South Bend Tribune-Rep. Rudy Yakym: Veteran mental health care needs a fix. I’m introducing legislation to help.

Feb 26, 2024

Veteran mental health care needs a fix. I’m introducing legislation to help.

Rep. Rudy Yakym

South Bend Tribune

When I came to Congress in November 2022, my priority was to fight for Hoosiers and Indiana’s 2nd District, much in the model of my predecessor, the late Jackie Walorski. Our veterans, in particular, knew they had an advocate in Jackie. I am often stopped in the district by veterans who tell me stories about when Jackie went above and beyond to help them resolve an issue they were having with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

When retired Sgt. Ted Grubbs reached out to my office, I was reminded that Jackie’s record of fighting for veterans is one of her most important legacies that I could carry on. Like so many Hoosiers across the 2nd District, Ted is a veteran. He honorably served his country in the Indiana Army National Guard as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2008 and 2009.

Unfortunately, like so many other veterans, Ted was diagnosed with service-connected complex post-traumatic stress disorder and complex traumatic brain injury after returning from duty. Ted’s story is a vivid reminder that many veterans bear and struggle with scars from battle that we cannot see.

Last April, Ted experienced a severe mental health crisis and put a pistol in his mouth. Thankfully, Ted put the gun down after realizing his daughter’s birthday was the next day. Ted did the right thing and reached out for help from a medic he served with.

After this incident, everyone, including the VA, acknowledged that Ted required in-person care. However, a VA therapist said the soonest they could get him an in-person appointment was in two months. In the meantime, they could only offer telehealth options. Since the VA could not provide Ted with a timely in-person appointment, he sought and received care through a VA-approved private healthcare provider. To make matters worse, the VA initially told Ted he had to pay out of pocket despite their failure to meet his urgent care needs. They eventually reversed this decision.

Ted’s experience with the VA was frustrating and unacceptable. In fact, Ted told my staff that if it were up to the VA, he would not be with us today. It is the VA’s job to provide quality and timely in-person care to veterans in a state of crisis. And if the VA cannot do so, then it must provide the veteran with the resources to find quality and timely care at an approved non-VA provider. Ted’s story exposed a major gap in how the VA treats veterans experiencing a mental health crisis.

Under current standards, it can take as many as 28 days before veterans are allowed to seek care outside the VA from a Community Care private provider. Only if the VA is unable to provide care within this timeframe is it required to pay for the veteran to receive outside care. For veterans like Ted with complex mental health disorders who can have sudden onset and require regular treatment, 28 days is not quick enough. Veterans dealing with mental health challenges need to have more timely options for care at their disposal.

That is why next week, I will be introducing legislation to help veterans like Ted that need immediate assistance for a mental health crisis. My legislation, the Sergeant Ted Grubbs Mental Healthcare for Disabled Veterans Act, will require the VA to provide a veteran with mental healthcare within five days if they have a 50% or more disability rating related to a mental health disorder. For context, this includes veterans experiencing things like frequent panic attacks and mood swings, as well as those having regular thoughts of suicide. This population has mental health needs that the VA is currently not meeting.

We must always remember that America is only the land of the free because of the brave – because of people like Ted. We owe it to them to make sure they get the help they need in timely manner. I am grateful that Ted chose to speak up, and I am proud to lead this effort on behalf of him and countless veterans like him to help ensure we do just that.

Rudy Yakym represents Indiana’s Second Congressional District.

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