WASHINGTON – Congressman Vern Buchanan today sent a letter to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers and Ranking Member Adam Smith calling for the inclusion of two Buchanan bills in the upcoming annual defense policy bill to combat drug overdoses amongst our nation’s service members and improve access to mental health services on military bases.
“Both of these commonsense and bipartisan proposals will not only ensure that our service members have access to critical services when they need them the most but improve the readiness of our Armed Forces as a result,” said Buchanan in the letter.
First, Buchanan called for the inclusion of his bill, the Safe Disposal for Servicemembers Act (H.R.129), which requires the Department of Defense (DoD) to maintain prescription drop boxes on all military installations to allow for the safe disposal of unused prescription drugs, including opioids. Buchanan was joined by Reps. Kuster (D-N.H.) and Gimenez (R-Fla.) in introducing the bill.
According to a DoD report, over 15,000 service members overdosed on illicit drugs from 2017-2021. Of those, 322 were fatal. On Fort Bragg alone, 31 soldiers were lost in five years due to overdoses.
The second measure Buchanan requested be included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is the Treating Invisible Wounds on Base Act (H.R.2482), which requires the DoD to study and report to Congress on the accessibility of mental health care providers on military bases, the accessibility of inpatient mental health services for service members and propose any steps that may be taken to improve the accessibility of those services. Buchanan was joined by Reps. Scott (D-Va.), Kiggans (R-Va.), Pettersen (D-Colo.), Bacon (R-Neb.) and Neguse (D-Colo.) in introducing the bill.
According to the DoD Suicide Report, 328 active-duty service members committed suicide in 2021. In the Army alone, 176 service members took their own lives, the highest amount in a single year post-9/11. In 2021, a study from Brown University found that 30,177 active-duty personnel and veterans who served in the military post-9/11 have died by suicide – compared to the 7,052 service members killed in combat in those same 20 years.
Both of these bills were previously introduced as amendments to the FY23 NDAA, which passed the House with unanimous bipartisan support, but were not included in the final version of the bill signed into law.
Buchanan is the vice chairman of the Ways and Means Committee as well as the chairman of the Health Subcommittee.
In 2021, Buchanan was recognized by Centerstone for his leadership on mental health issues in Congress, including his cosponsorship of legislation to establish 9-8-8, the National Mental Health Crisis Line. He also cosponsored legislation last Congress that was signed into law to help combat suicide and mental health issues among frontline health care workers.
You can read the full letter here or below.
Dear Chairman Rogers and Ranking Member Smith,
As the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) begins its consideration of the Fiscal Year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I write to request the inclusion of two provisions that will help ensure the mental and physical health of our service members stationed at home and abroad.
Both of these important proposals, which I have also introduced as standalone bills, passed the U.S. House with unanimous support as part of last year’s NDAA.
The first measure the Safe Disposal for Service members Act (H.R. 129), has the bipartisan support of Reps. Kuster and Gimenez, and requires the Department of Defense (DoD) to ensure there is an accessible drop box on each military installation for members of the Armed Forces and their families to deposit unused prescription drugs.
As you know all too well, we are seeing a very tragic increase in the number of active-duty overdoses in recent years. According to a DoD report, Fort Bragg lost 31 soldiers in five years due to overdoses, the highest number of any installation. Additionally, the same DoD report found that over 15,000 service members overdosed on illicit drugs from 2017-2021. Of those, 322 cases were fatal. We must do a better job protecting our nation’s service members from dangerous drugs while they are on base.
The second provision, introduced as H.R. 2482, the Treating Invisible Wounds On Base Act, has the bipartisan support of Reps. Bobby Scott, Kiggans, Pettersen, Bacon and Neguse. This important legislation requires the DoD to study and report to Congress on the accessibility of mental health care providers and services for members of the Armed Forces serving on active duty.
Unfortunately, military service often takes an immense psychological toll on our service members and far too many are dying by suicide as a result. According to the DoD Suicide Report, 328 active-duty service members committed suicide in 2021. A 2021 Brown University study also found that 30,177 active-duty personnel and veterans who served in the military post-9/11 have died by suicide – compared to the 7,052 service members killed in combat in those same 20 years.
In a February 2023 report by the Suicide Prevention & Response Independent Review Committee (SPIRC), there are 117 recommendations that they believe DoD should implement to improve the health and well-being of service members. One of the recommendations SPIRC made in the “must implement” category was expediting the hiring process for behavioral health professionals. It is clear that access to mental health providers is a serious issue for our nation’s service members, and completing a study of their availability will allow the DoD to better focus resources to address this critical issue.
Both of these commonsense and bipartisan proposals will not only ensure that our service members have access to critical services when they need them the most but improve the readiness of our Armed Forces as a result. Thank you for your steadfast support of our brave men and women in uniform and I look forward to working with you and the rest of your committee to advance the NDAA for the 63rd year in a row.