Bill aims to remove stigma from PTSD help
By Rick Maze- Staff writer
Friday Feb 2, 2007

A military suicide prevention bill introduced Thursday in the Senate would focus on reducing the stigma of service members seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems and would provide 24-hour access to suicide counselors.

The bill, S 479, is called the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, named for an Army Reserve combat veteran who committed suicide in 2005 after returning from a deployment to Iraq.

?This was a preventable death,? said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chief sponsor of the bill. ?If Josh and his family had had better access to mental health services, if they had been trained to recognize the symptoms of PTSD and if they had know where to turn for help, then the tragedy of his death might well have been avoided.

?Although our men and women may come home safely, the war isn?t over for them,? Harkin said. ?Often the physical wounds of combat are repaired, but the mental damage ? the psychological scars of combat ? can haunt a person for a lifetime.?

To reduce the stigma that prevents many service members from seeking mental health help, the bill calls for a major campaign to show there is nothing wrong with seeking assistance.

?Veterans need to hear from members of the chain of command, leadership within the VA and from their peers that seeking mental health services is important for their health, their families and no different than seeking treatment for a physical health issue, such as chronic pain or a broken leg,? Harkin said.

Medical personnel and support staff at VA hospitals would receive more training in suicide prevention and education so they could identify veterans at risk, Harkin said. And a 24-hour counseling line would be required so that veterans in rural and remote areas could seek help whenever they need it.
The bill, referred to the Senate Veterans? Affairs Committee because it involves only VA programs, also tries to get families more involved by creating peer counselors who understand risk factors and can work with families on the readjustment process.