Congresswoman Waters joined Congressman Russ Carnahan (D-MO) and other members in introducing legislation today to protect veterans' rights to mental healthcare treatment and services. The "Veterans Mental Health Accessibility Act" is also supported by the AMVETS service organization.
The Veterans Mental Health Accessibility Act would eliminate a five year window to seek mental health treatment, allowing veterans who served in combat from all military operations to seek treatment for service-connected mental illnesses, regardless of when their conditions manifest themselves.
"We understand the critical need to quickly address the physical wounds of our warfighters," said Rep. Waters. "Taking care of the mental health needs of veterans, when they return to their loved ones, is just as important. Our American heroes shouldn't have to race to beat the clock. This legislation will restore our commitment to mental health services and ensure that it is not just a coupon with an expiration date."
Unlike physical injuries from the battlefield, which are immediately obvious and life threatening, mental illnesses might not manifest until years after active duty, according to the Veteran's Administration (VA). Despite this potential need for treatment, veterans have a limited window of time to seek help. The Veterans Mental Health Accessibility Act eliminates those arbitrary deadlines.
"Placing a deadline on veterans who may come to need mental health treatment means many of our wounded warriors simply will not receive that care," said Waters. "Just like physical battle scars, we've seen the devastating consequences when mental injuries go untreated. This Act will help remove the stigma and the bureaucratic boundaries that stand in the way of wellness for our brave veterans."
Rep. Waters was joined by Reps. Jason Altmire (PA-12), Tim Ryan (OH-17), Charles Rangel (NY 15), Jackie Speier (CA-12), Lois Capps (CA-23), Joe Courtney (CT-2), Gwen Moore (WI-4), Judy Chu (CA-32) and Janice Hahn (CA-36) in co-sponsoring this important piece of legislation.
VA officials estimate that up to 43 percent of veterans who served in Operations Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Iraqi Freedom (OIF) may eventually need mental health services. Currently, OEF and OIF veterans face a five year window in which they must seek treatment for mental illnesses before losing their higher priority status. Veterans from previous wars face even harsher bureaucratic obstacles.
The Veterans Mental Health Accessibility Act would also make the services and treatments that are available to OEF and OIF veterans available to all veterans who have served in combat in previous military operations such as the Second World War, the Korean War, and Vietnam. The VA would continue treating only service-related disorders and allows its healthcare professionals to diagnose mental disorders and illnesses according to established procedures.