By Jano Tantongco
Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Huntington) is planning to introduce legislation that would expand the number of U.S. military veterans who can receive free mental health counseling.
Suozzi, who announced the bill Sunday at the U.S. military at the Museum of American Armor in Old Bethpage, said “we have an obligation to say thank you and to care for all of our veterans.”
“I think it’s the number one obligation that we have as a country. Before anything else, we must make sure that we care for our veterans,” added Suozzi, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Currently, veterans can receive free mental health counseling through VA services, Lou Wasson, a spokesman for Suozzi said. However, there are certain requirements veterans need to meet in order to be eligible. Suozzi wants to open up eligibility and streamline delivery of the services.
Veterans who were dishonorably discharged or are reservists currently do not qualify for the free counseling.
A recently published federal Government Accountability Office study found that 60 percent of troops that have been discharged for misconduct in recent years suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder or some other type of brain injury.
A July 2016 report issued by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs found that, in 2014, an average of 20 veterans committed suicide each day. Of those 20, six used VA services.
“This is a real, serious epidemic we’re facing in our country. Our veterans find that they don’t have any hope and many are committing suicide. We have an obligation to try and help these veterans that are facing this struggle. Democrats and Republicans must work together to address this issue,” Suozzi stated.
Counseling services would be offered at VA medical facilities like the Northport VA and through Veterans Centers.