Members of Congress Call for Increased Mental Health Program Funding for Soldiers and Veterans

This bipartisan letter request comes at a time when 2008 reported the highest level of army suicide within the military since 1980. And with the onslaught of returning service members, 2009’s army suicide rate is projected to further surpass the 2008 level. Yesterday’s shootings at Camp Liberty of five of our nation’s heroes cannot be repeated. This increase in funding for mental health programs along with a comprehensive post-deployment program to psychologically screen all of our service men and women will go a long way to protecting our returning veterans. This increase in funding would make it possible for our newly returning service men and women to take care of their physical as wells as psychological injuries through a program of mental health assessments and treatments.

Reps. McMahon and Rooney, along with almost fifty of their colleagues in the House, will be sending a letter to Subcommittee on Defense Chairman John Murtha and Ranking Member Bill Young tomorrow urging the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee to increase overall funding for mental health programs by $300 million in the FY10 defense budget. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recommended this figure along with spending over $47 billion on healthcare on April 6, 2009.

Reps. McMahon and Rooney, along with Rep. Thomas Perriello, also recently joined together to introduce H.R. 1308, the Veterans Mental Health Screening and Assessment Act of 2009, which will require mandatory, confidential mental health screenings for deploying service members.

“The mental health of our soldiers and Veterans has been of great importance to me for many years,” said Rep. Michael E. McMahon. “After thousands of brave men and women were sent to war after the tragic events of 9/11, which directly impacted my district, I have felt the overwhelming need to fight for better rights for our service men and women and our returning Veterans. If we do not provide adequate mental health care to our soldiers and Veterans we are failing the very people who have never let us down.”

“Every month we hear different stories about incidents involving service members who have recently returned from battle, incidents that could be avoided with the proper screening, said Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL). “I am happy we can all come together in a bi-partisan manner to address the mental health problems facing so many of our war fighters as they return home from Iraq and Afghanistan. We need to make sure the Department of Defense has the necessary resources to address this growing problem and soldiers are able to get the necessary help they deserve.”

Bob Filner (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said: “Unfortunately, tens of thousands of veterans are returning from deployment or leaving the military without the benefit of an adequate mental health consultation or a thorough medical diagnosis. Mandatory medical evaluations by competent medical personnel are vital to the health of our troops and veterans so they can access the appropriate support services. We need to continue vigilant outreach to all service members and veterans so we can reach the people that need the help. Our service members deserve an accurate post-deployment health assessment and they need to know that help is available if they need it.”

“A lack of adequate behavioral health care for soldiers and veterans undermines the readiness of our force and the lives of their families,” said Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). “This funding is critical because it will help ensure that no service member or family falls through the cracks. We need to stand with our military families and help them heal the wounds we can’t see as well as those we can.”

“It is vital that the veterans’ mental health programs be substantially increased in the FY10 defense budget. We need to guarantee that those returning from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan get the treatment they need for both mind and body. Some wounds are not immediately visible,” said Rep. Robert A. Brady. (D-PA)

Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA) said: “As co-chair of the Mental Health Caucus, I have long been aware of the increased need to provide mental health services to all returning military men and women. We have noted and reported to other Members of Congress the increase in violence and I firmly believe Congress must help them in the transition back into home life and ensure their mental health needs are addressed, for theirs and our country’s sake.”

Rep. Dan Maffei (D-NY) said: “I would like to thank my distinguished colleagues for pushing for this important funding. Our veterans are under incredible amounts of stress. They endure extremely long, repetitive deployments that put a significant burden on their mental health and strain their families. We owe it to our brave men and women to provide assistance for all of their medical needs, physical and mental, to ensure that when they return from battle they have a fighting chance to have a stable life again at home.”

“It is critical for the Defense Department and the VA to have the resources in place to expand access to mental health services, further develop treatment programs, and improve the overall quality of care. The men and women of our Armed Forces need and surely have earned these services,” said Rep. Christopher Lee (R-NY)

“Our duty to our service members doesn’t end when they come home, and it isn’t limited only to those with physical injuries. Troops I’ve met overseas and families in my district have all stressed the need for increased screening and treatment for mental health problems. After more than seven years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, mental health care funding can’t wait any longer,” said Rep. Glenn Nye (D-VA), who represents the heavily military communities of Virginia Beach and Norfolk, VA.

“Our nation has asked nearly two million of its military personnel to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan and, unfortunately, many of these service members are returning home with symptoms of PTSD and other mental health challenges,” Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) said. “A 2008 study by the RAND Corporation found that nearly 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have symptoms of PTSD or major depression. This study also found that many service members say they do not seek treatment for psychological illnesses because they fear it will harm their careers. Of those who do seek help for PTSD or major depression, only about half receive treatment that researchers consider ‘minimally adequate’ for their illnesses. If our government and the military fail to address problems associated with PTSD, the situation will only grow worse in future years.”

“Honoring our commitment to those who serve our nation means offering them not only top notch medical care for physical injuries but also first rate mental health services to help fight the alarming rising trend of suicide and mental illness among veterans,” said Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-MD), a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “Congress needs to make returning soldier’s mental health a priority as well and heed Secretary Gates’ recommendation to support funding for traumatic brain injury, and psychological health exams for our servicemen and women.”

“We have a sacred trust to provide comprehensive mental health diagnosis and treatment for our active military and veterans who have experienced the horrors of war first hand. Their physical wounds are visible, but the signature wounds of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars - traumatic brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder - are often invisible and undiagnosed,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) said. “We must provide enough mental health funding to prevent a lifetime of agony for our returning veterans and their loved ones.”

“We agree with Secretary Gates that more help is needed for our veterans, and mental health services are an important component of veterans’ services. I know many veterans in the Marianas could benefit from services like these, and I hope we can make them available to everyone who needs them,” said Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan

Below please find the text of the letter being sent to Chairman John Murtha and Ranking Member Bill Young:

The Honorable John Murtha
Chairman, Subcommittee on Defense
The Honorable C.W. “Bill” Young
Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Defense
Dear Chairman and Ranking Member:
As you begin developing the United States Department of Defense budget for FY10 we are writing in strong support of Secretary Gates’ recommendation to increase funding for “wounded, ill and injured, traumatic brain injury, and psychological health programs” in the FY10 defense budget. As the prevalence of suicide amongst service men and women has rapidly been increasing through the years, with 2008 reporting the highest level of army suicide within the military since 1980, we firmly stand by Secretary Gate’s efforts to aggressively address and combat this dreadful trend.
The previous statistics prove the military’s dire need to overcome its dangerous shortage of mental health professionals. Secretary Gates’ recommendation to increase overall spending to fund these efforts by $300 million can create incentives for mental health professional to join and stay in the military. This increase in funding can also serve to make mental healthcare more accessible and inevitably, reduce the stigma behind seeking help for mental injuries while in the military.
We firmly believe that every soldier being discharged from the battle fields of Iraq and Afghanistan should have an exit interview with a licensed mental health professional. But, at this time, it is crucial that our service men and women who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan come home and get the care and benefits they have duly earned. In fact, President Barack Obama’s recent announcement to advance VA funding and overhaul the transition process from military to VA echoes this call and complements Secretary Gates’ suggestions to spend over $47 billion on healthcare in FY10.
Once again, we firmly support Secretary Gates’ funding priorities to fight the phenomenon of military suicides that will inevitably grow if not dealt with immediately. We urge you to fully fund Secretary Gates’ request to increase overall funding for mental health programs by $300 million in the FY10 defense budget.
We appreciate your attention to this matter and welcome the opportunity to work with you to innovate, develop and support these initiatives in FY 10 and for years to come.
Rep. Michael E. McMahon
Rep. Thomas J. Rooney
Rep. Joe Baca
Rep. Howard Berman
Rep. Madeleine Bordallo
Rep. Leonard Boswell
Rep. Robert Brady
Rep. Christopher P. Carney
Rep. Yvette D. Clarke
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly
Rep. John Conyers, Jr.
Rep. Joe Donnelly
Rep. Bob Filner
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
Rep. Charlie A. Gonzalez
Rep. Bart Gordon
Rep. Al Green
Rep. Luis Gutierrez
Rep. John J. Hall
Rep. Alcee L. Hastings
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson
Rep. Frank M. Kratovil, Jr.
Rep. Christopher J. Lee
Rep. Ben R. Luján
Rep. Daniel B. Maffei
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy
Rep. James McGovern
Rep. Kendrick Meek
Rep. Walt Minnick
Rep Harry E. Mitchell
Rep. Dennis Moore
Rep. Grace Napolitano
Rep. Glenn C. Nye III
Rep. James L. Oberstar
Rep. Silvestre Reyes
Rep. Ciro Rodriguez
Rep. Bobby L. Rush
Del. Gregorio Sablan
Rep. Loretta Sanchez
Rep. Jan Schakowsky
Rep. Adam Schiff
Rep. Carol Shea-Porter
Rep. John Spratt
Rep. Gene Taylor
Rep. Henry Waxman
Rep. David Wu

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