GAO is completing a study on mental health treatment services for members of the Armed Forces and ROA sat down with them to give the Reserve Component perspective. GAO is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress and investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars.
They contacted ROA, “Because ROA represents the interests of military servicemembers, GAO is interested in learning about issues related to the availability of, and access to, mental health treatment services within the Military Health System.”
They will examine availability and access issues for active duty, Reserve, and National Guard members in both deployed and non-deployed (within the US and abroad) units. ROA believes access is currently hampered because of several barriers that exist in the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
To help increase access for RC servicemembers ROA is developing the TRICARE Reserve Choice proposal that would expand the number of healthcare and specialty providers. This proposal overcomes many of the barriers RC members currently face and they would be able to find the best healthcare program to meet their needs and those of their family.
ROA believes access would increase if the Guard and Reserve medical records were centralized in order to present an entire case history of medical care that is needed to provide a full and complete assessment of mental health needs. RC members can have medical records at their assignment, each temporary duty assignment location, and civilian employee provider.
A corresponding change to increase the number of RC disabilities processed by VA would also be needed to increase access to mental health specialist. The RC currently has the lowest approval rating, due in part to incomplete Service Treatment Records.
ROA advised GAO that access could be increased by DoD adopting telemedicine by offering counseling for rural and highly rural Guard and Reserve members who do not have mental health specialist in their communities. Better yet would be to provide coping skills and techniques for servicemembers to use in the unique operation and conflict environments they encounter to keep the nation safe.
An event at ROA for mental health will be the American Legion Symposium, 26-27 September 2015, on Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury.
In the past, ROA hosted a Defense Education Seminar, Innovations in Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Military Service Members and Veterans, on 16 July 2014 to examine mental health challenges facing the military and veterans and outline clinical, policy and legislative solutions to address these challenges. The seminar consisted of three panels:
- Clinical and Research Perspective: Screening, identification, prevention, and treatment of mental health disorders.
- Policy Perspective: Programs and outreach efforts to improve access to mental health services.
- Legislative Perspective: Legislative solutions to improve mental health care for military and veterans.