Senators Introduce Bill to Improve USCG Behavioral Health Policies
U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the Guarding Mental Health Act, legislation which would require the Commandant of the Coast Guard to establish an interim
behavioral health policy for members of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) that achieves parity with the policies of the Department of Defense (DoD).
Currently, the USCG has outdated policies with respect to personnel who come forward to seek treatment for mental and behavioral health challenges. The Coast Guard Medical Manual describes depression (which they classify as a “mood disorder”) as a disqualifying condition when associated with a suicide attempt, untreated substance abuse, if it requires hospitalization, or if it requires treatment for more than 12 months. This legislation would have the USCG mirror the DoD behavioral health policy, which allows members to seek treatment without automatically being processed for discharge. The DoD reviews each behavioral health issue on a case-by-case basis.
“We continue to hear members of our Coast Guard express concern over the outdated regulations currently in place with regard to mental and behavioral health. It is incredibly worrisome that anyone would hesitate to seek needed treatment for fear of a blanket discharge policy. It is no secret Alaska’s military community faces additional challenges that can impact mental and behavioral health—including geographic isolation and seasonal effective disorder—making this particularly relevant for the USCG members who serve communities across our great state.” said Senator Murkowski. “I’m proud to introduce this bill, which allows members to seek treatment without automatically being processed for discharge. By bringing the USCG’s policies up to speed with the other military branches and allowing reviews of cases on an individual basis, we’re creating a more supportive environment for people to seek out the help they deserve.”
“Members of the Coast Guard face extreme stresses and dangers in the course of their day-to-day duties—from conducting search-and-rescue operations in severe storms, to combatting transnational crime, to securing our maritime borders,” said Senator Sullivan. “Under existing policies, these courageous public servants can be automatically discharged if they pursue professional help for the mental health challenges that can result from these extraordinary assignments. This is wrong. Thankfully, other members of the military are no longer threatened with automatic discharge for seeking help, but that same understanding needs to be extended to our Coast Guardsmen. I’m glad to put forward legislation with Senator Murkowski that will not only provide parity with the rest of the military services, but also provide the means for members of the Coast Guard to get help when they need it and continue in their vital service protecting our country.”
“Addressing potential mental health issues early benefits the coastguardsman and the Coast Guard,” said Dr. Cassidy. “Seeking help should not destroy a military career. Our bill makes sure members of the Coast Guard are treated with the same policies as the rest of the armed services.”