When our men and women in uniform come home from overseas, they deserve the best possible medical care. Unfortunately, they haven’t always been getting it.
And while deficiencies in treating physical wounds have been well documented, there has been far less of a focus on the invisible wounds of war—Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injuries, and other mental health conditions. Untreated, these disorders can cost lives, thousands of miles from the battlefield.
The statistics are startling. Since 2001, more active-duty U.S. service personnel have committed suicide than have been killed in Afghanistan. Many more struggle with depression or substance abuse, driven by the ongoing effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. We must do more to help.
The Department of Defense has committed to improving how we address these hidden wounds of war, and it has made some strides in improving the way it handles mental health issues. Still, gaps remain, and there is important work left to be done.
For instance, while members of the Armed Forces undergo a series of extensive physical assessments, they do not undergo comparable mental health assessments. This lapse makes identifying, assessing, tracking, and treating servicemembers suffering from mental health conditions much more difficult.
To address these gaps, I introduced the Medical Evaluation Parity for Servicemembers (MEPS) Act with my colleague Senator Rockefeller. This legislation represents an important step toward a more comprehensive and effective approach to mental health that covers servicemembers throughout the duration of their service as well as during their transition to civilian life.
This legislation, which has been endorsed by over 40 veterans’ service organizations and health advocacy groups—including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, National Military Family Association, the National Guard Association of the United States, and the American Psychological Association—improves the way the military identifies and assesses mental health issues by instituting mental health assessments for both incoming recruits and servicemembers separating from active duty.
The entry screening would serve as a baseline for future mental health assessments throughout servicemembers’ careers, while the exit screening would provide more accurate information on their mental health condition as they transition to civilian life. Once implemented, these steps would help avoid so many mental health problems our servicemembers face.
I’m happy to report that the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that passed the Senate this week contained a provision, based on my legislation, that requires the Defense Department to examine the feasibility of providing mental health screenings prior to enlistment and discharge from service.
This requirement, while an important first step, isn’t the end of our efforts to provide comprehensive mental healthcare for our service personnel. I will continue to work with Republicans and Democrats in Congress to enact the full MEPS legislation and to support new and innovative approaches to this difficult problem.
Our men and women in uniform have left behind their families, their jobs, and their lives to keep us safe. When they return, they deserve the very best medical care we can provide, no matter what the nature of their injuries.