In her first speech on the Senate floor, Joni Ernst proposed the "Prioritizing Veterans' Access to Mental Health Care Act." It would allow veterans to immediately access mental health care from outside the VA if they have significant barriers to care through the agency.
Ernst isn't the only Iowan impacting the national discussion on mental health for veterans. Alicia Carriquiry, a statistics professor at Iowa State University, is leading a four-year analysis of mental health access for veterans across the United States. The study was mandated by Congress after the VA wait-time scandal last spring.
"New programs, like the new Choice program, of course make life a little easier, but the devil is in the details. Under the new program, if you live more than forty miles away from a VA facility, you can access care through private providers. But this is as the crow flies, and I don't know many veterans who fly."
The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act that Carriquiry mentions stipulates a vet must be more than forty miles away or have more than a thirty day wait to use an alternate provider. Ernst's bill would eliminate those requirements for veterans suffering from mental illness.
In this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer talks with Carriquiry about her study examining the barriers to mental health access. Mark Brooks, a Vietnam veteran of 22 years, also joins the conversation.