Washington, D.C. – The veteran suicide rate in many western states, including Idaho, remains dramatically higher than the national rate. U.S. Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada) have introduced legislation to address the epidemic of veteran suicide by expanding access to mental health services for veterans. The SERVICE Act removes time limits on combat veterans’ eligibility for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mental health services for conditions related to their service.
“The rate of veteran suicide in Idaho is alarmingly high compared to the general population and even exceeds that of the national veteran population,” said Senator Crapo. “The women and men who have bravely served our nation in uniform deserve comprehensive services that support their return to civilian life, including mental health. The SERVICE Act would remove barriers that prevent veterans who identify mental health issues more than 5 years post-service from accessing the necessary help and services they need at the VA. Ensuring our veterans have ample access to adequate, timely mental health care services is crucial for reducing high rates of suicide and increasing healing for veterans in Idaho and nationwide.”
“Veterans carry the effects of their deployments long after they return home. We now know that PTSD and other mental health conditions can manifest themselves years after trauma is experienced, which is why I’m fighting to eliminate time restrictions on combat veterans’ ability to receive service-related mental health support from the VA,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “With Nevada ranking sixth in the nation for veteran suicide, we need to be doing all we can to ensure that veterans have access to the mental health services they need, no matter when they seek treatment.”
Under current law, veterans who seek VA care more than five years after their discharge must prove the health issue for which they are seeking care is directly connected to their service. That puts an unfair burden on combat veterans seeking mental health services, as research shows that mental health conditions related to military service may take years to manifest. Combat-related trauma is more likely than other non-combat sources of trauma to manifest itself in delayed-onset PTSD. One study found that approximately one in ten Vietnam veterans experienced PTSD symptoms more than 40 years after their deployment.
The SERVICE Act would remove these burdensome time limits by allowing all combat veterans to seek treatment for service-connected mental illnesses, regardless of when their condition presents itself. This would expand their access to mental health services and ensure that all combat veterans are receiving the care they need, even long after they’ve returned from deployment.