Today, as part of National Mental Health Awareness Month, Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA) of the Congressional Mental Health Caucus hosted military mental health experts from the Army, Air Force, Navy/Marine Corps, and Veterans Administration to educate members of Congress and their staff on how the U.S. military is addressing its mental health crisis. The Military Mental Health/Suicide Prevention Caucus and the Addiction Treatment Caucus also helped host the event.
"Military service members and their families have earned the right to effective mental health services," Napolitano said. "With rates of suicide, post-traumatic stress, and traumatic brain injury rising in recent years, we must ensure we are doing everything we can to treat these invisible wounds of war."
Napolitano was joined by her Congressional Mental Health Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), as well as Reps. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) and Tim Ryan (D-OH). Speakers included Captain John Ralph, Assistant Deputy Chief, Wounded, Ill, and Injured, Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery; Dr. Rebecca Porter, Chief of Behavioral Health for the Office of the Surgeon General; Dr. Wendy Tenhula, National Mental Health Director for Integrated Mental Health in the Office of Mental Health Services at the Department of Veterans Affairs; Colonel John Forbes, Director of Psychological Health, Air Force Medical Support Agency; and Dr. Anthony Hassan, Director of the Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families (CIR) at the University of Southern California.
For every soldier the U.S. military loses in combat, 25 veterans are lost to suicide. The number of active-duty troops hospitalized for mental health conditions rose 19% in 2011, making mental health the number one reason active-duty personnel are hospitalized for the second year in a row. In the U.S. Army, the suicide rate for active-duty members rose 80% between 2004 and 2008.
Napolitano is the Co-Chair of the Congressional Mental Health Caucus, and helped lead a successful effort last year to get letters of condolence sent to the families of soldiers lost to suicide, an honor they were previously denied. She has also helped establish suicide prevention programs in 15 Los Angeles County schools over the last ten years, and is the author of the Mental Health in Schools Act.