Ashley Vaughn, Minot Air Force Base
In increasing numbers over the past few years, our nation's soldiers have returned from war zones suffering from mental illness related to their combat experience. In too many cases these individuals have taken their own lives because they have not received the treatment they need. A few representatives in our Legislature have recognized this need and proposed a bill, the Joining Forces for Military Mental Health Act. This bill attempts to remedy this problem by making this treatment more accessible to servicemen and women. However, due to the cultural stigma regarding mental health treatment that is particularly prevalent in many military circles, soldiers often do not seek treatment for mental health issues out of fear of negative professional and personal consequences. It is indeed a sad irony that so many of the men and women who have so honorably served their nation in Afghanistan and Iraq will survive their tours of duty only to be incapacitated by mental illness upon returning home. As a grateful nation, providing quality mental health care should be our first obligation to those who have sacrificed so much.
One piece of pending federal legislation that can start correcting this situation is H.R. 2751, also known as the Joining Forces for Military Mental Health Act. This bill would allow the government to partner with community non-profits and begin providing mental health treatment to servicemen in the National Guard and Reserves and their families. These military personnel often do not live close enough to a military installation to receive on-base treatment and are at heightened risk according to a 2011 study that found National Guard and Reserve troops suffer from a higher rate of mental health problems than active duty members. The research that the community partners conduct under this bill could benefit servicemen and women in all branches of the military. Additionally, the outreach and education component of this bill would be a good first step to combating the stigma of treatment within the military.
As a nation indebted to these individuals, fixing this problem should be at the top of all of our lists. Currently, no member of Congress representing North Dakota is sponsoring this bill. If you agree that the mental health of our armed forces should be a priority, contact your representative today and ask him or her to sponsor the Joining Forces for Military Mental Health Act.