U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn kicked off National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month Monday by urging Defense Secretary Mark Esper to knock down barriers to mental health care for active duty servicemembers and their families.
“There is a human cost to service that is not always evident by losses on the battlefield,” Blackburn said. “Our nation has an obligation to deliver the best possible mental health support to our servicemembers during their service – before they are discharged to communities or stand at the end of the long line of veterans who restart their quest for care from the Department of Veterans Affairs… The DoD must take ownership to improve mental, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing for the future of the military enterprise.”
Citing a report from the Department of Defense Inspector General (DoDIG)evaluating access to outpatient mental health care that found that over half of the assessed military medical treatments facilities did not meet access to care standards prescribed by the DoD’s own policies, Blackburn asked Esper to address the DoDIG’s findings.
The DoDIG’s report also found that 53 percent of all active duty servicemembers and their families referred to civilian providers never receive care and that the military healthcare system “didn’t know why.” The report also found that 9 of 13 medical treatment facilities were unable to provide adequate, evidence-based treatments and were incapable of monitoring the treatments they did prescribe.
“Delays in access to mental health care threatens the safety of those at-risk. DoDIG was given several examples during its evaluation in which access barriers may have contributed to “second suicide attempts and hospitalization.” There seems to be little point in messaging on the stigma of seeking help if one is not afforded access to this urgent assistance,” Blackburn wrote.
Blackburn said she welcomed a long-term, open dialogue with the Pentagon on making the mental health of servicemembers and their families a priority in the future.