PTSD law would help female veterans

Source: Ottumwa Courier

OTTUMWA — When you hear “veteran” suicide, the vet you picture in your mind may be a man. Yet both men and women are treated locally for trauma they suffered in combat.

The Wapello County director of Veterans Affairs has read a release from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), a combat veteran, who co-authored the Female Veteran Suicide Prevention Act (S. 2487) in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“When I got out of the service in the late 70s, early 80s, there weren’t as many female veterans — and not as many services for them,” said Terry Bradley, Wapello County’s Veterans Affairs officer.

With more female service members today, he said, services have improved. For PTSD or depression related suicide, mental health services are vital, he said. Ottumwa does not currently have a combat group therapy session available. But there are services that can be accessed locally.

At least one nearby service addresses an issue Bradley said he sees. There are those veterans who will “self medicate:” They try to use alcohol — a lot of alcohol — to get “obliterated” in an effort to forget.

It’s a serious problem, he said.

“What I found was there is a part-time drug and alcohol counselor at our VA [clinic in Ottumwa] and a psychiatrist who is there primarily to [prescribe and monitor] psychiatric medicine,” said Bradley.

But most times, he said, veterans are sent to Iowa City’s main VA Clinic. Either that, or they can be counseled by someone in Iowa City via teleconference.

“Since I started here [in Wapello County] last June,” said Bradley, “I’ve seen, I’d guess, 25 female veterans. Some of them wanted to apply for benefits, and some of them need to be treated for post traumatic stress disorder.”

This latest “bipartisan” legislation, introduced by Ernst and lawmakers on the other side of the aisle, like Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to identify the most effective programs and approaches in reducing suicide rates among female veterans.

“We’re hoping it will make a difference,” said Bradley. “If it passes, we’re hoping it will mean funding for all the veterans with mental health issues.”

“Each day, we lose 22 veterans to suicide,” said Ernst in a press release about the bill. “The suicide rate among our female veterans is higher … compared to the general population … we absolutely must do better for our veterans to ensure they have the quality and timely mental health care they need to transition back to civilian life.”

The bill passed the Senate and now, following House vote, heads to the president’s desk.