Tester, Moran Tackle Rate of National Guard and Reserve Suicide
Senators’ Bipartisan Bill Expands Guard and Reserve Access to Mental Health Care Regardless of Deployment Status
(U.S. Senate) - U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) are stepping up the fight to address the high rate of suicide among members of the National Guard and Reserve.
Currently, members of the National Guard and Reserves undergo annual health assessments to identify medical issues that could impact their ability to deploy, but any follow-up care must almost always be pursued at their own expense. The Senators' introduced their bipartisan Care and Readiness Enhancement (CARE) for Reservists Act to improve Guardsmen and Reservists' access to consistent mental health, regardless of their deployment status.
"We've got to do everything we can to improve access to mental health care services for every man and woman who serves in uniform," said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. "Our bill will go a long way toward expanding mental health options for our citizen soldiers and airmen, particularly those in rural areas, and shows them we are serious about treating the invisible wounds of war."
"It is critical we provide our servicemembers every opportunity to access mental healthcare" said Sen. Moran. "Unfortunately, many National Guardsmen and Reservists struggle to receive mental healthcare when they are not deployed or drilling. This legislation will remove existing barriers to care for National Guardsmen and Reservists by allowing them to access readjustment counseling at VA Medical Centers and through VA mental health services. We have a duty to care for the men and women who bravely serve our nation, especially as it relates to mental illness and thoughts of suicide. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation that moves us closer toward delivering on this promise."
The Senators' CARE for Reservists Act allows the Defense Department to fund needed behavioral or mental health care, regardless of whether that reservist is within his or her pre-deployment window or has never deployed at all. Their bill also allows members of the Guard and Reserve to access Vet Centers for mental health screening and counseling, employment assessments, education training, and other services to help them return to civilian life.
The Senators' bill received strong support from the National Guard and Reserve community.
"Access to medical care for Guardsmen and women returning from deployment is essential to their successful re-integration," said Major General Matt Quinn, Adjutant General of the Montana National Guard. "The CARE for Reservist Act addresses a critical gap in health care coverage and will allow service members ongoing access to health care for mental and behavioral conditions just as they now have for physical conditions."
"Suicides in the National Guard and Reserve continue to be a major concern," said Roy Robinson, Brigadier General US Army (Ret.), President of the National Guard Association of the United States. "Senator Tester's bill would utilize these critical Vet Centers in helping our members and their families in need of confidential counseling services at over 300 community based locations nationwide. The bill would also authorize the Defense Department to address the mental health and behavioral conditions of the National Guard and Reserve to ensure we are not neglecting the medical readiness and force protection needs of this vital part of the total force."
"The Citizen Soldiers of the National Guard are willing to sacrifice everything for their country but when they return from serving either domestically or abroad they are not given the same support that we offer other members of the armed forces," said Enlisted Association of the National Guard of United States Executive Director Frank Yoakum. "The CARE for Reservists Act of 2019 is vital in assuring that the men and women of the National Guard have all the support and care that they have earned."
The CARE For Reservists Act is also cosponsored by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Text of the CARE For Reservists Act can be found online HERE.