Massa, Kuhl working on veterans' mental health issues

Rob Montana

No matter their philosophical differences, U.S. Rep. John “Randy” Kuhl, R-29, and Democrat Eric Massa, who’s challenging the congressman for his seat, are both working on improving care of the country’s veterans once they return from duty.

Massa has offered up a comprehensive plan to give greater support for the men and women serving in the U.S. military operations overseas. He’s calling for mandatory full funding of the Veterans Administration, allowing veterans to use their Veterans Access Service Cards at local medical facilities when no VA facilities are available in their area, eliminating financial penalties on veterans and survivors who also receive Social Security benefits, expanding VA hospital services, making health care available to all veterans and their families, expanding federal funding for veterans career training programs and providing National Guard and Reserves personnel with the same benefits as regular military personnel.

The scale and quality of services to treat psychological and mental issues among veterans expanded beyond what is being done currently, Massa said.

“Our veterans are more often psychologically affected by war, than physically. Post-traumatic stress disorder is causing the rates of suicides and depression to skyrocket,” he said. “These conditions are often slow to emerge and hard to detect. The current health care system has gaps and conditions like PTSD that are often poorly understood. We need to provide equal high quality psychological care for American veterans everywhere.”

Meanwhile, Kuhl conducted the first House Veterans’ Mental Health caucus briefing Thursday. The congressman formed the caucus in June for a bi-partisan group to increase awareness of mental health care needs of returning veterans.

The group’s focus is on PTSD and traumatic brain injury, as well as treatment options for those and other conditions, job training and readjustment, suicide prevention and funding needs. According to information provided by Kuhl, since 2003 approximately 40,000 troops have been diagnosed with mental illnesses. U.S. troops suffering from PTSD jumped by 50 percent in 2007, and the Army recently reported that there were 115 suicides in 2007, the highest number since it began keeping records of suicides in 1980. This year, there have been 38 confirmed suicides.

The caucus hearing Thursday included two representatives from the RAND Corporation, and was focused on that group’s April report on psychological and mental injuries due to war.

Kuhl said the Thursday meeting was the “first step to increasing knowledge and awareness about the mental health needs of our veterans.”

“The caucus will bring together members of all parties and ideologies for the purpose of ensuring that our veterans have superior mental health support and care,” he said.