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Posted on May 13, 2014 | 3:18 p.m.

Capps Co-Sponsors Bill to Improve Mental Health Care for Military Retirees, Families

Source: Chris Meagher for Rep. Lois Capps

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, and Rep. Cory Gardner of Colorado on Tuesday introduced the Caring for America’s Heroes Act, a bill that would increase access to quality behavioral health treatments for military retirees and military family members by ensuring mental health is covered on par with physical health care services.

TRICARE is the health care program for active and retired service members and their families. While mental health parity was mandated for private health insurance through the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act and the Affordable Care Act, TRICARE is not covered by those requirements.

The Caring for America’s Heroes Act would extend these protections to TRICARE beneficiaries. The bill would remove these inpatient day limits to promote access to medically necessary and appropriate mental health services, ensuring military family members and retirees covered under TRICARE are treated in the same manner for inpatient mental health services as they would be for treatment of physical injuries.

This bill, introduced during National Mental Health Awareness Month, mirrors a bill Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Sen. Roy Blunt have introduced in the Senate.

“We must ensure that our military families can access the health care that they need. The Caring for America’s Heroes Act is not only an important step toward increasing accessibility to proper mental health treatment, but it is also important to help decrease stigma surrounding mental health services in general,” Capps said. “It is only fair that our military families have the same access to mental health services that the rest of us do, and this bill will help ensure that is the case. I look forward to working with Rep. Gardner and our Senate colleagues to make mental health parity in TRICARE a reality.”

“Our veterans and military families should not have limitations on their access to mental health services,” Gardner said. “By introducing this legislation, we are showing our military men, women, and families that they will never have to worry about having access to a full range of healthcare benefits. These individuals have already made immense sacrifices. They should not have to also sacrifice their access to healthcare. I am glad to work with Congresswoman Capps to introduce this important legislation in the House, and I look forward to working with Senator Blunt and Senator Stabenow to ensure that this bill becomes law.”

“Caring for the mental health of our veterans and their families is critically important,” Stabenow said. “Twenty-two veterans die by suicide every day, and many more suffer from unseen wounds. This legislation will help our veterans and their families get the care they need so they can get treatment for injuries from the neck up, as well as from the neck down.”

“We must start treating behavioral illnesses like any other physical illness,” Blunt said. “In the wake of the Fort Hood tragedy, I’m talking with military leaders in Missouri and in Washington, D.C. to guarantee our servicemen and women, veterans, and military families have access to quality behavioral health treatment. This bill takes an important step towards achieving that goal.”

According to the Department of Defense, the cost of eliminating the length of stay limits on inpatient psychiatric stays and for Residential Treatment Center stays is $7.5 million over five years.

The bill is supported by the National Military Family Association and the Retired Enlisted Association.

Chris Meagher is the press secretary for Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara.

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