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Senate committee passes bill with directives to strengthen mental health care

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The Senate Armed Services Committee has passed the Fiscal Year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act which includes provisions secured and supported by U.S. Senator Tim Kaine to improve access to mental health care.

“This year, I’m glad to have worked with my colleagues on the committee to strengthen servicemembers’ access to mental health care,” said Kaine, a member of the SASC.

Kaine advocated for mental health priorities that were ultimately adopted in the final bill, including:

  • Expands mental health counseling services to service members and dependents regardless of their location, making it easier for servicemembers to access mental health care more quickly.
  • Following the deaths by suicide of multiple limited duty service members in Virginia, the legislation includes provisions that require the Department of Defense to provide Congress with a report regarding the services’ limited duty processes in order to improve understanding of and identify ways to improve support and mental health resources for limited duty servicemembers.
  • Encourages a comprehensive review of the Navy’s efforts to prevent and respond to incidents of death by suicide, suicide attempts and suicidal ideation in commands and organizations within the Navy that have not been reviewed by other studies.
  • Provides career flexibility for the services’ mental health workforce to increase retention.
  • Requires department assessment on perinatal mental health services for servicemembers.
  • Requires department assessment on the rates of opioid prescriptions to servicemembers.
  • Provides the authority to allow servicemembers E-6 and below without dependents to collect a Basic Housing Allowance and not live aboard the ship during maintenance periods.
  • Makes mental health care more accessible and affordable for beneficiaries in the active duty family members category and TRICARE Young Adult program, by waiving cost sharing requirements for the first three outpatient mental health visits each year.
  • Directs a review and report on access to resources and services related to mental health for students of Department of Defense Education Activity Schools.
  • Creates a program to provide intensive outpatient treatment for servicemembers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, and co-occurring disorders related to military sexual trauma, to be carried out through partnerships with public, private and non-profit health organizations.

The next step for the legislation is a vote before the full Senate.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.