WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has joined U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) as a sponsor of the Prioritizing Veterans’ Access to Mental Health Care Act (S.841). The legislation puts veterans’ mental health care first by providing the option for veterans to receive immediate mental health treatment outside the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) until they can receive comprehensive treatment at the VA. The legislation also prioritizes incentives to hire more mental health care professionals at the VA.
“From the startling veteran suicide rate, to ongoing delays in hiring the thousands of mental health professionals and licensed therapists needed within the VA, it is clear we have a crisis in this country when it comes to addressing the mental health issues our veterans,” Sen. Moran said. “At a time when 50 percent of our service men and women returning home seek mental health treatment, it is critical that the VA follow through on its commitment and responsibilities. This legislation will help make certain no veteran feels abandoned by the country they served by supporting the development of a VA system capable of offering first-rate mental health care services. As that system is being developed, it will allow veterans struggling with the invisible wounds of war to utilize the expertise of outside organizations and mental health professionals in their community.”
According to the VA, there are approximately 22 veteran suicides each day, while the average wait time for a mental health appointment at the VA is 36 days. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), only half of the veterans who seek mental health treatment receive adequate care. Even under the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (Choice Act), many rural veterans are unable to seek treatment with local community mental health providers and face an immense burden of travel and long wait lists when trying to access care at a VA medical center more than 40 miles from their home.
S.841 provides an option for our veterans to receive mental health treatment, until they can receive comprehensive treatment at the VA. The emergency room should not be considered a back-stop for delayed mental health care treatment at the VA, as veterans who seek mental health treatment at emergency rooms often do so when they have reached the limits of their suffering and have nowhere else to turn.
The Prioritizing Veterans’ Access to Mental Health Care Act would:
- Amend the Veterans’ Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 to allow a veteran instant authorization of non-VA care if the veteran provides an electronic or hard-copy statement in writing that they are not receiving adequate or timely mental health care at the VA;
- Eliminate the 40-mile and VA wait-time triggers under the Choice Act for mental health care;
- Prioritize incentives for the hiring of mental health care professionals at VA;
- Use Choice Act funds to pay for the bill; and
- Provide the VA 90 days to enact the program.
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