Skip to Content

Press Releases

Wittman, Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Lead Effort to Tackle Mental Health Issues Across U.S. Military

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representatives Rob Wittman (VA-01), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), Chrissy Houlahan (PA-06), and Guy Reschenthaler (PA-14) introduced the Servicemembers Mental Health Improvement Act, legislation to develop and provide recommendations for a comprehensive strategy to tackle mental health issues across the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The bill would establish a mental health task force within DoD, comprising both DoD and non-DoD mental health experts.

“Our servicemembers make incredible sacrifices for our nation, and they deserve our unwavering support in addressing the challenges they face on and off the battlefield,” said Rep. Wittman. “Ensuring the psychological health of our warfighters and access to proper mental health treatments and services must be a top priority for Congress. I’m proud to introduce this important bill with Congressman Kilmer to establish a Mental Health Task Force at the Department of Defense to provide the mental health care our servicemembers and their families deserve.”

“In one of my meetings with a military leader, I asked him what kept him up at night,” said Rep. Kilmer. “He didn’t say ‘budget cuts,’ or ‘terrorists.’ Rather, he told me, ‘The thing that keeps me up most is mental health. I’ve lost more soldiers to suicide than I have to enemy combatants.’ That’s got to change. Creating a Mental Health Task Force within the Defense Department will improve overall health within the Department and ensure that Congress is well equipped with data to act on behalf of those who serve.”

“We all recognize the immense stress our uniformed men and women endure in service. It is essential to support strengthening our mental health care and suicide prevention efforts for them. However, for too long we have seemingly required report after report, study after study, on the matter without really delivering any tangible or long-term action. This has left the services to develop their own solutions, often resulting in unsynchronized and disparate efforts. The last comprehensive study and review of resilience programs was conducted over a decade ago. It is past time to refocus our efforts to provide a clear, evidence-based path forward for our military members,” said Rep. Houlahan. “This bill is a step toward ensuring a cohesive, coordinated effort to increase awareness, training, and access to mental health programs. It’s an affirmation of our commitment to care for and about our service-members both during their military career and after they have transitioned to civilian life.”

“As the co-chair of the Military Mental Health Task Force and a Navy veteran, I am proud to introduce the Servicemember's Mental Health Improvement Act, which would establish a mental health task force at the Department of Defense,” said Rep. Reschenthaler. “This bipartisan legislation is critical to developing solutions that alleviate the mental health crisis plaguing our servicemembers and their families. I look forward to working with my colleagues to get this bill signed into law.”

From 2016 to 2020, DoD reported that 456,293 active duty servicemembers were diagnosed with mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and PTSD. Regrettably, studies indicate that servicemembers are five times more likely to suffer from major depression, six times more likely to experience intense anger, and 15 times more likely to endure post-traumatic stress disorder compared to civilians. These disorders account for the highest number of hospital stays and rank as the second most common reason for outpatient visits among servicemembers.

Recognizing the importance of maintaining psychological health, enhancing resilience, and promoting recovery for servicemembers and their families, DoD, Congress, and external organizations have made efforts to address these issues. Initiatives such as DoD Office of Inspector General investigations, Government Accountability Office reports, commissions, and Congressional oversight aim to improve servicemember health. However, these endeavors have primarily focused on individual concerns rather than considering a comprehensive approach to the various factors crucial for mental health improvement.

The Servicemembers Mental Health Improvement Act is endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association; American Psychological Association; AMSUS, The Society of Federal Health Professionals; Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States; Fleet Reserve Association; Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A.; K9s For Warriors; Military Officers Association of America; National Alliance on Mental Illness; National Guard Association of the United States; National Military Family Association; Service Women’s Action Network; Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors; Vietnam Veterans of America; Wounded Warrior Project.

“The American Psychiatric Association commends Representatives Kilmer and Wittman for the introduction of the Servicemember’s Mental Health Improvement Act,” said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A. “In seeking to establish a Mental Health Task Force at the Department of Defense, this important legislation would promote a more holistic strategy to addressing behavioral health agency-wide, which, in turn, would help improve our nation’s ability to support the mental health of servicemembers and their families.”