Congresswomen Judy Chu (CA-32) co-sponsored legislation yesterday to protect veterans' rights to obtain mental healthcare treatment and services. The just introduced Veterans Mental Health Accessibility Act would eliminate a five year limit to seek mental health treatment, allowing current and previous generations of veterans to seek treatment for service-connected mental illnesses, regardless of when their conditions manifested themselves. Congresswoman Chu released the following statement about the bill:
"We understand the critical need to address the physical wounds of our veterans. Taking care of their mental health needs is just as important, but these wounds sometimes take longer to show up and there is a lot we are still learning about them. Our American heroes shouldn't have to race to beat the clock. This legislation will restore our commitment to mental health services and ensure that it is not just a coupon with an expiration date.
"Placing a deadline on veterans who may come to need mental health treatment means many of our wounded warriors simply will not receive that care. Just like physical battle scars, we've seen the devastating consequences when mental injuries go untreated. This Act will help remove the stigma and the bureaucratic boundaries that stand in the way of wellness for our brave veterans."
Background: Unlike physical injuries from the battlefield, which generally manifest immediate, dicernable symptoms, mental illness may not manifest for years after active duty, according to the Veteran's Administration (VA). VA officials estimate that up to 43 percent of veterans who served in Operations Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Iraqi Freedom (OIF) may eventually need mental health services. Despite this potential need for treatment, OEF and OIF veterans currently have only a five year window of time in which they must seek treatment for mental illnesses FROM THE VA before losing their higher priority status. Veterans from previous wars face even harsher bureaucratic obstacles.
The Veterans Mental Health Accessibility Act would eliminate the five year limit. It would also make the services and treatments that are available to OEF and OIF veterans available to all veterans who have served in combat.