US Senator Joe Donnelly is introducing three more bills aimed at increasing the quality of mental health care given to the country’s armed forces and veterans.
Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly calls his three bills a “care package” for service members.
The proposed legislation would require the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to provide the best care for mental health conditions. It would also help train community health providers and new physician assistants in mental health care to address what Donnelly says is a national provider shortage.
“And this bill establishes a pilot fellowship program at six DOD and VA healthcare facilities to assess whether expanded use of physician assistants specializing in psychiatric medicine can help meet the increasing demand for mental health services,” says Donnelly.
Donnelly previously authored the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act named for a soldier from Farmland, Indiana who committed suicide in 2009. Passed late last year, the law requires an annual mental health assessment for all service members on active duty, in the reserves, and in the National Guard.
Donnelly says this new package of bills will also focus on veterans by asking Defense and Veterans Affairs to work together.
“For our vets, we’ve been losing 22 a day to suicide, " says Donnelly. "They have a place to turn to, they have someone to talk to, and they know they’re cared for and loved.”
The latest report from the Department of Defense on military suicides shows 326 service members killed themselves in the first three quarters of 2014.
According to the Pentagon, the US has lost more service members to suicide than to combat for the last two years. Donnelly says his bills have bipartisan support and he intends to add the measures to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.