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Sen. Gillibrand seeks to make mental health care more accessible to veterans

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand meets members of the 106th Rescue Wing in 2012. (U.S. Army photo by Senior Airman Christopher Muncy)

Amid a shocking surge in military suicides, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is demanding better access to mental health care for vets.

“Suicide in the military community — both among current service members and veterans — is a serious and devastating problem, and it is painfully clear that we are not doing nearly enough to address it,” she said in a Sunday statement.

Gillibrand, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, called for “a full review of the vague reporting requirements that prevent service members from accessing critical care.”

She pointed to a federal study finding half of military personnel believe seeking help for mental health issues will hurt their careers. The senator highlighted a military policy under which mental health professionals must report members of armed services to their commanders when they seek help for harming themselves or others or need inpatient care, among other “vague requirements.”

“I ask that you update the rules governing (Department of Defense) mental health providers’ reporting of service members’ treatment to ensure that reporting to commanders is only in the case of imminent harm to self or others, Gillibrand wrote Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

More than 45,000 vets and active-duty service members committed suicide in the past six years, according to a RAND Corporation report cited by Gillibrand, with the rate reaching a five-year peak in 2018.

“We need to break down the barriers that stand in the way of service members seeking mental health care, and one way to do just that is to conduct a full review of the vague reporting requirements that prevent service members from accessing critical care,” Gillibrand said.

“We also need to provide veterans with better support services during their transition back to civilian life. These are just the first steps necessary to combating the challenges that our service members and veterans face.”


© 2019 New York Daily News