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Berkley Works to Expand Treatment Programs for Veterans With Substance Use Disorders

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC


Justin Bailey Act Will Ensure Services Available at All VA Facilities

Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-NV) is urging swift action on legislation to expand and improve treatment for veterans battling substance use disorders. The package will help veterans of all ages, including U.S. troops now returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who are experiencing PTSD and may be at an increased risk of developing dependency as a result. The Justin Bailey Substance Use Disorders Prevention and Treatment Act of 2008, HR 5554, was passed by the House Veterans' Affairs Health Subcommittee on which Berkley serves as a member.

"Nationally, one in five veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffers from PTSD and a percentage of these men and women also become dependent on alcohol or drugs. These veterans turn to the VA for treatment, but sadly, programs to address substance use disorders are not as widely available as they need to be -- especially given the number of troops who are serving in combat," said Berkley.

"The effects of substance use are wide ranging, including significantly increased risk of suicide, exacerbation of mental and physical health disorders, breakdown of family support, and increased risk of unemployment and homelessness," said Berkley. "Veterans suffering from a mental health issue are at an increased risk for developing a substance use disorder. Timely passage of this legislation will ensure that our veterans receive the help they need to deal with this mental health issue."

Berkley won approval to rename the legislation passed today in honor of Lance Corporal Justin Bailey whose personal tragedy highlights the need for comprehensive VA substance use disorder treatment, including thorough monitoring of those in outpatient care. In urging passage of the legislation, Berkley highlighted the circumstances surrounding Bailey's death which followed treatment at a VA clinic in Los Angeles.

"A constituent of mine, Lance Corporal Justin Bailey, returned from Iraq with PTSD. He developed a substance use disorder and checked himself into a VA facility in West Los Angeles. After being given five medications on a self-medication policy, Justin overdosed and died," said Berkley. "That is why I am offering an amendment that requires the VA to conduct a review of all residential mental health care facilities and to report back to the Committee on its findings. A review of the services provided to our veterans is needed to ensure that what happened to Justin does not happen to anyone else."

The Congresswoman also authored a provision that was added to HR 5554 requiring the Secretary of the VA to complete a review and report on residential mental health care facilities of the Veterans Health Administration.

The review and report will provide:

* A description of the availability of care in residential mental health care facilities in each Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN).

* An assessment of the supervision and support provided in the residential mental health care facilities of the Veterans Health Administration.

* The ratio of staff members at each residential mental health care facility to patients at such facility.

* An assessment of the appropriateness of rules and procedures for the prescription and administration of medications to patients in such residential mental health care facilities.

* A description of the protocols at each residential mental health care facility for handling missed appointments.

* Any recommendations the Secretary considers appropriate for improvements to such residential mental health care facilities and the care provided in such facilities.

Berkley is also the author of legislation aiming to improve the treatment and services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs to veterans with PTSD and substance use disorders by expanding substance use disorder treatment services at the VA Medical Centers, establishing national centers of excellence on PTSD and substance use disorders, and expanding assistance of mental health services for families of veterans, among other initiatives.

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