Military Mental Health Screening Legislation Passes House

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Reps. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA) and Tim Ryan (D-OH), joined by a diverse group of supporting organizations, held a press conference to discuss the Medical Evaluation Parity for Service Members (MEPS) Act (H.R. 4305/S. 2231), which has passed the House as an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Thompson and Ryan introduced the MEPS Act on March 27.  The bill, which will help the military better identify behavioral health issues and improve suicide prevention, requires a preliminary mental health assessment for all incoming military recruits.

Following the shooting at Fort Hood Army Base in Killeen, Texas, on April 2, the legislation quickly garnered broad support from military, veteran and mental health organizations, and on April 9, 2014, U.S. Senators Rob Portman and Jay Rockefeller introduced a Senate companion bill, S. 2231.

“I want to thank Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio for joining me in introducing this bipartisan legislation and our House and Senate colleagues, along with our supporting organizations, for helping to build awareness and support for this important reform,” stated Thompson (R-PA).

“While our military has made great strides to address issues of mental illness, it’s tragic events such as those at Fort Hood that remind us we must do better.  The MEPS Act will help our military move toward a more comprehensive and effective approach to suicide prevention and detection, and I thank my colleagues for supporting its passage in the House.”

“I am proud that the MEPS Act was included in the House passed National Defense Authorization Act,” said Ryan (D-OH). “The number of our veterans who are suffering from PTSD and TBI is both heartbreaking and staggering.

“Our military ensures every serviceman and woman is physically fit for duty and this legislation takes the much needed step of ensuring that they are also mentally fit.

“It will also give us a better baseline against which to measure any potential mental harm they may have incurred during their duty. These men and women put their lives on the line every day in the service of our nation, it is our duty to offer everything in our power to guarantee they return home safely–both physically and mentally.”

“It is a great honor to join my colleagues in full support of the MEPS Act. Mental illness is an invisible wound that affects not only men and women in military service, but also their families and communities,” stated Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA).

“Since 2001 more than 2,700 military service members have died by suicide. This bill implements a mandatory mental health assessment for all incoming recruits as we seek to identify behavioral health issues early and improve suicide prevention.

“It creates parity to ensure that our brave young men and women in uniform are both mentally and physically fit to withstand whatever comes their way. We must continue to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness so that our nation’s heroes never feel ashamed or embarrassed to seek help.”

“After more than a decade of conflict, we have gotten very good at healing soldiers’ broken bodies but we must do a better job of healing broken minds.  Disturbingly, the suicide rate among veterans is more than twice the rate of the civilian population.  Yet many of our service members experience mental health challenges before they ever enter a combat zone,” stated Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX).

“The Thompson-Ryan Amendment is critical to addressing care for our service members by establishing a mental health baseline before individuals join the military so that we can track their health over the course of their time in uniform.  I am proud of the House for passing this important amendment and urge the Senate to take up this critical issue on behalf of those who serve our nation.”

“Suicide prevention is most effective when it begins early,” said retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, the president of the National Guard Association of the United States.

“I applaud Rep. Glenn Thompson and Rep. Tim Ryan for this legislation that will go a long way to getting recruits the help they need before they are introduced to the rigors of military life.”

“It is too easy to label combat veterans who have returned as being mentally damaged.  The MEPs legislation will establish a baseline evaluation, against which returning veterans can be measured.  It can help identify those who need assistance, but also clear those who return stronger and stable,” stated Marshall Hanson, CAPT, USNR (ret.), Reserve Officers Association.

“Additionally, there has been a number of incidences, such as the Naval Yard shooting, where the media is quick to label the instigator as being from the Reserve or National Guard.  In many cases, these individuals were not yet in the Reserve Force, but were in ascension after being recruited.  MEPS will help screen these individuals, and perhaps even prevent future incidents.”

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