Mr. JOHANNS. Mr. President, I rise today to offer my support for the Post-Deployment Health Assessment Act of 2009. I am pleased to join my colleague, the senior Senator from Montana, in cosponsoring this important legislation.
The Post Deployment Health Assessment Act requires the Defense Department to increase mandatory mental health screenings for military personnel who deploy to combat. This legislation is important and necessary because of the alarming increase in combat-related psychological injuries suffered by our soldiers overseas.
A RAND study in 2008 concludes that nearly 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or depression. That is nearly 300,000 returning American servicemembers. It also finds that rates of marital stress, substance abuse, and suicide are all increasing.
According to a report released earlier this year, the Army's suicide rate hit a record high last year, putting the suicide-per-capita rate higher than the national population. In the first three months of this year, there have already been 56 reported suicides in the Army. If that rate is maintained for the rest of this year, we will have another unfortunate, record-breaking year for military suicides.
Soldiers returning from deployment are already required to receive an in-person mental health assessment when they return home. The Post Deployment Health Assessment Act requires that soldiers receive an assessment from personnel trained to conduct such screenings before they deploy. That way, the screening personnel has a reference point and can monitor the soldier's progress and any serious changes that may have occurred during the soldier's deployment. The Post Deployment Health Assessment Act also requires soldiers to receive mental health assessments every six months for two years after they return from combat. The periodic assessments allow health personnel to monitor a soldier's adjustment from the combat zone back into normal society. By providing the mental health screening program called for in the Post Deployment Health Assessment Act, we will give the Defense Department an effective system for diagnosing the unseen scars that are so prevalent amongst our combat veterans.
The program proposed by this bill is based on a pilot program developed by the Montana National Guard. When I heard about it, the program made a great deal of sense to me. That unit has improved the mental health care its servicemembers receive, and it seems natural to implement such a program to benefit all of our warriors and veterans.
Since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Congress has acted to protect the physical health of the soldiers on the front lines. Congress responded to the needs of our fighting men and women by funding more body armor and reinforced vehicles. Now, we must do more to protect the mental health of our war fighters by giving them the access to mental health screenings that can help them get ahead of debilitating depression and other disorders that result from intense combat experiences.
Finally, I point out that my colleagues need look no further for support than to the veterans whom this bill will help. It has been endorsed by groups representing our brave warriors such as the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the National Guard Association, and the Enlisted Association of the National Guard.
I urge my colleagues to support the Post-Deployment Health Assessment Act of 2009, and I look forward to its swift passage so that our soldiers and veterans can get the treatment and protection they need.