Tester on veterans’ mental health care: We must fight the stigma, add mental health professionals

Senator pushes for smarter spending, alternative methods at committee hearing

(U.S. Senate) – With the VA estimating that 22 veterans taking their own lives every day, Senator Jon Tester today highlighted two ways to reduce veterans suicide: increase the number of mental health professionals and reduce the stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment.

Tester made his comments at a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing focused on how the Department of Veterans Affairs treats veterans with mental health conditions. Tester is a long-standing member of the committee and Montana’s only committee member.

“The challenges of stigma that surround mental health, as well as not having enough mental health professionals, are huge,” Tester said at today’s hearing. “We’ve got to figure out how to transcend that – both in the public and private sector.”

Tester pointed out that east of Billings, or about half of Montana, there are particularly few mental health professionals, leaving the region’s rural veterans with few available options.

At the hearing, Tester pushed three VA officials in charge of mental health treatment to spend their resources more wisely and to also continue to expand the use of alternative treatments. He highlighted the therapeutic benefits of the outdoors for veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress.

“Different things work for different people and the VA needs the flexibility to treat veterans with all methods,” Tester said. “We’ve got to figure out how to get more people involved – we need all hands on deck.”

Tester’s fellow Montana Senator, John Walsh, who led U.S. troops in Iraq, also testified, as did family members of veterans who committed suicide and representatives of non-profit organizations, such as the Wounded Warrior Project.

Today’s hearing follows Tester’s meeting yesterday with Robert McDonald, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. McDonald told Tester that at a recent visit to a medical school, he learned that just one out of 17 students was studying issues related to mental health.

Tester has been a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee since he joined the Senate in 2007 and has worked to improve veterans’ health care and services in Montana and nationwide.

Video from today’s entire committee hearing is available online HERE.