On Wednesday April 9th, 2014, Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL) convened a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee to discuss defense health programs. In light of the recent events at Fort Hood, it was especially timely that the health subcommittee met to focus on the wellbeing of our service members.
Senator Durbin (D-IL) began by saying, “We may never know the real cause of this tragedy at Fort Hood, but last week’s tragedy shows us that, even at one of the best military bases in the world, with a reputation for mental health excellence, there are problems that still exist.” He makes it clear that his subcommittee is committed to addressing those problems.
Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) expressed her belief that we need to have a renewed commitment to mental health. She said, “Let’s take a look at our research budget to make sure we’re putting the right resources in the right way for what the soldier or his or her family is facing.”
Senator Durbin (D-IL) noted some areas where we are falling short. He stated, “The Army’s goal has been to recruit 10 psychiatrists annually. Over the past 5 years, they’ve only been able to recruit a total of 6 psychiatrists.”
Senator Blunt (R-MO) added about soldiers that, “When they transfer from one base to another, their health records are generally available, but their mental health records are not made available to anyone in the command structure.”
Many of the witnesses expressed the importance of providing care to address suicide among our troops. Lieutenant General Horoho, Surgeon General of the United States Army, advocated for the importance of Behavioral Health clinics. On the success of these clinics she stated, “These better outcomes drive increased acceptability of the value of BH care, driving down stigma, resulting in more Soldiers willing to engage in an episode of care, while driving up demand and resource requirements.”
Vice Admiral Matthew Nathan, Surgeon General of the Navy, said, “An increasing sense of community and purpose is an important protective factor in preventing suicide and we must remain ready and accessible to those who need help.”