DES MOINES, Iowa--Veterans are hopeful proposed mental health legislation will lead to a change in care.
On Monday, Sen. Joni Ernst introduced her first piece of legislation on the U.S. Senate floor that would prioritize veterans’ access to mental health care.
While some veterans say it’s a step in the right direction, they still have some concerns.
Brian Van Fleet knows all too well the burden soldiers bring back from war.
“It was considered one of the most active areas of Afghanistan at the time so we saw quite a bit of action,” says Van Fleet.
Van Fleet was diagnosed with PTSD following his most recent deployment to Afghanistan and said the VA did little to help him.
“I was diagnosed by the VA with PTSD and that was the end of the discussion on it. I never pressed it any further and they never asked any further, they didn't want me to set up any further appointments and at that time they didn`t offer any medication,’ says Van Fleet.
Van Fleet said he gave up on the VA and ended up seeking private care.
“There`s a stigma with veterans that the VA is not there to help you and everything you do with the VA is a fight. You have to be prepared to go fight them to get the services they say they provide,” says Van Fleet.
Sen. Joni Ernst’s bill hopes to change that. It includes incentives to hire more mental health care professionals at VA hospitals.
The legislation would attempt to limit how far a veteran has to travel for care. It would also provide immediate non-VA care for veterans until they can receive comprehensive treatment at a VA hospital.
Currently, the average wait time for a mental health appointment at the VA is 36 days.
“If a non-VA mental health care professional can reach a veteran, one day, one week or even two weeks earlier than 36 days Congress nor should the VA be an obstacle in affording a veteran potentially lifesaving treatment,” says Sen. Ernst.
Vietnam veterans and Vice Chair of the Iowa Mental Health Planning Commission Rev. Kenneth Briggs says mental health care needs to be front and center.
“If we ask people to go off to war, we've got to be prepared to take care of all the stuff afterwards,” says Briggs.
Briggs says on top of hiring more mental health care professionals he would also like to see more psychiatric beds available in the state. Currently there are only 10 available at the VA.
“The services are really slim and we've done more to cancel services then we have to produce more services or more efficient services,” says Briggs.
While the bill is a step in the right direction, Van Fleet says mental health care for veterans has always been put on the back burner and is reluctant to think that will change.
“Hopefully they can get a system in place to work, but from my side I’m not going to be holding my breath waiting on it to happen,” says Van Fleet.
Sen. Ernst's bill is already seeing support.
Several senators have signed on as co-sponsors including Sen. Chuck Grassley.
Also, the Wounded Warrior Project and Concerned Veterans for America have both signed on in support of the legislation.