Today, U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Bob Corker (R-TN) introduced legislation to overhaul the alcohol and drug abuse treatment programs throughout the armed forces. Problems with the existing program were brought to McCaskill's attention by a whistleblower at the Fort Leonard Wood Army Base in Missouri and Corker has long been an advocate for military families. Both Senators have worked to improve the quality of life for service members and their families.
In recent years, the Army Substance Abuse Program has struggled to manage the increased number of soldiers needing treatment following the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Current problems include chronic understaffing and mismanagement. Commander notification and the lack of confidentiality in treatment of substance abuse has also been thought to discourage many service members from seeking treatment for fear of disciplinary actions. The result is that many service members suffering from substance use disorders are likely not receiving treatment. All indications are that the other military services have similar problems.
"When a whistleblower comes forward to report problems, we need to take them seriously, especially if it has to do with the quality of care our military men and women are receiving," said McCaskill. "The situation at Fort Leonard Wood was unacceptable, and now we need to make sure it's not happening at other bases across the country and around the world. It is time for the military to face the problem of substance abuse head on - that requires command emphasis, resources and a treatment focused plan."
"The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed a very heavy burden on our military and their families. The stresses of a lengthy war, whether physical or mental, can be a challenge to overcome and too often substance abuse is a result, contributing to increased rates of divorce, suicide, crime and domestic violence, and potentially aggravating combat induced disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental and health issues," Corker said. "It's time for the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to elevate the priority of substance use disorder treatment programs and to provide a comprehensive plan for improving these health services for our military men and women and their families. I look forward to working with Senator McCaskill and our Senate colleagues to provide greater support for those who have sacrificed so much in service to our country."
The SUPPORT for Substance Use Disorders Act proposes the following:
1. A comprehensive review, report and plan on the prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment, and rehabilitation of substance abuse disorders in the Armed Forces to be conducted and drafted by the Department of Defense and the military departments with appropriate consultation and coordination with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
2. The establishment of a Center of Excellence for substance use disorders within the Department of Defense. It will be charged with the implementation of the plan for the treatment of substance use disorders in the Armed Services as well as undertaking cutting edge research on substance use treatment.
3. An independent study and report of substance use disorders in the Armed Forces to be undertaken by an independent agency such as The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.
Key Elements Include:
Addressing the issue of confidentiality: the bill requires that the Department of Defense consider the issue of confidentiality in treatment and establish appropriate levels of confidentiality for those seeking treatment
Disciplinary vs. Treatment Issues in Substance Abuse programs: the bill requires a more appropriate line be drawn between the disciplinary focus and treatment focus of current substance abuse programs in DoD.
Care for Family Members: the bill requires that greater attention be paid to the provision of care to military dependents many of whom are also suffering from substance use disorders as they cope with lengthy separations from their loved ones during deployments and other substantial stresses.
In February of last year, McCaskill and Corker also introduced bipartisan legislation to improve educational and employment opportunities for America's military spouses who are often unable to find and maintain meaningful employment because of the frequent relocations required by the military.