National veterans' organizations joined U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) and 12 of his colleagues on Tuesday in calling for passage of the Excellence in Mental Health Act, which would expand access to treatment and improve the quality of care at Community Mental Health Centers, and puts mental health services on more equal footing with physical health services. Due to the additional importance of mental health services in curbing gun violence, the measure will be added as an amendment to upcoming legislation on reducing gun violence.
One in four veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will need mental health treatment of some kind, and Community Mental Health Centers are expected to soon be serving over 200,000 veterans. Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day in the United States.
"Often our service members have to endure not only physical challenges, but mental challenges during their service, and it's imperative that we provide our veterans with access to mental health services to help them transition back into civilian life," Senator Coons said. "The Excellence in Mental Health Act will help expand the resources available to veterans and civilians who are battling with mental illness. Access to these services will encourage members of our military and their families to seek the treatment they need to live a happy and healthy life."
"It will be 10 years this October since I came home from overseas, but the experiences live inside of me like it was yesterday," Operation Enduring Freedom veteran Jennifer Crane said. "I suffer from Chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My life will never be perfect but with the help that has been provided to me, I can truly begin to live life again. The Excellence in Mental Health Act has the ability to open up hope and help to our country, its veterans and civilians alike."
"Within our military and our American society at large, it is critical that we reduce the stigma attached to seeking behavioral health care," Justin Constantine of the Wounded Warriors Project and Iraq Veteran said. "Seeking the help you need and deserve is a sign of strength, not weakness, and shows maturity and confidence. Making mental health care options available on a large scale is a huge step in the right direction. The bipartisan Excellence in Medical Health Act does just that by expanding access and improving the quality of care."
Studies show that individuals with a serious mental illness are actually more likely to be a victim of violence than a perpetrator. However, there are too many times when lack of diagnosis and effective treatment has led to horrible tragedies.
According to a national survey, one-third of the 4.8 million people suffering from mood disorders do not receive treatment, and fewer than half of the people with severe mental disorders receive treatment of any kind in a given year.
The Excellence in Mental Health Act helps up to 1.5 million Americans get the treatment they need. The bill helps ensure community mental health centers provide high quality care, including 24-hour crisis care; increased integration of physical, mental and substance abuse treatment so they are treated simultaneously rather than separately; and expanded support for families of people living with mental health issues. The legislation also authorizes the modernization of existing Community Mental Health Centers and the construction of new centers.
A bipartisan group of senators introduced the Excellence in Mental Health Act in February. In addition to Senator Coons, cosponsors of the bill include: Senators Roy Blunt (R-Mo,), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Mark Begich (D-Alaska). Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) is the lead sponsor of the legislation.