Lawmakers push to improve veterans' health
Veteran suicide rates continue to be alarmingly high.
“Mental health care is a huge concern. You have 20 veterans who take their own lives a day,” said Carlos Fuentes, the VFW Director of Legislative Services.
The Director of National Legislative Service at the VFW Carlos Fuentes—an Afghanistan veteran himself—says veterans need access to mental healthcare throughout their life after combat.
The current law says veterans can only get help for combat-related mental health issues at the VA for five years after they get discharged.
That’s why Fuentes is supporting a bill, the SERVICE Act, in Congress to eliminate the time limit for veterans.
“Many healthcare conditions that are prevalent among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans don’t manifest within those 5 year periods. This bill would certain address that,” said Fuentes.
Idaho Republican Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Democratic Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) introduced the SERVICE Act last month with the hopes of helping veterans before it is too late.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are determined to help service members get the care they deserve.
“The rate of veteran suicide in Idaho is about 150 percent of the rate of veteran suicide nationally, so this is a big issue in Idaho,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID).
But the bill has some shortcomings according to George Washington University Professor Dr. Amir Afkhami. While he says it’s an important step to helping more veterans, the bill may not do enough to reach all of them.
“They need access to mental health in areas that typically don’t have easy access to the VA healthcare system, such as rural areas,” said Dr. Afkhami, Associate Professor of Psychiatry & Global Health, George Washington University.
The SERVICE Act is now sitting in the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.