Legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) on Friday would direct protection and advocacy agencies to investigate the quality of mental health and substance abuse treatment available to veterans.
The Protection and Advocacy for Veterans Act, H.R. 5128, would also direct those agencies to advocate on behalf of veterans to ensure that they receive the mental health and substance abuse treatment that they need.
“The very first red flag was a May 2014 report showing that 52 percent of mental health patients waited more than 14 days for a visit,” Roby said. “That alarming statistic was emblematic of how the Department of Veterans Affairs has struggled in recent years to keep up with the rising need for substance abuse and mental health treatment for veterans.”
A nationwide shortage of mental health providers, many veterans returning from war, and a nationwide prescription drug and opioid epidemic have all contributed to the problem, Roby said.
“We have made progress combating these problems,” Roby wrote in an op-ed for Alabama Today. “Congress has boosted funding for mental health services and enacted legislation making it easier for the VA to attract mental health professionals. The VA has rightly focused its attention on making sure veterans seeking immediate mental health treatment are seen right away. In central Alabama, the latest reports show the average VA wait time for a mental health appointment is down to five days.”
Congressional efforts to prioritize mental health and substance abuse treatment for veterans a priority have resulted in progress, but Roby added, “We can do better.”
“I also believe that we owe it to our veterans to look beyond traditional means and bring all available resources to bear in ensuring access to proper mental health care and substance abuse treatment,” Roby said.