With suicide rates on the rise, improving soldiers' access to mental health care has been a serious issue in the military community over the last several years. While some positive steps have been taken, it's clear more needs to be done, and one Indiana lawmaker recently introduced a pair of bills to help address those concerns. The two pieces of legislation call for both better mental health assessments when soldiers separate from service and clearer guidelines on what services are available, Navy Times reports.
The two bills were introduced by Rep. Andre Carson, who is no stranger to having similar legislation signed into law. In 2011, Congress passed two laws he spearheaded. This time, the first bill he is putting forth, known as The Military Suicide Reduction Act, is geared primarily toward improving how the mental health of soldiers is assessed. The thought process is that with better screening, those who are most at risk for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other conditions can be more easily identified. The other bill, The Military Mental Health Empowerment Act, aims to encourage soldiers to seek counseling if they need it, which can often be a problem.
"We are quick to diagnose and treat service members who are injured in combat, with medics rushing to those who are struck by enemy IEDs or gunfire," said Carson. "But when it comes to the mental health challenges placed on our service members, we abandon them through months of deployment to deal with post traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicidal thoughts."
Is there enough money?
Carson's proposals will likely have a lot of support from both Republicans and Democrats, but at a time when Pentagon officials are looking to cut costs, there may not be enough funding for new mental health programs. In fact, already-existing programs may face some budget cuts. Specifically, research on mental health issues could be stalled in the coming years, according to Rep. Joe Wilson, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's military personnel panel.
A significant concern
Despite the budget crunch, mental health is among the most prevalent concerns in the military community. While there are no set figures, an estimated 20 percent of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have symptoms of PTSD.