Montanan testifies before veterans affairs committee

Helena Independent Record

Matt Kuntz’s stepbrother committed suicide a year after returning from Iraq

A Helena veteran who became a national leader in the fight for better mental health care for veterans suggested Thursday that Congress follow Montana’s lead in identifying and treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Sen. Jon Tester asked Matthew Kuntz to testify before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

Kuntz gave up his post-military career as an attorney to push for better mental health care following the death of his stepbrother, Chris Dana.

Dana, a member of the Montana National Guard, took his own life in 2007, 15 months after returning from Iraq. Kuntz called Dana’s death an “ugly, painful and needless tragedy” that resulted from a severe case of PTSD that wasn’t identified in time.

Following Dana’s death, the Montana National Guard started requiring mandatory mental health screenings for returning veterans twice a year.

“The genius of the Montana screening model is that it happens every six months,” Kuntz said during the hearing.

“I really, in my heart, believe that if they would have sat down with Chris six months (after his redeployment), when he could no longer go to drill, when he was having the flashbacks, when he was having trouble dealing with his own family—that’s when that counselor could have gotten him out of his shell. But I tell you, we tried later—a year later—and it was too late.”

Tester said he plans to introduce legislation for rural veterans next week that will include a mental health component.

Kuntz currently serves as executive director of the Montana Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.