By Lakeisha Waddis
On April 26, 2012, U.S. Senate Bill 2466 — 112th Congress — was introduced by Senator Jon Tester, read twice and referred to the Committee on Armed Services. This bill, known as the Military Reservists Access to Mental Health Services Act of 2011, would “amend title 10, United States Code, to authorize the provision of behavioral health readiness services to certain members of the Selected Reserve of the Armed Forces based on need, and for other purposes.”
The current mental and behavioral health service conditions for those in the Selected Reserve of the Armed Forces vary.
Upon returning from deployment, service members are faced with psychological issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, alcohol and drug abuse, depression, and some of which can lead to suicide.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the number of suicides among the Reservist and National Guard was 80 in 2009. By 2010, that number among this group had increased by 55% (145 suicides). Surprisingly, more than half of the number of National Guards who killed themselves had never been deployed.
Seeking help and treatment for the psychological issues that many in the National Guard and Reserve are faced with come from few, if not limited, resources, especially once they have been deactivated.
During activation, the Reserve and National Guard would seek services from their operational health asset or their Military Treatment Facility; however, once they are deactivated, they no longer receive these services.
Currently, TRICARE covers behavioral health services to the Reserve and National Guard under certain guidelines. Deactivated Reserve and National Guard members must qualify under TRICARE for a 180 day Temporary Assistance Management Program which begins on the Guard or Reserve member’s separation date.
Members losing this benefit and transitioning into civilian care can apply to keep these benefits by purchasing coverage under the Continued Health Care Benefits Program.
In addition, “The VA offers behavioral health services for members who served in support of a contingency operation,” said Army Maj. Gen. Elder Granger, Deputy Director, TRICARE Management Activity.
When taking note of the help that is currently available, one would think that it is easily accessible and made readily available to our Guards and Reserves who put their lives on the line for our country. But that is just another misconception.
The mental and behavioral health services that Selected Reserve of the Armed Forces receives are available, but access is uneasily attainable. SAMHSA notes that even though these members who have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars are eligible for behavioral health care services from the VA, many are unable or unwilling to access those services.
In the King County, Washington, Department of Community and Human Services Final Procurement Plan — Increasing Access to Behavioral Health Services Available through Community Health Centers, Public Health Centers, and Other Safety Net Clinics — it is stated that even though there is no reliable data on the medical and behavioral healthcare waiting list with the VA, but the VA mentioned in an editorial that that lists are so long as to effectively deny treatment to some veterans.
The bill, if enacted, would be funded in amounts made available to the Department of Defense for Defense Health Program. Determining the amounts required for behavioral health services for members of the Selected Reserve will be handled by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs in consultation with appropriate officials.
This may mean that this bill will not only create the access to needed behavioral and mental health services to the Reserves and National Guards through the law, but also through funding to provide these services.
It may also be necessary to hire more psychologists, therapists, and/or social workers to fill gaps in unfilled positions within military hospitals that can diagnose and treat Reserves and National Guard members suffering with mental health illnesses pre-deployment, during deployment, and post deployment, as well as for those who have never been deployed.
Caring for our Reserves and National Guard members not only means providing and supporting them while they are on the job, but supporting them and providing the necessary care and services needed to improve their mental and behavioral health conditions after they have served our country. U.S. Senate Bill SB 2466 would provide this much needed extension of care and support for our brave and courageous Selected Reserve of the Armed Forces.