Sen. Donnelly pushes more mental health resources for service members

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INDIANAPOLIS – One day after Memorial Day, a somber reminder at the Indiana War Memorial on the toll of war, in what will likely become the fifth straight year this country will lose more service members to suicide than combat.

“Oftentimes we forget the tremendous sacrifice our soldiers go through and their families go through,” Gregg Keesling said, who lost his son Chancellor Keesling to suicide while serving in Iraq.

Keesling stood alongside Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) who is pushing his most recent effort, the Frontline Medical Health Provider Training Act, which is aimed at providing more mental health resources for service members.

Donnelly said Tuesday 475 service members committed suicide nationwide in 2015, and three members of the Indiana National Guard have killed themselves this year.

“Each one of those is someone with a family,” Donnelly said. “Someone who has a mom and dad, a husband and wife who loves them.”

Donnelly’s measure to address a shortage of mental health provides, now part of the National Defense Authorization Act, would train physician assistants and provide greater access to mental health evaluations.

“It’s hard for family members to get our loved ones to seek that help,” Keesing said. “It’s hard for soldiers to want to seek that help, but it’s important that we push. We continue to tell the story over and over and over because it’s helping.”

The measure is part of a larger movement in Congress targeting veteran services and continued problems with the Veterans Administration.

Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) has authored two provisions requiring all VA facilities to participate in prescription drug monitoring programs and expand the VA’s use of alternative therapies to help combat over-prescribing practices and a drug epidemic that is sweeping the entire nation.

“We know we have to change the prescribing habits and patterns in this country,” Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) said in a recent interview, whose legislation establishes a task force involving key agencies targeting the prescribing practices of pain medication for all Americans.

“We want to make sure for our veterans and service members, opioids are not over-prescribed,” Donnelly said. “Because when they are often times addiction occurs.”

Members of the Reserve Officers Association, National Guard Association of Indiana and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention stood alongside Donnelly Tuesday, in a call to action.

“The challenges of repeatedly deploying from and returning to civilian lives are largely misunderstood by a public wary of war and a Congress strapped for cash,” James Sweeney said, with the Reserve Officers Association.

Keesling said his new mission is to push Congress to ensure struggling veterans and their families have access to the care they need.

“If you’re a family in crisis right now,” he said. “You want it as fast as you can get it.”

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