Bill seeks commission for veterans

Would target gaps in mental health

State lawmakers proposed yesterday the creation of a commission to assess a mental health crisis among combat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Service men and women too often fall through the cracks of the sprawling bureaucracy of the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, they said.

 

“The VA has not been there enough for veterans with mental health problems,” said Representative Anthony Verga, a Democrat from Gloucester, chairman of the state’s Veteran and Federal Affairs Committee and a bill sponsor. “We see the stories of veterans committing suicide and waiting for benefits and struggling to find care, and we wonder what’s happening.”

The proposed 11-member commission would study the “effects of war on the citizens of the Commonwealth” and report, within a year, on ways to improve services for returning veterans.

An emotional hearing before legislators yesterday featured five hours of testimony by veterans, their families, and advocates.

According to research by Verga’s committee, 28,000 service members have returned to Massachusetts since Sept. 11, 2001, and about 25 percent of them have faced “serious mental health challenges.”

That roughly matches national findings by the National Alliance on Mental Illness that one in six returning soldiers suffered severe depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Fewer than half of them seek help because they fear “hurting their career or being stigmatized,” Phil Hadley, president of the alliance’s state chapter, said in testimony with the committee.

Lieutenant Governor Timothy P . Murray also testified, saying the administration of Governor Deval Patrick was preparing to fully support the bill.

Murray described PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury, which is the physical injury to the brain caused by trauma such as a bomb blast, as the “signature injuries” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said they both require a comprehensive approach to treatment, not just by state and federal agencies but also by private medical institutions.

Read the rest of the article at the Boston Globe.

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~ by Brad Edwards on May 29, 2007.

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