On May 16, 2007, Linda Rosenberg, President and CEO of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare [NCCBH] testified before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs as a participant in the PTSD Health Care Symposium. She concluded by saying "Given the mental illness prevalence rates that I cited just a few moments ago, the National Council strongly supports a nationwide contract initiative funded at $100 million targeting only National Guard members and Reservists living in rural areas."
As reported in the National Council PUBLIC POLICY UPDATE, dated May 31, 2007, "On May 23, Senators Pete Domenici [R-NM] and Barack Obama [D-IL] introduced a bill to improve access to mental health services for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill includes all of the elements of the appropriations request the National Council and Mental Health America have been pursuing in Congress in recent months, including a provision to obligate the Department of Veterans Affairs to fund the creation of service partnerships with community mental health and addictions agencies to expand access to mental health services for National Guard members and reservists living in rural America.
The Veterans’ Mental Health Outreach and Access Act [S 38] would authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs [Va] to develop and implement a comprehensive national program to increase the availability of mental health support so that veterans affected by combat-related mental health problems do not go without the care they need. In remote areas of the country in which the VA determines there is inadequate access to a VA medical center, the Veterans’ Mental Health Outreach and Access Act directs the Secretary of the VA to contract with community mental health centers to provide treatment and support services and readjustment counseling. All contract- providers would be required to hire a qualified peer specialist and have its clinicians participate in a training program to ensure services are tailored to meet the specialized needs of combat-affected veterans.
The bill also calls on the Secretary of VA to develop a national program to train returning service members for positions as peer outreach workers and support specialists. The bill places particular emphasis on providing services for National Guardsmen and Reserve veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. These ‘civilian soldiers’ often return from combat duty and immediately resume civilian life and may not have adequate access to readjustment services or VA facilities. The legislation includes provisions to extend counseling services to veterans’ families, who may also experience issues with readjustment after their loved-ones have returned from deployment.
‘Virtually all returning veterans and their families will face readjustment problems. These soldiers and their families deserve the best care and treatment possible, but for those returning to communities remote from VA services, care isn’t always available,’ said Senator Domenici. ‘This legislation will strengthen mental health and peer counseling support for our veterans, as well as launch a national effort to ensure our Guardsmen and reservists living in rural communities receive the same quality and access to mental health care as every other veteran served by the Veterans Administration,’ said Senator Obama.
The National Council applauds Senators Domenici and Obama for introducing the Veterans’ Mental Health Outreach and Access Act and recognizing the important role community mental health and addictions treatment providers can play in expanding access to mental health services for veterans."
There are several other interesting items reported in the May 31st issue of the National Council’s PUBLIC POLICY UPDATE. I hope to continue to report on these and other items from future issues.