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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. CARSON of Indiana. Mr. Chairman, my amendment, which CBO has determined will have no impact on direct spending or appropriations, seeks to address an issue that I believe is preventing many of today's servicemembers from pursuing the mental health and addiction treatment that they so desperately need.

Quite simply, it prevents promotion boards from considering any other source of information from official documents, word of mouth, any source about the pursuit of treatment for mental health or addiction issues. The amendment provides necessary exceptions for individuals who are determined by a physician to be a danger to themselves or others, would be unable or unfit to accomplish the duties of higher rank, or if they give consent to consideration of such information. And lastly, and I believe most importantly, the amendment requires the Department of Defense to inform current servicemembers about these prohibitions.

As we all know, Mr. Chairman, mental health issues, like PTSD and depression, are the signature wounds of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Unfortunately, we have entered these wars with an outdated military culture that stigmatized mental health issues and often equated pursuing treatment with weakness.

Mr. Chairman, we have made amazing progress since then, and I applaud the Department of Defense and the Armed Services Committee for their efforts. Yet I still hear from servicemembers who are afraid that pursuing mental health treatment will negatively impact their prospects for promotion and others who are absolutely convinced that this is a pervasive problem in the ranks, that many servicemembers believe this. Now, these individuals are dedicated to their jobs and determined to progress in their careers, so, not surprisingly, they hesitate in pursuing treatment.

Of course I understand that HIPAA prevents medical records from being considered--including those on mental health--with good reason. But we need to be absolutely sure that the fears of our servicemembers do not come to pass in other ways. We need to make explicit that promotion boards are not only prevented from considering medical records but also information on treatment received by word of mouth, from other areas of personnel files, or in any other form. This will reflect our modern understanding of mental health and addiction issues--that they should be treated, not ignored, and that individuals can overcome them.

But I believe, Mr. Chairman, the most important aspect of this amendment, the main reason I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting it, is that we need to be sure that our servicemembers know and are fully aware about these prohibitions.

Some may argue against this amendment, claiming that it perpetuates a myth, that, in fact, treatment information is not considered. Their argument perfectly illustrates why this amendment is so necessary. Because many servicemembers believe they will be penalized for pursuing treatment. And as long as this is true, we will still have our brave men and women suffer in silence. With screening and counseling, they could get healthy. They could perform their duties at a much higher level. And they could avoid falling into the traps of addiction, domestic violence, and homelessness that await too many of our veterans when the return home.

Mr. Chairman, I believe that the individuals assigned to the promotion boards have the best interests of the military at heart, and I believe that they do their jobs quite well. The quality of our advanced ranks proves just that. But I want to be sure that we do everything possible to remove the stigma on mental health treatment until all servicemembers are comfortable pursuing the treatment that they need. I believe this amendment is an important step in that direction. I hope all of my colleagues will join me in supporting this amendment.

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Mr. CARSON of Indiana. Mr. Chairman, this en bloc amendment includes two of my amendments.

The first seeks to address what many consider to be a serious mistake made by our military and this Congress over the last decade of war, that is, allowing some of our troops, including several of my constituents, to deploy without certain equipment that they need to be safe in combat. Instead, these troops had to rely on their families and friends to send them this vital equipment.

My amendment calls on the DOD to survey troops who have served since September 11 in order to find out what, if any, equipment they did without and what equipment they relied on family and friends to send them.

I want to be clear. This is not an effort to condemn our military or the Armed Services Committee. In fact, I applaud their valuable efforts in this area. Yet, now that we are winding down our war in Afghanistan and we are out of Iraq, we need to understand our mistakes to avoid making them again in future conflicts.

My second amendment is very simply a reintroduction of language adopted last year by unanimous consent but that was, unfortunately, removed in conference.

It addresses the fact that our servicemembers deployed in Afghanistan only receive mental health assessments prior to deployment and after returning home. Yet it is during deployment--in combat--that these events leading to mental health issues are most likely to occur. Over months of deployment without diagnosis or treatment, their performances could suffer; they could develop dangerous addictions; and in tragic but far too common instances, they could hurt themselves or others.

My amendment requires the DOD to provide mental health assessments to our troops during deployment, improving the chances of catching and treating PTSD and other issues early.

I ask all of my colleagues to stand up for the physical safety and mental well-being of our troops.

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