MN-02 : Where’s Kline on Military Mental Health and Suicide Issues ?

Voters will go to the polls with a choice … Mitt Romney advocates increasing the military by 100,000 (without explaining what their mission would be although he acknowledges that he agrees that American and coalition troops will be out of Afghanistan in 2014) … or Barack Obama who has used Executive Orders to force changes required to care for our soldiers … for example, from Stars and Stripes Megan McCloskey article dated 31 Aug 2012

VA Suicide Prevention Update

President Barack Obama signed an executive order 31 AUG directing the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand mental health services and suicide prevention efforts. Obama is instructing the VA to ensure that any veteran with suicidal thoughts is seen by a mental health professional within 24 hours — a standard already set for the VA, but which the department often fails to meet. To help the understaffed VA meet that ambitious requirement — there are areas of the country where the dearth of psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers means veterans wait months for appointments — the order directs the VA to partner with the Department of Health and Human Services to tap into community services to help meet demand.
The two agencies will create 15 pilot sites in underserved areas by contracting with local facilities. They’ve also been ordered to develop a plan for rural areas, which are lacking in all health services. The plan is to include a way for areas to share mental health providers. The VA said in June it had put together a 21-person, in-house recruiting team to work on these issues.

The executive order also reiterates a VA plan to hire more mental health care providers. However, there is a nationwide shortage and the VA has struggled over the years to lure professionals to work for them. The VA has until June 2013 to figure out how to fix that issue with pay, loan repayment, scholarships and partnerships with community-based providers and training programs. The goal, announced by the VA in June, is to hire 1,900 mental health staffers. The VA is also being told to increase the veteran crisis hotline capacity by 50 percent by the end of year and to develop a national 12-month suicide prevention campaign that would help connect veterans to mental health services. “VA will work closely with our federal partners to implement the executive order immediately, and continue to expand access to the high-quality mental health care services our veterans have earned and deserve,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said in a statement.

Voters will also be deciding whether to return current Members for another term.

In Minnesota’s First, Tim Walz remains quite active and visible in servicemember’s mental health needs. For example, when the Invisible Wounds Caucus in the House of Representatives held a bipartisan panel discussion with experts seeking potential
solutions for military and veteran suicides, Congressman Walz was there :

“One military or veteran suicide is too many for those who answered the call to duty,” said Walz. “These tragedies are preventable and effective treatments are available. We can and must give military personnel and veterans who are in crisis the comprehensive support they need. We can and must provide those who are struggling with a sense of hope and a path forward towards a high quality of life.

Suicide has become an epidemic amongst veterans, especially those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2009 suicide was cited as the third leading cause of death among Army personnel. Since Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom began, more than 1,100 service members have been lost to suicide.
When combined with accidental deaths caused by high-risk behavior often associated with mental health issues (e.g. alcoholism and drug abuse), more service members’ die from suicide than from combat.

Sadly, while military suicides have received much attention in the last several years, this problem has only intensified. In July 2012 more Army personnel committed suicide than at any other point in recent history, with a rate of more than one per day. The other services have reported high rates of suicide as well.

Congressman Walz has introduced HR 6574 The Servicemember Mental Health Review Act.
The Servicemember Mental Health Review Act would require the service secretaries to each establish a Mental Health Discharge Board of Review consisting of at least one independent psychiatrist, a psychologist and three others to examine the cases of troops separated for mental conditions that did not result in a compensable disability rating since Sept. 11, 2001.

The boards could then recommend whether a member was correctly discharged or was wrongly diagnosed and deserves either military disability retirement or severance pay.

Action must be taken to correct the military records and provide these wounded warriors with the disability, health care and economic opportunity benefits they have earned,” said Rep. Timothy Walz.
We have veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI as a result of combat or sexual assault that happened while they were in the military, but because they were wrongly diagnosed, they can’t get the benefits they need and deserve,” said Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., a co-sponsor of the bill.
These House lawmakers are pressing the Defense Department to review more than 30,000 military separations over the past decade for mental health conditions that don’t rate compensation because they aren’t considered service-related.

John Kline is not a co-sponsor of HR 6574 … just as he was not a co-sponsor of Representative Walz’s H.R. 4155 Veterans Skills to Jobs Act, H.R. 1855 Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitative Services’ Improvements Act, and H.R. 3670 Protecting Returning Veterans to TSA Jobs … all approved by the House.

The Star-Tribune praised John Kline for his stance on Veterans issues … yet where are the accomplishments or citations of legislative efforts ?
Instead of being a Member of the Invisible Wounds Caucus, John Kline is a Member of Congressional Gaming Caucus, Congressional Horse Caucus, Congressional Sportsman’s Caucus, Congressional Wildlife Refuge Caucus as well as the Congressional Missile Defense Caucus and Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus … gosh, it seems that Representative Kline is concentrated on military contractors rather than military veterans’ needs.

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