As I indicated earlier, on May 23rd, 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 National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare in its June 7, 2007 issue of its Public Policy Update "urges all members to contact their Senators and ask them to become co-sponsors of the Veterans Mental Health Outreach and Access Act [S38]". Senators Domenici and Obama are currently circulating a Dear Colleague letter and a recent editorial from the Washington Post, which highlighted their bill, as they seek co-sponsors.
According to the National Council’s Policy Update, "the Veterans Mental Health Outreach and Access Act  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 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 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 provision to extend counseling services to veterans families, who may also experience issues with readjustment after their loved-ones have returned from deployment."
The National Council Public Policy Update "urges all members to contact their Senators and ask them to sign the Dear Colleague letter and co-sponsor the Veterans Mental Health Outreach and Access Act. In particular, the National Council urges members whose senators serve on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to make calls in support of this bill.
Members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee:
Daniel Akaka [D-HI] Chairman: 202-224-6361
Larry Craig [R-ID] Ranking Member: 202-224-2752
John Rockefeller IV [D-WV]: 202-224-6472
Arlen Specter [R-PA]: 202-224-4254
Patty Murray [D-WA]: 202-224-2621
Richard Burr [R-NC]: 202-224-3154
Barack Obama [D-IL]: 202-224-2854
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