Tester Announces Helena Veteran and Mental Health Advocate Appointed to National Veterans Mental Health Commission
Matt Kuntz Appointed to VA Commission to Examine Innovative Mental Health Treatments
(Big Sandy, Mont.) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester today announced that Helena veteran and mental health advocate Matt Kuntz has been appointed to a VA commission that will help improve mental health care for America’s veterans.
Kuntz is one of ten commission members appointed from across the nation to the VA’s Creating Options for Veterans’ Expedited Recovery (COVER) Commission. The COVER Commission was established under the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 to examine the effectiveness of the VA’s treatment of mental health conditions. The commission is tasked with identifying successful, innovative practices from the private sector like yoga, music or equine therapy, service animals, acupuncture, or meditation that will benefit veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental health conditions.
“I am deeply grateful to Senator Jon Tester and the Senate Minority Leader for nominating me to the Commission to work on ensuring that America’s veterans have access to the best mental health care possible,” said Kuntz. “This is a critical issue to our country and I’m honored to work on it at this level.”
“Matt Kuntz has been a tremendous advocate for Montana veterans’ access to mental health screenings and treatment,” said Tester. “He has years of experience in innovating and improving mental health treatment and suicide prevention for Montanans. That experience and his knowledge of the challenges faced by rural veterans’ in getting mental health care will be an asset for the VA to build upon.”
Kuntz’s first meeting on the COVER Commission will be October 16-17 at the Palo Alto VA Health Care System in Palo Alto, California. Kuntz is the tenth and final member appointed to the COVER Commission by President Donald Trump, the Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader, and Senate and House of Representatives Minority Leaders.
Last year, as Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Tester invited Kuntz to testify before the Committee on how the VA can improve Montana and rural veterans’ access to mental health care. Kuntz has provided feedback on several Tester-authored bills to allow the VA to hire additional mental health professionals and cut red tape to let veterans access mental health care closer to home.
A Helena native, Kuntz served in the U.S. Army and was recognized as a Distinguished Member of the Thirty Fifth Regiment. After his step brother, a Montana National Guardsmen who suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, died by suicide, Kuntz began advocating for effective screening and treatment of post-traumatic stress injuries for veterans. He worked with former Senator Max Baucus to write bipartisan legislation to increase access to mental health screenings for more servicemembers and improve the transition from Defense Department-furnished mental health care to the VA.
In 2008, Kuntz took on the role of Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s Montana chapter. In that role, Kuntz has helped lead the charge on a number of successful state advocacy efforts to establish mental health peer services in Montana, develop children’s mental health crisis beds, and prevent the incarceration of offenders with serious mental illness. Nationally, Kuntz has advocated for increased access to service dogs for military service members and veterans with mental health conditions and brain injuries. Kuntz led the team that developed Treatment Scout, a mental health and substance abuse navigation and review website that includes over 1,600 veterans healthcare clinics.
Kuntz was instrumental in the development of the Center for Mental Health Research and Recovery at Montana State University which has led cutting edge research studies in youth suicide prevention and online cognitive behavioral therapy. In August of 2018, Kuntz was named the Interim Director of the Center for Mental Health Research and Recovery. Kuntz is a co-investigator of a research study funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute which is reviewing anonymous medical information from 2003 to 2015 for 1.3 million patients with bipolar disorder to analyze how common medications for bipolar disorder affect the risk of: hospitalization, suicide attempts or self-harm, death, kidney disease, high blood pressure, cholesterol, and obesity.