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Congressman Lloyd Smucker

Representing the 11th District of Pennsylvania

Smucker Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Improve Mental Health Services for Service Members

March 14, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, U.S. Reps. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA) and Salud Carbajal (D-CA) introduced a bipartisan bill to improve Department of Defense mental health services provided to servicemembers.

“Our brave service men and women risk their lives for our freedom and some of the greatest wounds they experience are unseen,” Smucker said. “Too many of them return home with untreated symptoms of depression and other mental health conditions related to their service. I believe in honoring our service members and keeping our promises to them when they return home – and that includes giving them the care they need to live happy, healthy lives.”

The Warrior Wellness Act would require the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to Congress detailing the shortage of mental health providers no later than 180 days after enactment. It would also require the Secretary submit a report on the Department’s efforts to review and monitor prescribing practices of its providers based on its guideline recommendations to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“Too many of our veterans are not receiving the specialized mental health care they need because of staff shortages at VA facilities,” said Carbajal. “We’re losing 20 veterans a day to suicide and it’s clear we need to step up our mental health support for service-related trauma. I’m glad to cosponsor Mr. Smucker’s effort to support our many veterans who carry the trauma of their service back home.” 

Veterans and servicemembers are significantly more susceptible to depression and other mental health problems. According to a study from JAMA Psychiatry, nearly one in four active duty members showed signs of a mental health condition. Servicemembers’ diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is 15 times higher than the civilian population.

Why Is This Legislation Needed?

On Mental Health Provider Shortage:

The Department of Defense’s Military Health System (MHS) makes mental health care available to active-duty service men and women through its TRICARE system. According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report from April 2016, the Department of Defense has increased the number of mental health providers available to service men and women. However, Department data indicate a shortage still exists among providers such as psychiatrists. 

On PTSD Prescribing Practices:

The Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs have developed clinical practice guidelines for PTSD in order to ensure active-duty service men and women had access to reliable and effective treatment. However, according to a GAO report from January 2016, the Department of Defense does not regularly monitor the prescribing practices for PTSD. Instead, the Department relies on the individual military branches to monitor prescribing practices. The report also found that the largest branch – the United States Army – does not regularly monitor its prescribing practices. 

What Does This Legislation Do?

On Mental Health Provider Shortage:

Rep. Smucker’s legislation requires the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to Congress that details the exact shortage of mental health providers at the Department no later than 180 days after enactment. The report must explain reasons for such a shortage, and must also explain the impact that this shortage is having on members of the Armed Services.

The legislation further requires the Department of Defense to develop a strategy to better recruit and retain mental health providers such as psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health nurse practitioners, licensed social workers, and other licensed providers of the military health system.

On PTSD Prescribing Practices:

Rep. Smucker’s legislation requires the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to Congress on the Department’s efforts to review and monitor the medication prescribing practices of its providers based on its guideline recommendations to treat PTSD. Additionally, the Department must establish a monitoring system carried out by each branch of the armed services to conduct periodic reviews of the medication prescribing practices of its own providers.

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