Mental Health Care for Veterans

Active duty military service members often experience shocking situations that are beyond imagination. Those who serve in active combat are engaged in activities that can have lifelong impact. It is common for a trauma experienced during deployment to cause serious psychological challenges. Those issues often seem to be exacerbated following discharge from military service, whether an honorable discharge or otherwise. The tragic reality is that every single day an average of 20 veterans commits suicide.

This statistic is nothing new, and it has been obvious that more needs to be done on behalf of our veterans to prevent such devastation that affects so many families. In addition to the suicides, many veterans have countless other struggles related to their traumatic military experiences. H.R. 918, also known as the Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act, is a bill that addresses the mental health needs of our veterans. It even allows for such assistance to be provided to some veterans who weren’t honorably discharged, a change that has been desperately needed for decades.

Deserving of Veteran Care

Well known Democrat Tulsi Gabbard is among the voices in Washington D.C. who have been advocating on behalf of our veterans. Gabbard has served two deployments in the Middle East and is a Major in the Hawai`i Army National Guard. She pointed out while addressing an audience with the National Nurses Union in support of Senator Bernie Sanders in 2016 that members of the military “bear the brunt of the human cost of war.” They and their families make a tremendous sacrifice, and it is often at the expense of mental health. In addition to suicides, substance abuse among veterans has been on the rise since 2001.

From  Tulsi Gabbard’s experiences, she speaks firsthand of the sacrifice and courage displayed by men and women in military service. She says they are inspirational every day and have served as examples for how to set aside differences and work together for our country, our communities, and humanity.

In addition to courageous service, members of our military and their families make incredible sacrifices. The following are a few of the reasons put by Tulsi regarding why service men and women deserve to have the type of help they need the most, including after retiring from military service:

  • Frequent moves
  • Multiple deployments
  • The trauma and stress of war
  • Isolation
  • Lengthy separation from loved ones
  • Injury during service

H.R. 918 advocated by Tulsi– addresses needs common to veterans who have sacrificed so much. It has been apparent that men and women who have served in the military often have tremendous difficulty coping and becoming reintegrated into civilian life once they return home. Homelessness among veterans is another red flag, in addition to suicides and substance abuse.

Needed: Help Coping

Data shows that mental health or cognitive problems have been reported by one-third of service members from Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), which began in 2001 and ceased in 2014, and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), which began in 2003 and ceased in December 2011. According to the American Psychological Association, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are invisible wounds of war that have impacted many military personnel. In the OEF and OIF, about 19.5 percent to 22.8 percent of returning service members suffered from TBI and up to 24.4 percent has suffered from PTSD.

About TBI

Traumatic brain injuries are concussions usually resulting from blast-related events during combat operations. An individual’s health and safety are directly impacted, of course. But a unit’s readiness and troop retention are also significantly impacted. The severity of a TBI is determined at the time of injury and may be classified as mild, moderate, severe, or penetrating. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry, a recent study shows that 60% of wounded service members with TBI reported having suicidal thoughts.

About PTSD

Of every five 9/11 veterans, one came back from war suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is a disorder in which an individual fails to recover from witnessing or experiencing a terrifying event.  Symptoms of the mental disorder include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Avoidance of situations that tend to bring back the ordeal
  • Heightened reactivity to anxiety, stimuli, or depressed mood
  • Loneliness
  • Guilt
  • Loss of pleasure or interest in activities
  • Insomnia
  • Emotional detachment
  • Difficulty dealing with unwanted thoughts

Full recovery is possible, even in cases of severe PTSD, though the symptoms need to be identified as early as possible, for help to arrive on time. Treatment includes psychotherapy of various kinds and medications, to manage symptoms

Experiencing military sexual trauma (MST) is a significant risk factor for developing PTSD. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) uses the term MST about experiences of repeated, threatening sexual harassment or sexual assault during military service. Tulsi Gabbard said, One in four women and one in 100 men has indicated during screenings by VA providers that they experienced MST.

Congresswoman Tulsi recently spoke in the House on behalf of bipartisan regulation to enhance veterans’ accessibility to mental health care. Gabbard states the costs would certainly mandate the Office of Veterans Affairs to supply yearly records to Congress on these services for our veterans. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) led initiatives in the United States House to sustain veterans consisting of passing regulation to reform veterans’ mental health care (HR 918).

Tulsi never forgets to praise the veterans – she starts with…Veterans Day is unique to me. It’s a day when I typically reach and hang out with fellow veteran friends from several generations, share tales, and remember our brothers and sisters who never made home from the war field. We will certainly always remember them and their sacrifice.

Legislator Mazie Hirono and, US Hawaii Rep. Tulsi worked for many years on regulations that ultimately grants the just Congressional Gold Medal to WWII Filipino professionals. This legislation that Barack Obama signed into law as one of his final acts as president.  Recently Mazie and Tulsi welcomed many of these veterans to the US Capitol,  where they presented this long-overdue recognition to heroes like Sixto Tabay, the last living WWII Filipino veteran on Kaua`i, and around 200,000 others that offered.

Lately, Tulsi held a screening of the movie “Go for Broke: Origins” at the United States Capitol in honor of the 100th Infantry Battalion/ 442nd Regimental Combat Team, units produced in the aftermath of the assault on Pearl Harbor, which were composed of young Japanese-American males that volunteered to serve in the United States Army,  despite facing bigotry and prejudice as their families and loved ones were thrown into internment camps.

Tulsi shared many stories of the bravery as well as sacrifice shown by the men and women that she had the advantage of offering with throughout the deployment to the Middle East. Individuals from all profession– various faiths, races, political ideological backgrounds, as well as extra– all getting together with one typical objective: serving our country.

Tulsi is a Major in the Hawaii Army National Guard and has offered her service in 2 Middle East assignments. She has worked as the United States Representative for Hawaii 2nd Congressional District since 2013 as well as the member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Rep. Tulsi has been a solid voice asking for liability and systemic modifications at the VA to guarantee professionals obtain the top-quality treatment they require and should have. In reaction to examinations disclosing outright delay times throughout the nation for professionals looking for a consultation with a medical care medical professional, the congresswoman presented the Access to Care as well as Treatment (ACT) Now for Veterans Act to enable veterans to obtain the prompt treatment they require from non-VA clinical service providers.

The facility of Tulsi’s regulation was eventually consisted of in the Veterans Access, Choice, as well as Accountability Act authorized right into regulation in 2014. She has likewise presented regulations like the Veterans Administration Bonus Elimination Act to stop perks for elderly VA execs that cannot satisfy VA needs for veterans’ health-care and has sustained regulation to change country health and wellness gain access to, enhance veterans’ psychological health-care, and extra.

A woman with a history of MST is nine times more likely to suffer from PTSD compared to women with no history of sexual trauma experienced during military service. Signs of MST include depression, substance abuse, sexual dysfunction, panic attacks, worsening work performance, and sexually transmitted diseases. Additional indignities that some MST victims report include being dishonorably discharged and losing veterans medical benefits.

Veterans with “Bad Paper” Discharges

Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican from Colorado, is among the bipartisan leadership reintroducing the Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Health Act, along with Rep. Derek Kilmer, a Democrat from Washington. Coffman served in the Army and ultimately retired as a major with the Marine Corps. Largely due to his own observations in the military, he has worked to raise awareness about the need for mental health care to be provided for many veterans who had “bad paper” discharges.

Coffman saw that individuals who clearly had personality disorders were given disciplinary measures when what they needed was quality mental health care. He felt that servicemen and women should have been denied re-enlistment or given an early out, rather than being dishonorably discharged, in which case they were given no access to the mental health care they needed.

This issue has been more fully explored, per a May 2017 Government Accountability Office report. It was found that 62 percent of the service members between 2011 and 2015 who were involuntarily discharged for minor forms of misconduct had been diagnosed with TBI, PTSD, or other conditions associated with misconduct within two years prior to separation.

“They bear the brunt of the human cost of war with an average of 20 veterans committing suicide every single day. Their families carry this sacrifice and this cost throughout their lives and the rate of mental health and substance-use disorders have been steadily rising since 2001.”

–  Quote by Veteran Tulsi

 

H.R. 918, an Overdue Solution for Veterans

H.R. 918 addresses the lack of needed mental health care for veterans. The sponsor of H.R. 918, which was introduced on February 7, 2017, is above-mentioned Representative Coffman. There are currently 25 Democrat cosponsors and 15 Republican cosponsors.

Latest actions include that the fourth version of the bill unanimously passed in the House of Representatives on November 7, 2017. The following day, H.R. 918 was received in the Senate, read twice, and referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

One of the amendments to the bill was that former service members who would otherwise be ineligible for mental health care because of being discharged from military service for other than honorable (OTH) conditions would be provided with mental health care they need. The bill doesn’t apply to all OAH discharges; but those who piloted unmanned aircraft, served in a combat zone, or experienced an MST would be covered.

Tulsi:

“If We Can’t Afford Veteran Care, We Shouldn’t Send Them Into Conflict”

In a press release, Coffman said that the vote in the House is a clear message to those suffering from PTSD and other invisible wounds of war that they are not alone. The bill is a crucial effort to ensure that combat veterans receive needed mental health care services. If the bill is passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Trump, the VA would be required to provide veterans with initial mental health assessments and any services that are determined to be necessary, regardless of the type of discharge they had. It includes services for those who are at risk for committing suicide or for harming others.

A Long Time Coming

The veterans’ benefits sought in H.R. 918 have long been recognized by certain groups and individuals as desperate needs. High Ground Veterans Advocacy is a grassroots organization that trains veterans to become involved in their communities as activists and leaders. According to the organization’s founder and chairman, Kristofer Goldsmith, some veterans have been waging this very fight for decades. He says that some of the most vulnerable veterans, including many who served in Vietnam, are still denied the holistic care from the VA that they deserve.

“Our service members have selflessly put their lives on the line to protect and defend our country. Our country owes them a debt of gratitude, something we’re reminded of as we head into Veterans Day,” says Gabbard.

She has led from the front several efforts to support veterans. She introduced H.R. 4328, which is legislation to rehabilitate the nation’s World War I memorials. She urged Congress to pass a bill she cosponsored to improved access to and quality of care for female veterans, in the Deborah Sampson Act (H.R. 2452). And she is among the legislators who spoke in support of H.R. 918, to reform veterans’ mental health care.

More updates and information from Rep. Tulsi Gabbard:

https://twitter.com/tulsipress
https://gabbard.house.gov/about
https://www.votetulsi.com/tulsi-gabbard
https://www.youtube.com/user/tulsipress
https://www.flickr.com/photos/reptulsigabbard/
https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/918
https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/hr918

Videos: Tulsi Gabbard’s efforts for supporting veterans