Senate bill would reform mental health assessment for service members

Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) co-sponsored legislation on Wednesday that would reform how the mental health of service members is assessed and treated.

The Medical Evaluation Parity for Service Members Act would establish a system to screen both incoming recruits and outgoing service members who conclude active duty.

The screenings would be designed to determine a mental health baseline for recruits and provide a mental health assessment for service members transitioning back into civilian life.

“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 said. “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 service members throughout the duration of their service as well as during their transition to civilian life.”

Under the measure, the DoD would be directed to report on its ability to issue service members electronic copies of their health records as they leave service.

“…This bill goes a long way toward effective screening so that we can identify problems early and provide better care,” Rockefeller said. “This is key to helping service members and veterans who struggle with PTSD and traumatic brain injury, or other mental health issues. I am grateful to Sen. Portman for his partnership in this effort. We need the Senate to support this legislation that can finally provide service members with critical mental health screenings, both at the beginning of their service and during their transition back to civilian life.”

American Psychological Association President Dr. Nadine Kaslow said accurate diagnosis and care for people who are at risk of hurting themselves or others is always a challenge.

“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,” Kaslow said. “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.”