Initiative Would Address Shortfalls in Identifying and Caring for PTSD Injuries Among Service Members
Washington, DC- Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator for Colorado, continued his push this week for improved mental health services for military men and women suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), urging Washington leaders to approve an initiative to enhance the system of mental health assessments provided for service members before and after they deploy to combat.
Service members are currently required to undergo only one in-person mental health screening shortly after they return from deployment. Because symptoms of PTSD often appear months or even years after the initial injury, an effective mental health assessment program must involve assessments over a longer period of time.
In an effort to protect Colorado's service members, Bennet this week pushed to require all service members to receive multiple person-to-person mental health assessments before and after they deploy to combat.
"Without an effective system of diagnosis for PTSD, our military men and women will continue dealing with the hidden scars of war without the help and support they need," Bennet said. "We must commit to doing everything we can to help them lead full lives when they come home. This legislation will go a long way in creating a better safety net so that those who need help don't continue to fall through the cracks."
The requirement was first introduced in a bill by Senator Max Baucus and included in Section 711 of the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act. The current House version of the NDAA does not include the provision.
In an effort to ensure the requirement would become law, Bennet joined 31 other senators in asking the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee to include the provision in the final version of the bill, which is currently being considered by a House-Senate conference committee.
Specifically, the provision supported by Senator Bennet requires all service members to receive a face-to-face mental illness screening before they deploy to combat, after they return home, and every six months for the next two years. This screening program is based upon an effective pilot program developed by the Montana National Guard.
Since 2003, thirty-two active military personnel from Fort Carson have committed suicide. A 2008 RAND study shows that nearly 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from PTSD or major depression. In addition, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are more than 35 percent more likely to commit suicide than the general population.
Section 711 had bipartisan support in the Senate as well as the support of numerous advocacy groups, including the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the National Guard Association, the Enlisted Association of the National Guard, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Thirty-one other Senators joined Bennet in sending the letter. Below and attached is the full text of the letter:
September 14, 2009
The Honorable Carl Levin
The Honorable John McCain
Dear Chairman Levin and Ranking Member McCain,
Thank you for your leadership on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010. We write to ask your continued support for Section 711 of the NDAA as we enter conference committee. Section 711 provides for important improvements for assessments provided for service members before and after they deploy to combat. The House version currently lacks this important provision.
Your committee unanimously accepted Section 711 during its markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010. This provision is a modified version of the Post-Deployment Health Assessment Act of 2009 (S. 711), which is supported by a bipartisan coalition of Senators, as well as the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the National Guard Association, the Enlisted Association of the National Guard, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Congress needs to take action to address the shortfalls in the military's system of identifying and caring for post-traumatic stress injuries. According to a 2008 RAND study, nearly 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from PTSD or major depression. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are more than 35 percent more likely to commit suicide than the general population.
The Department of Defense cannot address this wave of post-traumatic stress injuries until it has an effective system for diagnosing these hidden wounds. The Institute of Medicine concluded in 2006 that the best determination of whether a person is suffering from PTSD is with "a thorough, face-to-face interview by a health professional trained in diagnosing psychiatric disorders."
Section 711 requires all service members to receive multiple person-to-person mental health assessments before and after they deploy to combat. This screening program has been proven effective in a Montana National Guard pilot program.
When Section 711 of the Senate version is discussed in conference committee, we ask that you support efforts to preserve the Senate language on this issue. We look forward to your continued leadership on the Senate's priorities when the bill is negotiated in conference committee.