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Medical Evaluation Parity for Servicemembers Act introduced in Senate

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U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) have introduced the Medical Evaluation Parity for Servicemembers (MEPS) Act which will improve the way the military identifies and assesses mental health issues. If enacted, the MEPS Act would institute mental health assessments for both incoming recruits and servicemembers separating from active duty. The entry screening would serve as a baseline for future mental health assessments throughout servicemembers’ careers, while the exit screening would provide more accurate information on their mental health condition as they transition to civilian life. To make this transition easier, the bill also directs the Department of Defense to issue a report on its ability to issue servicemembers electronic copies of their health records as they leave service.

The House of Representatives has companion MEPS Act legislation led by Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio-13) and Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (Pa.-05). The MEPS Act has been endorsed by a number of prominent veterans organizations and mental health advocacy groups including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Military Officers’ Association of America, Reserve Officers’ Association, National Military Family Association, Association of the U.S. Navy, the National Guard Association of the United States, the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States, the American Psychological Association, and the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy.

“On behalf of the men and women of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW) and our Auxiliaries, we are pleased to offer our support for the Medical Evaluation Parity for Servicemembers (MEPS) Act,” said VFW Director Raymond C. Kelley. “The VFW commends your leadership on this issue and your commitment to military mental health.”

“Too many of our men and women in uniform still suffer from the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injuries, and behavioral health conditions,” Portman stated. “While the Department of Defense has made great strides in the way it treats these invisible wounds of war, the steady persistence of this problem demonstrates the need for more action. This legislation represents an important step toward a more comprehensive and effective approach to mental health that covers servicemembers throughout the duration of their service as well as during their transition to civilian life.”

“We make a solemn promise to each and every veteran that, in return for their service, we will take care of their health, security and well-being,” Rockefeller said. “While our nation hasn’t always fulfilled that commitment, particularly when it comes to providing mental health services, we have an opportunity now to do more with the Medical Evaluation Parity for Servicemembers Act. This bill goes a long way toward effective screening, so that we can identify problems early and provide better care. This is key to helping servicemembers and veterans who struggle with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury, or other mental health issues. I am grateful to Senator Portman for his partnership in this effort. We need the Senate to support this legislation that can finally provide servicemembers with critical mental health screenings, both at the beginning of their service and during their transition back to civilian life.”

According to numerous studies, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur following a life-threatening event such as may occur during military combat. Servicemembers and veterans who suffer from PTSD often suffer from nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, and often have other symptoms like depression, substance abuse, problems of memory and cognition, and other physical and mental health problems. The disorder is also associated with difficulties in social or family life, including occupational instability, marital problems, family discord, and difficulties in parenting. It is estimated that up to 20% of those who served during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from PTSD and up to 30% of those who served in Vietnam.

Another cause of PTSD in the military can be military sexual trauma (MST) which can be the result of sexual harassment or sexual assault and can occur during peacetime, training, or war. It is estimated that 55% of women and 38% of men have experienced sexual harassment when in the military

In 2012, there were 349 suicides in the US military, which does not include about 100 others that were still being investigated. It is also estimated that 22 veterans a day take their own life, according to Department of Veterans Affairs. But out of the 22 suicides a day, only 5 are being treated at the VA.

“NGAUS strongly supports the MEPS Act as long overdue in addressing the need to establish a workable baseline to identify the signature mental health injuries of the current wars,” stated Peter J. Duffy, Colonel US Army (Ret), Director of Legislation, National Guard Association of the United States. “Not having a baseline is a neglectful disservice to our military members and veterans who risk their lives for our nation. Mental health screening at the critical points of enlistment and discharge is needed both to protect our serving members and our veterans who may incur otherwise hard to discern injuries during their military service.”

“The challenge of finding, accurately diagnosing and providing care for people at risk of hurting themselves or others due to mental illness is always a challenge,” said Nadine Kaslow, PhD, 2014 President of the American Psychological Association. “When dealing with military personnel who have been asked to do difficult jobs, spend long periods of time away from their families and sometimes witness injury and death, the problem of determining who needs help and getting them that help is even more vexing. APA continues to provide expertise to DoD and Congress on issues of mental health promotion and violence prevention. APA is proud to support the Medical Evaluation Parity for Service Members Act of 2014. Our military and their families deserve no less.”

“Hundreds of veterans over the last 13 years have been discharged with personality disorders rather than be properly diagnosed for post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic injury. The MEPS Act would help such veterans by initial screening of new recruits, which would set a mental baseline for those who are eventually deployed. Additional screening upon discharge from service would help track any changes to the servicemember’s mental health condition and provide more accurate information to caregivers supporting veterans in their local communities,” stated Marshall Hanson, CAPT, USNR (ret.), Legislative Director, Reserve Officers Association.

“EANGUS fully supports Senator Portman and Senator Rockefeller’s efforts to provide mental health assessments to recruits interested in military service. Doing so is a practical way to protect our nation’s war fighters and is long overdue,” stated Daniel Elkins, Director of Government Affairs, the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States.

"The American Psychological Association has a long-standing commitment to promoting health and well-being among military personnel, veterans, and their families. We support the Medical Evaluation Parity for Service Members Act of 2014 and applaud the efforts of Sen. Portman and Sen. Rockefeller, and their sponsoring colleagues in the House, to strengthen DoD's prevention, assessment and treatment capacities for those wishing to serve our nation, those who are currently serving, and those who have served,” said Heather O'Beirne Kelly, PhD, American Psychological Association Lead for Military and Veterans' Policy.

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