Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly helped the Senate pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Wednesday with strong bipartisan support. The national defense bill has passed the Senate and House and now goes to President Obama. It includes provisions from Donnelly’s bipartisan “Servicemember and Veteran Mental Health Care Package,” which would improve mental health care for servicemembers and their families. NDAA sets national defense policy and funding levels for Pentagon programs.
Donnelly said, “The suicide rate among our servicemembers and veterans is a crisis that we must address. We urgently need to improve mental health care for the men and women who have served our country, and to deliver that care in a way that meets their needs. That was my goal in authoring the bipartisan ‘Care Package’ – to find meaningful ways to improve the quality of care, whether it’s being delivered at DOD, VA or by community providers. I am honored and grateful that these provisions passed in Congress as part of the national defense bill.
“At a time when our nation faces significant challenges with the rise of ISIS, Assad’s brutality in Syria, Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, and difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s critical that we set a clear defense policy. We must protect our security and provide for our servicemembers and their families, and I urge the President to re-consider his veto threat and sign the defense bill into law.”
Last year 443 servicemembers took their own lives and according to the latest Department of Defense (DoD) report, over 200 servicemembers were lost to suicide in the first six months of 2015. In 2014, for the third straight year, more servicemembers were lost to suicide than in combat.
Donnelly his worked the past three years to advance commonsense, bipartisan legislation through his role on the Senate Armed Services Committee. In March, Donnelly introduced the “Servicemember and Veteran Mental Health Care Package” (“Care Package”), three bipartisan bills to help expand access to quality mental health care for servicemembers and veterans through both Department of Defense (DoD) and VA facilities, as well as local community providers. Military mental health provisions from the “Care Package” passed the Senate in June as part of the national defense bill and would help ensure that there are a sufficient number of the best trained mental health providers for servicemembers and veterans. The Senate and House of Representatives reached an agreement on a final compromise bill, and now that both the Senate and House approved the National Defense Authorization Act conference agreement, it must be signed into law by President Obama.
As part of the “Care Package,” Donnelly took into account how stigma, provider shortages, and budget constraints are impacting when and how veterans and servicemembers seek care. Donnelly is working to improve access to quality mental health care through the expanded use of specially-trained community providers. Donnelly’s Community Provider Readiness Recognition Act (co-sponsored by Senator Joni Ernst, R-IA) is inspired by the Star Behavioral Health Provider Network, a program led by Purdue’s Military Family Research Institute. Donnelly’s provision would create a special designation for private sector, community mental health providers who demonstrate – either through training or past experience – a strong knowledge of military culture and evidence-based therapies for mental health issues common to veterans and servicemembers. It would create a regularly-updated online registry, so veterans and servicemembers can search for these specially-designated community providers in their area. Donnelly’sMilitary and Veterans Mental Health Provider Assessment Act (co-sponsored by Senator Roger Wicker, R-MS) would require that all DoD primary care and mental health care providers have received evidence-based training on suicide risk recognition and management and that their training be updated to keep pace with changes in mental health care best practices. To learn more about the “Care Package” click here. Elements of Donnelly’s Frontline Mental Health Provider Training Act co-sponsored by Senator John Boozman, R-AR) were included in the Senate committee report, urging DoD to train physician assistants to specialize in psychiatric care in order to help meet the increasing demands for mental health services among servicemembers and their families.
Donnelly’s “Care Package” would build on the progress made by the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act, which was signed into law late last year. The Sexton Act — named for Hoosier Jacob Sexton, a National Guardsman who took his life in 2009 — for the first time requires an annual mental health assessment for all servicemembers — Active, Guard, and Reserve.