Tester introduces bill to improve mental health care for Guardsmen & Reservists

Senator’s CARE for Reservists bill increases access to mental health services

(U.S. Senate) – As military members and veterans continue to struggle with the unseen wounds of war, Senator Jon Tester is introducing legislation to address the high rate of suicide among members of the National Guard and the Reserve.

Because they often live far from military installations, Guardsmen and Reservists struggle to access the same care as their active duty counterparts. And outreach efforts to address mental health conditions may not always reach those in need. As a result, the suicide rate for members of the National Guard and Reserve is consistently much higher than the rate for civilians and the rate for active duty military.

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. Though some National Guard units, like the Montana National Guard, have worked to expand care, many of these efforts are funded with limited dollars that must also cover training and equipment expenses.

Tester’s CARE for Reservists Act allows for the Defense Department to fund needed behavioral or mental care, regardless of whether that reservist is within his or her pre-deployment window.

“We must do everything we can to improve access to mental health care services for every man and woman in uniform,” said Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “This bill will go a long way toward expanding mental health options for our citizen soldiers and airmen, particularly those in rural areas, and demonstrates to them and their families that we are serious about treating the unseen wounds of war.”

Tester’s bill also allows Guardsmen and Reservists to access Vet Centers for mental health screening and counseling, employment assessments, education training, and other services to help them return to civilian life.

“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 for Montana. “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 have been unacceptably high for too long,” said Peter J. Duffy, Colonel US Army (Ret.), Director of Legislation for the National Guard Association of the United States. “Senator Tester’s bill would open the user-friendly doors of Vet Centers to our members and their families in need of its 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.”

Tester’s Care and Readiness Enhancement (CARE) for Reservists Act is available online HERE.