Washington, D.C. –Congressman Jim Himes (CT-4) today applauded the Department of Veterans’ Affairs new plan to improve care for veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  New rules will make it easier for veterans – including those who may have been denied benefits in the past – to receive the care and benefits they have earned.

“Every service member must have access to the care they need, both during their service and when they come home,” said Himes.  “For too long, our brave men and women in uniform suffering from PTSD have gone without the care they need and deserve, but this change shows that this administration will treat PTSD like the serious condition it is.”

While Himes praised this week’s announcement, he urged Congress to act on legislation that will further improve veterans’ access to PTSD care. During a recent meeting with his Veterans Advisory Council, Himes learned that certain members of the military do not have access to a number of essential mental health services, including treatment for PTSD. For example, those who serve as part of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) are offered no mental health assistance upon returning from duty. The recent suicide of Sergeant Coleman Bean, a member of the IRR who was unable to obtain care for his illness, demonstrates the immediate and critical need to improve PTSD support to IRR members. During consideration of the Defense Authorization last month, Himes sponsored and helped pass an amendment that will ensure these service members have access to the care they need.

“Those who served our country should never face challenges in obtaining care for service-related medical issues, but unfortunately, some veterans are falling through the cracks,” said Himes. “This legislation will ensure that far fewer families ever experience a tragedy like Sergeant Bean and his family did. I really credit the veterans in my district for bringing this critical issue to my attention.”

Himes’ work to ensure veterans have access to appropriate mental health care began soon after he entered Congress. In April of 2009, Himes co-sponsored the Veterans’ Health and Mental Screening and Assessment Act, a bill that requires returning service members to participate in mandatory and confidential one-to-one screenings with licensed mental health professionals. Currently the Department of Defense requires service members to fill out a mental health assessment before returning home. Unfortunately, if this subjective paper assessment is filled out honestly and indicates risk for PTSD, traumatic brain injury, or depression, the service member may be prevented from returning home in order to ensure that the condition does not go untreated.  The delay in returning home coupled with the stigma associated with reaching out for help prevents some soldiers from being honest in their assessments. A mandatory screening for all service members can reduce the growing rates of suicides among service members while fighting this debilitating stigma.

Previously, veterans had to undergo lengthy investigations in order to apply for disability benefits for PTSD.  The Department of Veterans’ Affairs required extensive documentation of the specific cause of the disorder in addition to a doctor’s diagnosis, and ultimately denied benefits to thousands of veterans who were unable to document their experiences.  The new reforms will simplify the process, requiring only a VA doctor’s diagnosis for veterans who served in a combat zone.