance to other drug courts (adult, juvenile, family).