Claire knows that our national defense is secured by our brave active duty, Reserve and National Guard troops -- many of whom have undergone multiple deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world. Claire firmly believes the health of our military starts with the individual soldier, sailor, airman or marine. She knows our country owes these individuals and their families the best care available, whether it's access to mental health care, jobs for military families or educational benefits.
Helping Wounded Warriors and their Families:
The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have yielded tens of thousands of injured service members, many of whom suffer from traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorders, mental illness and substance abuse. In fact, more than 100 Missouri troops have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many more have been injured. Their sacrifice is a call to action to honor their memory through positive legislation that helps troops, their families, and consequently, America.
Unfortunately, suicide rates among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and in the general troop population have reached alarming highs in recent years. Claire is committed to ensuring that these men and women who fought under the toughest combat conditions don't have to fight a new battle when they return home, regardless if they are active duty, National Guard or Reserve members. Claire has been one of the most active champions of wounded warriors and their families, as well as an outspoken advocate of improved mental health services.
Media reports have focused on the plight of injured active-duty soldiers who come home from Iraq, Afghanistan and other deployments worldwide only to face a maze of paperwork, lengthy delays and lack of guidance in the military's complex health care and disability compensation system. Claire, along with then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) quickly responded to an incident exposing problems like these at Walter Reed Army Medical Center near Washington, D.C., with the Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act legislation, which seeks to remove these obstacles. In 2007, the Senate passed a landmark measure that contains many of the provisions of the McCaskill-Obama bill.
Claire also is a proud co-sponsor of the Family Caregiver Program Act (S.801), which would provide family members of severely injured wounded warriors with the training, certification, and ongoing support needed to provide quality care for the warrior. She also supports legislation relating to the Survivor Benefit Program (SBP) and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) Repeal offset. Among other things, the legislation would ensure that benefits paid through the SBP to the surviving spouses of former military personnel are calculated in a fair and equitable manner.
As part of a meaningful transition back to civilian life for our troops, Claire also believes America should make good on its promise to provide veterans with an education to honor their service and sacrifice. She was an outspoken supporter and co-sponsor of the Post 9/11 Veteran's Education Assistance Act of 2008 (S.22), which has recently been implemented by the Veteran's Administration (VA). This legislation provides the greatest boost to veterans' higher education benefits since World War II. The bill entitles veterans who served three years of active duty after September 11, 2001, to full tuition assistance and a living stipend for attending college. As the VA struggles to manage the increasing demand for tuition assistance, Claire is also committed to making sure the proper government watchdogs keep an eye on problems that arise and how benefits are distributed.
Improving Access to Mental Health Services:
As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, one of Claire's principal efforts has been to ensure that our men and women in uniform have access to the best mental health care and substance abuse treatment. Worrisome trends of increasing suicide, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) show that our military urgently needs to address the mental health of our troops. With bipartisan support, Claire has fought for comprehensive reviews of service-related mental health conditions affecting troops that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. She also co-sponsored with Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and the late-Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) a provision to require the Department of Defense (DoD) to provide service members with face-to-face mental health screenings before they deploy to combat, after they return home and every six months for the next two years. Now law, this requirement was among the highest priorities for veterans groups in 2009. Prior to this legislation, DoD had only provided written surveys as a screening method for post deployment mental health issues.
Claire is also dedicated to helping the Missouri National Guard and all Guard and Reserve troops across the country. Too often, the mental health needs of Guardsmen and Reservists fall through the cracks due to the special nature of their service and deployments. This is unacceptable given the sacrifice these men and women have made for our state and our country. That's why Claire recently co-sponsored the National Guard Suicide Prevention Program, led by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). This bill required the Office for Reintegration Programs to establish a national program to provide National Guard and Reserve members, their families, and communities with training in suicide prevention and community healing in response to suicide.
Reducing the Stigma of Substance Abuse in the Military:
Claire has been at the cutting edge of improving substance use disorder treatment for the military and military families. Too often, our troops suffer in silence with substance use disorders because the stigma of seeking treatment prevents them from seeking help. Substance abuse and mental health issues often go hand-in-hand and are exacerbated by the stress of frequent deployments. Substance abuse has been linked to increases in mental and physical health problems, increased risk of domestic violence and family discord and increased risk of unemployment, homelessness and suicide. That is why Claire has been a vocal advocate of reducing barriers for service members who want to get help, get well, and get on with their lives.
In 2009, she authored legislation to reform the DoD's substance abuse programs, The SUPPORT for Substance Use Disorders Act (S.459). Claire's legislation requires a new comprehensive plan from the DoD on substance use disorder treatment, as well as an independent, external review of the program. The key components of this legislation became law in October 2009.
Like many others, Claire drew her inspiration for the legislation from Missouri stories. She became aware of problems within the Army's Substance Abuse Program, such as understaffing and lack of anonymity, after being approached by a whistleblower at Fort Leonard Wood.
Claire's work in this area also includes looking out for the needs of the families of our troops. After introducing her legislation, Claire partnered with the Partnership for Drug Free America, National Military Families Association and School Nurses Association of America to roll out a new program to prevent substance abuse in military families. The Time to Talk program provides online substance abuse prevention tools for military families, who face added stresses from deployments, multiple moves and other frequent transitions.
Improving Access to Benefits for Our Troops and Their Families:
Claire knows that our troops sacrifice so that all Americans can be free and safe. That's why she pushes hard for better benefits for our military members and their families. She joined with Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) to introduce the Military Spouse Education and Employment Act (S.2599) to improve educational and employment opportunities for America's military spouses, who often find it difficult to find meaningful employment because of frequent relocations required by the military.
In 2009, Claire was also a co-sponsor of the Military Family Nutrition Protection Act (S. 581) to exempt combat pay from total income requirements used to determine child nutrition programs and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. She also co-sponsored the Family Caregiver Program Act (S. 801) to provide family members of severely injured wounded warriors with the training, certification and ongoing support needed to give quality care for the warrior. She also is a strong supporter of ending the offsets associated with the Survivor Benefit Program (SBP) and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC).
Claire also believes that National Guard and Reserve members shouldn't have to fight harder to get the benefits that their active duty brethren receive. She has introduced a bill to make certain that National Guard and Reserve service members who have not experienced a deployment are not treated differently than other service members when they apply for federal financial aid. She also has been a consistent advocate of expanding family support services to members of the Guard and Reserve, who experience challenges because they are often not near major military bases where support services are centered.