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Michael Petruzzelli

, National Council for Behavioral Health

Veterans Mental Health Bill Introduced in the Senate

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New veterans mental health legislation would expand access for veterans to receive mental health services. The bill – The Prioritizing Veterans Access to Mental Health Care Act of 2015 – would amend a veterans health law passed in August and remove barriers imposed by the law to care for veterans in need of mental health services.

The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 expanded veterans’ access to care by allowing them to receive treatment at non-Veterans Administration (VA) facilities should they live more than 40-miles from a VA facility or have to wait longer than 30 days for an appointment. The amending legislation, introduced by Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) last week, would eliminate these barriers to increase veterans’ access to mental health treatment services. It would also prioritize incentives for hiring mental health professionals within the VA and allow for a veteran to receive instant authorization of non-VA care if the veteran provides a statement that they are not receiving adequate or timely mental health care at the VA.

The Veterans Administration has already announced plans to somewhat relax the 40-mile rule, changing the interpretation to measure distance by highway miles as opposed to straight line on a map.

“Currently, the average wait time for a mental health appointment at the VA is 36 days,” said Senator Ernst. “We can – and must – do better for our veterans. This legislation provides an option for our veterans to receive mental health treatment with VA Choice Act providers, until they can receive comprehensive mental health care treatment at the VA.”

“A veteran at risk for suicide can’t afford any delay in treatment,” said Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA).  “He or she needs mental health treatment as soon as possible.  As a matter of common sense, sometimes the first available facility is outside the VA system.  This bill is a good idea to help veterans get the care they need when they need it.”

This legislation is cosponsored by Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and John Cornyn (R-TX).