By: Nettie Comerford

Freshmen Maria Noonan, Annabel Glass, and Angelica Monrreal from the Ann Richards School Delegation proposed a bill to provide better mental health services to veterans that passed unanimously in the State Affairs forum this afternoon. The bill addresses the need to better educate health professionals in the field, and for more efficient access to help by shortening the wait list for Veterans to receive help from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

“In 2014 a study showed that 25% of active duty members showed signs of mental health problems, and this is not a rare or uncommon issue. These mental health issues are hindering active duty members and veterans from transitioning into civilian life.” Monrreal said. According to “Troubling Veteran Mental Health Facts and Statistics that Need to be Addressed,” published on March 25, 2016 by National Veterans Foundation, “A study conducted by the the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that only 50% of Veterans who need mental health services will actually receive them.” Of the people who receive mental help, “Only 40% of veterans who screen positive for serious emotional problems seek help from a mental health professional and only 30% of veterans who screen positive receive help from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.” This is in part due to the fear that many Veterans have about asking for mental help.

Another factor is the long wait list to receive help from Veteran Affairs. “The main issue with the Veteran Affairs is the waiting list. Veterans are supposed to see a doctor within 14 days after paperwork is accepted, but many veterans are being waitlisted for an upwards of 150 days,” Glass said. Noonan believes there is a way to cut the long wait. “One Veteran Affairs has approximately $800,000 that is not being used but can be accessed. If they put the money to hiring more employees or using more viable resources, the long wait time can be resolved,” Noonan said. According to Monrreal, without mental help, veterans financially suffer. “These statistics are following active members and veterans into normal civilian life, showing that veterans between ages 18 to 34 are most likely to live under the poverty line than any other group,” Monrreal said.

Junior delegate Carlos Carroll is a con speaker for the bill; he believes the bill does not solve the root of the problem and that the real issue is beyond the waitlists. “What actually goes on in Veteran Affairs is not the lack of staff or the lack of doctors,” he said. “It’s that within the Veteran Affairs organization there’s a culture of … silence for the employees and doctors there. If they speak out against the bureaucratic policies of the veterans affairs, they will get punished.”

Senior delegate Julie Apagya-Bonney is a pro speaker for the bill, and believes this bill will tackle multiple issues.  “I believe that with the implementation of this proposal we can not only educate students and give them the opportunities to get access to real life training which they can use for their later on professions, but we’re also helping veterans who actually need access to this care,” Apagya-Bonney said. “It’s really admirable of the proposal officers to create such a system in which we can do both of these things at the same time.”