NASW issued two advocacy alerts to members, asking that they urge their federal representatives to cosponsor legislation addressing military personnel.
The first bill, the Post Deployment Act (S. 711), addresses the mental health needs of the 1.64 million troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The legislation is based on a successful program that the Montana National Guard uses with members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The bill requires mental health screenings before deployment, upon return home, and every six months for two years after they return. This basic and effective program will help safeguard the mental health of service members, according to advocates. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) introduced the legislation to implement a mental health screening program throughout the military.
The alert noted that:
- Out of the more than 18 percent of troops who have served in these areas, nearly 300,000 troops, have symptoms of PTSD or major depression.
- Nineteen percent of troops have experienced a possible traumatic brain injury. Further, only 53 percent of service members with PTSD or depression sought help over the past year.
- The suicide rate among the military is at its highest point in 26 years, and male veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide as civilians.
- Due to a stigma long present in the military, mental health needs may not be not adequately tended to by professionals.
The second bill, the Military Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Response Act (H.R. 840), was reintroduced by U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) earlier this year. The bill seeks to reduce violence against military personnel and their families by enhancing programs of prevention and deterrence, improving victim services, and strengthening provisions for prosecution of assailants.
According to the alert, women who serve in the armed forces must deal with the possibility of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape during their service. One study noted that sexual assault in the military is three to 10 times more prevalent than in the general population. Nearly one-third of a nationwide sample of female veterans who sought health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs said they experienced rape or attempted rape during their service, the alert pointed out. The legislation applies to men who are also at risk of sexual assault in the military.
The legislation seeks to:
- Establish an Office of Victims Advocate (OVA) within the Department of Defense, bring the Family Advocacy Program under OVA, and create a Director of OVA to oversee and coordinate efforts to prevent and respond to cases of family violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
- Codify rights, restitution policies, treatment and other services for victims within the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), including creating comprehensive confidentiality protocols to protect the rights of victims within military law.
- Strengthen policies for reporting, prosecuting and treating perpetrators of violence.
- Create counseling and treatment programs through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
These bills address the serious consequences that can be a result of serving the country and are one part of NASW’s ongoing effort to support the needs of active-duty military and veterans.