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Washington, D.C.—Constance Walker, mother of a disabled Army veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, today testified for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) before the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, warning of the "looming reality" that confronts veterans who live in rural communities and need mental health care.
Walker is also a retired Navy Captain; president of NAMI Southern Maryland, a rural, regional affiliate; and a member of the national organization’s Veterans Council.
"There is a looming reality over all discussions about recovery-based treatment and rehabilitation services for rural veterans living with PTSD or other serious mental illness," she said.
"The likelihood of obtaining those specialized services on a consistent basis is very small for veterans living in rural and frontier areas beyond a reasonable commute to a VA Medical Center, or without access to an appropriately and consistently staffed VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic."
Walker's son, Michael, is a former Army motor transport operator who was deployed to northern Kuwait in 2003. Following his return home in 2004, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and schizophrenia. He was hospitalized and medically retired, and today lives with his parents.
"It is impossible to overstate the stressors that rural and frontier family caregivers are bearing on a daily basis as they search for limited treatment and rehabilitative services, and work to support a loved one." Walker said.
NAMI urged the committee to pass three specific bills: S. 2162, S. 38 and S. 2142 to strengthen and expand access, treatment and education, including a requirement that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs reimburse costs incurred as a result of emergency treatment in civilian hospitals.
NAMI thanked Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI), the chairman of the committee, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), the ranking member, for convening the hearing to focus on those issues.