Mental Health Screenings For All Service Members Before They Transition to Civilian Life

Service members scheduled to be separated from active duty are required to undergo a physical examination immediately before transitioning to civilian life. However, there is currently no requirement that they be examined by a mental health professional. This leaves a massive, and too often lethal, gap in how we evaluate the health and well being of our veterans.

In June, I offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would close this gap. The change would ultimately require a mental health assessment before transitioning out of the military. Today, we learned that the amendment has been approved and will appear in the final version of the NDAA. Both the House and Senate will vote on the legislation this year.

Ensuring that our service members receive comprehensive mental healthcare evaluations prior to returning to civilian life is critically important because doing so increases the chances we get veterans the treatment they need. We have an utterly unacceptable crisis in suicide among veterans. More than 20 a day are taking their own lives after bravely putting those same lives on the line for our country. These veterans are fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters — Americans who made great sacrifices for our country. Their deaths are an epidemic that we must — and can — stop.

Doing so first requires tearing down the stigma that surrounds mental health and PTSD. We know that too many of our service members don’t seek voluntary evaluations or worry that doing so will somehow make them less heroic. Our amendment makes these evaluations routine, and introduces service members to the topic of mental health before they separate.

Given what these veterans have laid down for this country, what they have done for the United States, making us stronger and better, serving at less than 1% since 9/11 so that so many others do not have to serve, the least we can do is to make sure that they have access to the care that they have earned. I will continue to advocate for mandatory mental health screenings before transition, and for improving the all-around well being of veterans.