National Alliance on Mental Illness
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NAMI Testifies Before U.S. Senate on Veterans, Stigma and Suicide Prevention
By Bob Carolla, NAMI Director of Media Relations
NAMI testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on Wed., March 20, on mental health care for veterans.
The hearing covered a broad range issues, including the need for hiring preferences for veterans and the need to eliminate stigma from seeking help for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other conditions.
The full hearing can be watched here.
Suicide prevention was a particular concern. Approximately 8,000 veterans die each year from suicide.
Lt. Col. Kenny Allred, U.S. Army (Ret.), chair of NAMI’s Veterans and Military Council told the committee: “A key ingredient of psychological health is the feeling of self-worth from productive employment. Sadly, veteran unemployment, which is higher than civilian unemployment in all age groups across the nation, is especially high among our younger veterans.”
Starting with active military units and continuing through the U.S. Department Veterans of Affairs (VA) health system, “Accountability must be accepted by leaders at all levels for any stigma, bullying, hazing, suicide or denial of mental health services,” Allred testified.
“Though many support the need for mental health, there is no formal mechanism for holding leaders accountable in a standardized, systemic manner, and there have been instances of leaders seeming to ridicule those who showed the ‘weakness’ of taking their own lives. Performance evaluations should immediately and specifically include measurements of how leaders are or are not ending stigma and suicide.”
NAMI also supports the Independent Budget developed by veteran service organizations and legislative action to require the VA to develop performance measures in its mental health programs.
Allred explained NAMI’s work with many VA facilities around the country to provide free NAMI Family-to-Family education and support programs for families of veterans.
He also referenced NAMI’s June 2012 report, Parity for Patriots, which includes a call for Purple Heart medals to be awarded for psychological wounds received in combat.
Allred is a former Army Airborne Ranger and, Military Intelligence Battalion Commander who served in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and Central America. He flew reconnaissance aircraft missions against both Cold War and combat targets.