Smucker Introduces Legislation to Treat Unseen Wounds of Service Men and Women

September 6, 2018
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker (PA-16) today introduced bipartisan legislation – the Warrior Wellness Actwith Rep. Salud Carbajal (CA-24) to improve the mental health services provided to servicemembers by the Department of Defense. 

According to a report from JAMA Psychiatry, the rate of major depression among service men and women is five times higher than the civilian population, and the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is 15 times higher than the civilian population. Rep. Smucker’s legislation addresses the DoD’s mental health provider shortage and medication prescribing practices designed to treat PTSD. 

“Some of the greatest wounds inflicted upon our brave service men and women are unseen,” said Rep. Smucker. “We should be doing everything we can to treat these wounds as we would any other. Ensuring our troops have access to high-quality mental health services and are properly evaluated and treated is critical to their safety, the safety of their fellow soldiers, and the effectiveness of our national defense. I’m glad to work across the aisle with Rep. Carbajal on behalf of our servicemembers and their families.”

“Far too many of our service men and women are returning home with untreated symptoms of depression, substance abuse, and other mental health conditions related to their service,” said Rep. Carbajal. “This legislation is critical to equipping the VA with the information and tools they need to take on this epidemic and help provide our veterans with the support they deserve.”

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.