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Hon. Shelley Berkley

Hon. Shelley Berkley, a Representative in Congress from the State of Nevada

Mr. Chairman,

Thank you for holding this hearing on the important issue of mental health legislation.

Nationally, one in five veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffers from PTSD.  Twenty-three percent of members of the Armed Forces on active duty acknowledge a significant problem with alcohol use.  It is vital that our veterans receive the help they need to deal with these conditions. 

The effects of substance abuse are wide ranging, including significantly increased risk of suicide, exacerbation of mental and physical health disorders, breakdown of family support, and increased risk of unemployment and homelessness.  Veterans suffering from a mental health issue are at an increased risk for developing a substance abuse disorder.

A constituent of mine, Lance Corporal Justin Bailey, returned from Iraq with PTSD.  He developed a substance abuse disorder and checked himself into a VA facility in West Los Angeles.  After being given 5 medications on a self-medication policy, Justin overdosed and died.

I have introduced the Mental Health Improvements Act, which aims to improve the treatment and services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs to veterans with PTSD and substance use disorders by:

  • Expanding substance use disorder treatment services at the VA Medical Centers.
  • Creating a program for enhanced treatment of substance use disorders and PTSD in veterans.
  • Requiring a report on residential mental health care facilities of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).
  • Creating a research program on comorbid PTSD and substance use disorders.
  • Expanding assistance of mental health services for families of veterans.

It is imperative that we provide adequate mental health services for those who have sacrificed for this great nation and those who continue to serve.  This bill takes a step in the right direction in providing our veterans with the care they have earned.  I urge my colleagues to cosponsor this important piece of legislation, and I look forward to further action in this committee.