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Mental Health for Troops and Veterans, Essay Example

Pages: 4

Words: 972

Essay

There has been a great deal of publicity about the rising rate of suicides among Army and Air National Guard and Reserve troops, a source of great concern among military top officers as well as troops and their families. During the first half of 2010, 65 members of the National Guard and Reserves killed themselves, compared with the same period the previous year when 42 troops took their own lives (Goldstein.) In the month of June 2010 alone, 32 soldiers killed themselves, a rate of more than one per day. Congress is well aware of the problems regarding mental health among military troops who are or have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan; a bill labeled S 1820 has been introduced to address this issue. This paper will discuss the purpose and contents of that bill, and various aspects of the legislation, including the target groups impacted, the benefits and disadvantages of the bill, and its potential to have a significant impact on the suicide rate among veterans and active-duty soldiers.

Introduced by New York Senator Kirsten Gillebrand, Bill S 1820 is a bill that “authorizes the Secretary of Defense to provide assistance to State National Guards to provide counseling and reintegration services for members and components of the Armed Forces ordered to active duty in support of a contingency operation, members returning from such activeduty, veterans of the Armed Forces, and their families.” (S. 1820: National Guard Outreach Act.) The bill was read twice on November 8, 2011 and was referred to the Committee on Armed Forces. It was an expansion of a bill that was introduced by Senator Ted Kennedy on April 29, 2008, called “National Guard and Reserve Mental Health Access Act of 2008,”which was also read twice and referred to the same committee. That bill was never acted on; possibly, the death of Senator Kennedy in August 2009 caused Congress to “drop the ball,” regarding this legislation. So far, the Committee on Armed Forces has not addressed this bill.

The passage of S 1820 would have obvious benefits for members of the Armed Forces and their families. There are many reasons for why soldiers on active duty and veterans do not seek or receive mental health treatment. An important barrier involves the stigma associated with seeking psychological treatment; however, for soldiers who are from rural areas, the primary barrier to receiving needed mental health treatment involves the geographic distance from the nearest VA hospital (Returning Soldiers and Veterans Health.) In other instances, the soldiers are not eligible for benefits or are simply unaware of those services that are designed to cope with their mental health needs. Passage of S 1820 would provide help that is specifically targeted towards active duty soldiers and veterans, providing funds that would allow them to seek treatment closer to home, as well as waging a significant campaign to remove the stigma from seeking mental health services. This much-needed help could save the lives of troops, hopefully reducing the rate of suicide and depression. The assistance that would also be available to families would help them recognize the signs of severe depression and perhaps take a more active role in helping their family member seek professional help. The only negative, if there is one, to the passage of this bill would be the cost since the country has such a tremendous deficit. However, this would seem to be a priority since it is a life-saving service aimed towards those who have risked their lives to protect the United States.

Many organizations, both private and non-profit, have risen to the task of providing free mental health services to returning troops and veterans. For example, the insurance company Aetna announced that it will encourage its employees to donate free therapy hours to members of the military. In addition, it will support a program called Give an Hour, established in 2005, whose mission is to establish national networks of mental health providers who are qualified to respond to the acute and chronic mental health needs of returning troops and veterans (Aetna Behavioral Health Helps Expand Network Of Mental Health Professionals Providing Free Counseling To Military Members And Their Families.)

To date, there has been little coverage of S 1820 specifically, although the media has widely covered the issue of suicide, depression, and difficulties adjusting to life at home for the military. If the bill is ratified and signed, there is great potential for the statistics on suicide of returning troops to change dramatically; that could occur if funds are used to significantly decrease the stigma of seeking counseling, to educate the families of the military to recognize danger signs that might indicate suicidal behavior, and to increase the number of therapists available to military troops while they are active and when they return home, so that they are not left on waiting lists, unable to seek the help that they need when they need it. It is an indescribable tragedy that too many of the men and women who survive the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq return home only to find their emotional states are so chaotic and depressed that theyresort to suicide. It is as if the dangers of war were survivable, but returning home was not. Hopefully, the passage of S 1820 would alter that terrible irony to a significant degree.

Works Cited

” Aetna Behavioral Health Helps Expand Network of Mental Health Professionals Providing  Free Counseling to Military Members and Their Families.” 12 May 2011. Aetna News Releases. 11 November 2011 <http://www.aetna.com/news/newsReleases/2011/0512_GiveAnHour.html>.

Goldstein, David. “National Guard and Reserves Suicide Rates Climbing.” 23 July 2010. McClatchy. 11 November 2011 <http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/07/23/98060/national-guard-and-reserve-suicide.html>.

Hoffman, Michael. “Army Guard Reserve Suicide Rate Sees Big Spike.” 19 January 2011. Army Times. 11 November 2011 <http://www.armytimes.com/news/2011/01/army-guard-reserve-suicide-rate-sees-big-spike-011911w/>.

“Returning Soldiers and Veterans Health.” 26 October 2011. Rural Assistance Center. 11 November 2011 <http://www.raconline.org/info_guides/veterans/>.

“S-1820: National Guard Outreach Act.” 2011. OpenCongress. 11 November 2011 <http://www.opencongress.org/bill/110-s1820/show>.

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