Thursday, December 2, 2010

Udall Fighting to Ensure Troops get Best Behavioral Health Care Possible

Introduces 2 Amendments to Defense Authorization Bill to Expand Mental Health Care Efforts, Create Suicide-Prevention Program

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Mark Udall continued his fight to ensure our service members and veterans have access to the best health care we can provide by introducing two amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, aimed at improving access to behavioral health care. One amendment would extend suicide-prevention services to active duty troops and veterans in Colorado and across the country. The second would expand a behavioral health pilot program, which has been successful at Fort Carson, making it available to at least three more Army installations.

“Our service members and their families sacrifice everything for our security. They deserve the best care we can provide for the physical as well as psychological wounds of war,” said Udall, a member of the Armed Services Committee. “When it comes to behavioral health care, the military has made significant progress. But the fact remains that too many of our troops return from service suffering from traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder and struggle to access the care they need.”

“One of the amendments I’m filing today will help the military expand a program that has been particularly successful at Fort Carson,” Udall continued. “The other will help ensure that service members in need of consistent behavioral health care don’t fall through the cracks when they’re administratively separated from the military and become eligible for care from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA and the Defense Department have made it clear that their goal is to make that a seamless transition. My amendment will help build that bridge for veterans who are among the most in need.”

More details on the amendments follow:

Mobile Behavioral Health Teams – The first amendment would expand to not less than four Army installations a pilot program that embeds behavioral health providers in operational units of the Army through what are known as Mobile Behavioral Health Teams. The pilot program is currently in place at Fort Carson and has received positive reviews from soldiers and independent evaluators. Additionally, the final report of the DoD Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide by Members of the Armed Forces recommends expanding such a program.

DoD-to-VA Suicide Prevention Pipeline Program – The second amendment would create a program to help ensure that service members who are administratively separated from the military for high-risk behavior don’t fall through the cracks. Of the 18 veterans who commit suicide each day, on average, just five of them were under VA care. According to the 2010 Army Health Promotion Risk Reduction Suicide Prevention Report, service members who exhibit high-risk behaviors – including drug and alcohol abuse – are at higher risk both of being administratively separated and of committing suicide. The amendment would require the Defense Department and the VA to jointly assign a caseworker to those separated individuals to monitor their behavior, offer support, and encourage them to take advantage of VA benefits and care. The caseworker would continue until the individual signs up with the VA or the both agencies jointly determine that contact is no longer necessary.

More information about Udall’s work on the Senate Armed Services Committee and his fight for Colorado veterans is available HERE and HERE.