Bipartisan legislation introduced last week would expand National Guard and Reserve access to mental health care, regardless of deployment status.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., announced the Care and Readiness Enhancement (CARE) for Reservists Act as a means to address the high rate of suicide among members of the National Guard and Reserve.
NGAUS is supporting the legislation.
The bill would close a gap in mental health care, officials said. Currently, members of the Guard and Reserve undergo annual health assessments to identify issues that could impact their ability to deploy, but any follow-up care is typically pursued at their own expense.
The CARE for Reservists Act would allow the Defense Department to fund needed behavioral or mental health care, regardless of whether that service member is within his or her pre-deployment window or has never deployed at all. The bill would also allow members of the Guard and Reserve to seek care at Vet Centers for mental health screening and counseling, employment assessments, education training and other services.
“We’ve got to do everything we can to improve access to mental health care services for every man and woman who serves in uniform,” said Tester. “Our bill will go a long way toward expanding mental health options for our citizen soldiers and airmen, particularly those in rural areas, and shows that we are serious about treating the invisible wounds of war.”
Tester is the ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Moran, who also serves on the committee, said providing service members every opportunity to access mental health care was critical.
“Unfortunately, many National Guardsmen and Reservists struggle to receive mental health care when they are not deployed or drilling,” he said. “This legislation will remove existing barriers to care for National Guardsmen and Reservists by allowing them to access readjustment counseling at VA Medical Centers and through VA mental health services.”
“We have a duty to care for the men and women who bravely serve our nation, especially as it relates to mental illness and thoughts of suicide,” Moran added. “I urge my colleagues to support this legislation that moves us closer toward delivering on this promise.”
The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.; Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska; Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.; Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc.; Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H.; Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Text of the CARE for Reservists Act can be found online here.