May 26, 2006
House Passes Veterans Spending Bill -- $400 Million Added for VA Mental Illness Treatment Services, $25 Million Added to Address Mental Health Needs of Soldiers Returning From Iraq and Afghanistan
In a demonstration of the growing concern of mental illness treatment services for veterans and current service members, the House this past week passed a $136 billion bill that includes record increases for both veterans with mental illness and soldiers returning from active duty that have experienced a growing range of mental health disorders. The bill, known as the Military Quality of Life and Veterans Appropriations bill (HR 5385), includes FY 2007 funding for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) and health care programs in the Department of Defense (DoD). The bill cleared the House on May 19 by a unanimous 395-0 vote.
The Senate is expected to take up the measure later this summer. As in the House, there is strong support in the Senate for additional investments to increase the capacity of both the VA and DoD to meet the mental illness treatment needs of veterans and active duty personnel.
NAMI is especially grateful for the leadership of Representatives James Walsh (R-NY) and Chet Edwards (D-TX), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Military Quality of Life and Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee that drafted this important legislation. Their efforts are a major step forward in putting increased resources into the important treatment and support needs of veterans living with mental illness and early intervention needs for soldiers at risk of psychiatric disorders.
FY 2007 Funding for the VA
HR 5385 includes a total allocation of $25.412 billion for FY 2007 for VA medical services. This is nearly $2.64 billion above current FY 2006 levels, but $100 million below the President’s request. However, when supplemental funds that were previously added for FY 2006 are taken into account, the total appropriated in House bill is $2.865 billion above current levels.
In allocating resources for the VA medical care system (and measuring resources against anticipated demands) the House bill uses the Independent Budget (IB) as a baseline. This IB – which was endorsed by the NAMI Veterans Council – draws on outside experts and Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) to assess what the agency will need to meet both medical and mental illness treatment needs of all eligible veterans. To enhance this baseline assessment, the House bill adds an additional $400 million to be used exclusively for mental health services. Within the total allocation, the House bill directs that no less than $2.8 billion is to be directed to mental illness treatment.
This is the second year in a row that the House Appropriations Committee has gone the extra step of requiring a minimum allocation for mental illness treatment services in the VA. It is a further reflection of the strong bipartisan support in Congress for addressing the treatment needs of veterans living with mental illness, both from the aging Vietnam era veteran population, and anticipated demand among veterans of recent conflicts including Iraq and Afghanistan.
For medical research in the VA, HR 5385 appropriates $412 million for FY 2007. This is the same amount allocated for the current fiscal year, and $13 million more than was requested by the President.
DoD Medical Care
HR 5385 includes a total allocation of $21.02 billion for health care programs in the Department of Defense. This is $684.6 million above the total appropriated for the current fiscal year. More importantly, the House bill directs DoD to allocate no less than $25 million for an initiative to more effectively integrate mental health screening and counseling into daily activities that DoD undertakes, both for active duty soldiers, and troops returning from overseas duty. A legislative report accompanying HR 5385, specifically notes:
Mental Health.--The Committee is very concerned about the mental health and wellness of troops returning from conflicts overseas. The full impact of the emotional toll that combat takes from our troops may not be fully realized for years into the future. The Committee believes that mental health and wellness need to be integrated into all aspects of military training, combat and support and that care cannot stop when the soldier returns home from the battlefield. The Department of Defense should be commended for the work it is doing and the improvements that have been made in the mental health area, but more needs to be done. The primary reason for soldiers failing to seek treatment for mental health issues is the stigma associated with seeking help. The Committee feels that the military needs to begin to integrate mandatory mental health services and counseling into the daily activities of soldiers and has included a $25,000,000 increase in funds for this purpose. By making these programs a mandatory part of a soldier's tour of duty, the stigma associated with seeking care is eliminated. The Committee directs the Department of Defense to use the increased funds to initiate programs that make mental health screening and counseling a mandatory part of the operating procedures of soldiers in battle. The Department of Defense should report to the Committee on the use of these funds and an assessment of future funding requirements for this initiative by December 15, 2006. Further, the Committee directs the Department to continue to work with the Department of Veterans Affairs to study mental health issues, particularly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The Committee has included Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a disease available for study under the Peer-Reviewed Medical Research Fund in the Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation section of this appropriation and encourages increased research in this area.
H.Rpt. 109-464, p. 40
This language serves as a clear demonstration of the strong support in Congress for ensuring that the DoD undertakes screening and early intervention services for active duty and returning troops at risk of PTSD, depression and other disorders. NAMI applauds Chairman Walsh and Ranking Member Edwards on these important initiatives.
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