On Thursday March 27, 2014 Chairman Jeff Miller (R – FL) and Ranking Member Michael H. Michaud (D – ME) convened a hearing of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health to discuss several bills regarding health care treatment of veterans. Bill H.R. 3387, The Classified Veterans Access to Care Act, which hopes to improve the mental health treatment provided by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to veterans who served in classified missions was presented at this committee hearing.
Bill H.R. 3387 looks to establish standards and procedures for providing mental health counseling and treatment when needed to veterans who are suffering from mental health illnesses but cannot legally disclose classified information within the current group counseling setting that the VA provides.
Congresswoman Krysten Sinema (D - AZ) introduced this bill and spoke about it at the hearing, referencing Veteran Daniel Somers, a constituent of her district who “failed to receive the care he needed and committed suicide”. She went on to tell the story of how Daniel experienced symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and was unable to attend the group therapy sessions provided for by the VA for “fear of disclosing classified information”.
Several supporters of the bill include the Retired Enlisted Association, the Association of the United States Navy, and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) gave their support of this bill saying “we believe enactment could make a positive contribution to care, or help persuade some veterans to actually seek VA mental health services”. Many of the other supports submitted similar testimonies, urging members that this bill would give veterans a sense of security in accessing the services they need without breaching their nondisclosure agreements they hold from their classified roles.
Bill H.R. 183 the Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act which was introduced by Congressman Michael Grimm (R - NY) with Ranking Member Michael H. Michaud (D – ME) was also discussed within the committee hearing. If enacted this legislation would instill a pilot program on dog training therapy for veterans to help aid those Veterans dealing with PTSD and other mental health illnesses.
Michael Grimm (R - NY) spoke about his bill saying “with high veteran suicide rates and more servicemen and women returning from deployment being diagnosed with PTSD, this bill meets a crucial need for additional treatment methods”.
Paralyzed Veterans of America gave their support of the bill giving testimony of the positive results of dog training therapy including: “improved emotional regulation, sleep patterns, and a sense of personal safety. They also experienced reduced levels of anxiety and social isolation”.
Madhulika Agarwal, M.D., P.P.H. Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Policy and Services Veterans Health Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs spoke on behalf of the VA on H.R. 183 saying that while the VA “supports the identification of effective treatment modalities to address PTSD and other post-deployment mental health symptoms” the VA could no support this bill because they believe it places a greater emphasis on the training of the dogs rather than the end result of the therapeutic method.