Booker & Sherrill: We should honor our veterans by making sure they have health care | Opinion

Published: Nov. 11, 2021

By Cory Booker and Mikie Sherrill

Sen. Cory Booker and U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill say it’s not hyperbole to say that making sure our veterans receive access to robust mental healthcare services is a life-or-death issue that demands Congress’ immediate attention.
---

Today, communities across New Jersey will gather to honor the sacrifices of our nation’s veterans — from the patriots who fought for our country during the American Revolution, to the brave men and women who recently returned from Afghanistan and all of those who have answered the call of duty in between.

But the tributes and speeches of Veterans’ Day mean little if we forget about them the day after. To properly express gratitude for the selfless service of our veterans, we must make sure that the words we say today are supported by the actions we take tomorrow.

One place to start is by ensuring that our country’s veterans finally have access to comprehensive healthcare services, including access to vital mental health resources. As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the mental health of countless Americans, but it’s had an especially disproportionate effect on our veteran population.

Data gathered during the height of the pandemic shows that over 50% of post-9/11 veterans report their mental health has deteriorated and 61% feel more disconnected from their loved ones and community. And veterans who carry the invisible wounds of war — PTSD or depression — are nearly three times more likely to experience declines in mental, physical, and social well-being over the course of the pandemic. We also recognize that the withdrawal from Afghanistan has added additional stressors in the lives of veterans, particularly those who have deployed and served in combat zones.

It’s not hyperbole to say that making sure our veterans receive access to robust mental healthcare services is a life-or-death issue that demands Congress’ immediate attention. That’s why we’ve worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to craft legislation that would increase the number of Vet Centers across the U.S., especially in underserved areas across New Jersey. These Vet Centers would be a lifeline to the 50% of veterans who currently do not receive mental health treatment despite being in need, providing mental health counseling to veterans, service members and their loved ones, survivors of military sexual assault, and Gold Star families.

We also must recognize the gender-specific mental health needs of veterans. As results of a 2010 study showed, veterans who experienced pregnancy after returning home from Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom were twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health conditions as their fellow service members.

Our conversations with female veterans about these horrifying statistics led us to spearhead an effort in the Senate to provide greater support to pregnant veterans. Our DOULA for VA Act of 2021 would establish a pilot program across several states, including New Jersey, that would encourage the use of doulas in the Veterans Health Administration to assist veterans during their pregnancy and improve maternal health outcomes.

If successful, the program could reduce childbirth complications, incentivize veterans to receive care during and after their pregnancy, and expand to cover more pregnant veterans across the nation. Beyond the pilot program, we have also advanced legislation from the Black Maternal Momnibus Act that would specifically study the scope of America’s maternal health crisis among veterans and support maternity care coordination programs for veterans at VA facilities.

Throughout our time in Congress, we’ve had the honor of speaking with and advocating for, the nearly 400,000 veterans who call New Jersey home. We listened as they shared personal accounts of what compelled them to serve this country, the time they spent defending our nation abroad, and the trials and triumphs they experienced when they returned home. Though these brave people have hailed from different cities and towns, backgrounds and beliefs, and though their life’s journeys varied, they have all possessed an undeniable faith that America is worth protecting.

It’s up to us now to make sure that faith wasn’t misplaced. It’s up to us to make sure that veterans and their loved ones are given the resources, care, and support they have earned and deserved. This solemn obligation doesn’t just start and end on Veterans Day, but every day of the year.

Senator Cory Booker is the junior senator from New Jersey. U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy helicopter pilot, represents New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District.

Do you like this post?

Showing 1 reaction


published this page in News and Politics 2021-11-12 03:23:51 -0800