Treatment Options, Coverage Limited for Military Servicemembers
> 6/11/2007 10:59:21 AM

In the midst of a series  of related stories regarding the insufficient attention paid to the mental health needs of those who've recently returned from serving the United States overseas comes another report about the highly restricted resources available to these soldiers and their families. Largely due to complications regarding coverage under the military's limited Tricare insurance plan, many returning military personnel either end up on waiting lists to visit practitioners who live some distance away or simply cannot receive the treatment they desperately need.

According to a lengthy published evaluation, Tricare covers most "medically neccessary mental health care services," while requiring physican referral and  continued supervision for each case. This description lends itself to images of very limited options for individuals whose incomes do not allow for independent payment of the often considerable bills engendered by continuing treatment. The longer the military chooses to retain its restricted health benefits package, the fewer servicemen and women will seek treatment for increasingly prominent mental health issues. Concerned personnel can refer to a Tricare hotline, but the information they receive in turn will most likely not be encouraging. In fact:

In a limited study by Tricare released earlier this year, about two out of three civilian psychiatrists in 20 states were willing to accept Tricare Standard clients among their new patients, the lowest acceptance rate for any specialty.

Complicating the problem is the fact that many servicemen/women and their families do not live in major urban areas where available therapists are far more common. Some exceedingly generous professionals have decided to donate weekly hours to offering free therapy for members of the American military, but their efforts obviously remedy only a miniscule portion of the larger problem. While the issue is not wholly lost on our representatives in government (more than one piece of recently proposed legislation has promised expanded mental health coverage), all related bills have stalled in moving through Congress, and serious treatment gaps obviously remain; aside from the usual publicly scripted generalities, one can hardly believe that our government will seriously address this problem in the coming months. The Department of Defense's recently established Mental Health Task Force is a move in the right direction, but it hardly remedies the generally lackadaisical tone the government has assumed in addressing this problem. Members of Congress, disregarding their personal stances about our current military ventures or misplaced fiscal concerns, should act quickly to expand much-needed therapeutic and prescriptive services for our returning troops or risk shaming themselves with their own hypocrisy.

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