Veterans and representatives from national veterans' organizations today joined U.S. Senators at the Capitol to call for passage of the Excellence in Mental Health Act as an amendment to gun safety legislation. The bill expands access to treatment and improves the quality of care at Community Mental Health Centers, and puts mental health services on more equal footing with physical health services.
One in four veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will need mental health treatment of some kind. Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day in the United States.
A bipartisan group of Senators introduced the Excellence in Mental Health Act in February. Cosponsors include Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Jack Reed (D-RI), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mark Begich (D-AK) and Chris Coons (D-DE).
Sen. Stabenow said: "With more veterans coming home and living with mental illness, it is more important than ever to make sure they have access to quality mental health care. We need to support our troops and veterans with more than just words-we need to support them with our actions. Now is the time to act to expand access to treatment for our veterans, and for all Americans living with mental illness."
Sen. Tester said: "As Congress looks to reduce violence in our communities, we have to look first at how we treat those who need our help the most. This bill will increase access to mental health services on the ground so that more folks - including veterans - can get the care they need."
Jennifer Crane, Afghanistan Veteran, said: "It will be 10 years this October since I came home from overseas but the experiences live inside of me like it was yesterday. 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."
Justin Constantine, Board Member, Wounded Warriors Project and Iraq Veteran, said: "Within our military and our American society at large, it is critical that we reduce the stigma attached to seeking behavioral health care. 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."
Alex Nicholson, Director of Government Affairs, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said: ""Providing quality care for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan requires an innovative approach that addresses both the physical and the mental health of a veteran. We must continue to expand efforts to connect more veterans to mental health resources, both within the VA system and outside of it. Senator Stabenow's efforts to ensure that veterans who need mental health care, like all Americans who need access to such critical services, can get that care no matter where they are or what their situation is constitutes smart and compassionate public policy, and that's why Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America stands with Senator Stabenow and her colleagues here today to support this legislation."
Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, Founder and President, Give An Hour, said: ""We know that hundreds of thousands of the men and women who have served our country during the past decade of war will come home with invisible injuries such as post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. We also know that one size doesn't fit all with respect to where those in need choose to seek treatment for these injuries. Some of our veterans will seek care through the Department of Veterans Affairs but others will prefer to see a community provider through organizations like Give an Hour or at their local community mental health center. Through the Excellence in Mental Health Act we will help to ensure that our Community Mental Health Centers are able to meet the needs of those who serve and their families."
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 bill also encourages Community Mental Health Centers to treat veterans that seek services at their locations and to form agreements with VA Centers to better coordinate services.