"The events at the Washington D.C. Navy Yard were absolutely tragic; and first and foremost, I offer my sympathies to the families of the victims. Now, we must do all we can to prevent an incident like this one from re-occurring, and one crucial action we must take is to shed light on a larger issue: mental health conditions among veterans. Our brave veterans simply should not fall through the cracks upon returning home," said Schumer. "We must remove the stigma of mental disorders that prevents veterans in Upstate New York from seeking treatment. And a good start would be for the VA to review its current mental health protocols, and consider new ways to share information with our law enforcement officials. That's why I'm advocating for a Joint Emergency Psychiatric Response Center through which local and state law enforcement can easily identify veterans in need of mental health services to the VA in order to avoid future acts of violence."
Schumer today urged the VA to investigate how to improve the way it provides mental health assessments and treatment. Specifically, he encouraged the VA National Office of Mental Health to work with Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury to make these improvements by increasing the number and type of mental health providers in their system so that more patients can have access to this life-saving resource. Estimates show that Mental Health Counselors comprise more than 30 percent of the independently licensed behavioral health workforce and they often practice in rural and underserved areas, but Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists make up very little of the VA mental health workforce. Schumer said that while psychiatrists have been serving the VA well, these other mental health professionals are needed to address the shortage in mental health care for vets.
Schumer also recommended that the VA and Department of Defense (DOD) explore the idea of implementing a national Joint Emergency Psychiatric Response Center. Schumer suggested that the center work with New York State and local law enforcement, and the New York VA medical sites, to identify at-risk veterans, service members or defense contractors who appear to be suffering from a mental disorder. The Center would coordinate the response to these reports, including getting the individuals the help they need and coordinating any relevant security response. Schumer added that a key component of a Joint Emergency Psychiatric Response Center should be a hotline that is operational 24 hours a day. This will ensure that those in need of mental health services have access to resources at any given time. Schumer noted that in the case of Aaron Alexis, local police were aware that he was hearing voices. Schumer explained that if a Center were created, law enforcement personnel could have contacted the Center about the at-risk veteran and ensured that he got the help he needed and also coordinated any relevant security response.
Schumer suggested the following scenario through which the Joint Emergency Psychiatric Response Center could work, but made clear that he would leave it up to experts at the VA to determine the best protocol to achieve these results: