Both John McCain and Barack Obama have pledged to make mental health treatment a priority in the new presidential administration. Both candidates emphasized treatment for returning veterans. Obama has spoken against cuts in services for both Medicare patients and veterans, though he has not been as specific as lobbyists would like.
Obama made a brief trip from the Denver Democratic convention to Billings, Montana. Speaking to a crowd of veterans in Billings, the candidate decried the faults of current policy. Obama also pointed out that armed services veterans are seven times more likely to be homeless than Americans who do not serve.
In Montana, roughly half the veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress go untreated for the psychological condition, said Obama. Before speaking, the Illinois Senator met with the family of Chris Dana. Dana was a Montana National Guard veteran with PTSD who committed suicide in March 2007, several months after being given a less than honorable discharge.
Dana was unable or, according to the military, unwilling to perform his duties after undergoing some terrifying experiences in Iraq. Dana’s experience is not uncommon. Many soldiers who seek mental health treatment are deemed by the military to be malingering or derelict, despite the fact that their symptoms meet the criteria for a recognized disorder.
Under attack for opposing certain changes in veterans’ care proposed by Obama, McCain has emphasized his own service. He assured reporters he recognizes the need for improved mental health care. It isn’t that McCain doesn’t want to increase services for veterans, said Erik Iverson, Montana GOP chairman. The Arizona senator’s proposals call for more spending on mental health care and traumatic brain injuries, two common types of damage in current Iraq and Afghanistan wars. However, the increase is less than Obama is proposing.
McCain has also proposed a health card for veterans that would entitle them to care at any medical facility. It could especially help veterans in rural areas. Like such areas in most of Montana, they may live near a local doctor or urgent care center but hundreds of miles from the closest veterans’ care facility.
Neither candidate or party has made a clear pledge to stop or reverse the drastic cuts to Medicare. Cuts in the past four years have reduced reimbursements as much as one fifth. Meanwhile, the cost of living has taken an opposite course. The good news, however, is that greater parity seems to have support from both parties. Perhaps even better is the simple fact that mental illness has become a perennial campaign issue.
In the past, it was rarely raised in national campaigns. Now it is obligatory to have a clear position on issues affecting Americans diagnosed with compromising medical conditions, as well as their families, friends, colleagues, and mental health care providers. Of course, that includes just about everybody! We can be grateful that this reality has finally been understood by our political officials and their associates.
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