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Landmark mental health provisions included in defense bill

egislation to improve Guardsmen and Reservists’ access to mental health services, curb farmer suicides

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News from the office of Senator Tester

U.S. Senate — U.S. Senator Jon Tester successfully secured his Care and Readiness Enhancement for Reservists Act and Seeding Rural Resilience Act in the National Defense Authorization Act – two critical mental health bills aimed at curbing the rising rate of suicide among service members and farmers.

 “We need to do everything we can to improve access to mental health care services for every man and woman in uniform,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. 

“Between the coronavirus pandemic, stagnant crop prices, and price gouging by meat packers, times are tough in rural America, and Montanans working in production agriculture are bearing the brunt of it,” said Tester. “As a third-generation farmer, I’ve seen the toll this is taking on my friends, neighbors, and fellow producers as more and more folks in our communities are hurting from the stress and uncertainty of this business. This bill isn’t a fix-all, but it puts us on track towards giving family farmers and ranchers the tools they need to stay healthy and keep raising the best food in the world.”

Guardsmen and Reservists often struggle to obtain mental health resources and support as a result of living far from military installations. As a result, the suicide rate for members of the National Guard and Reserve is consistently much higher than the rate for civilians and the rate for active duty military. Tester’s Care and Readiness Enhancement for Reservists Act will improve Guardsmen and Reservists’ access to consistent mental health services, regardless of their deployment status, and authorize the Department of Defense to fund needed behavioral or mental healthcare. The bill will also allow members of the Guard and Reserve to access Vet Centers for mental health screening and counseling, employment assessments, education training and other services to help them return to civilian life. Tester has consistently reintroduced this bill in Congress since 2015.

Tester also worked to include his Seeding Rural Resilience Act in NDAA, which aims to curb the rising rate of farmer suicides across the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate is 45 percent higher in rural America than in urban areas, and Montana already has one of the highest suicide rates in the country. Tester’s bill will fight high rates of suicide in rural America by:

— Implementing a Farmer-Facing Employee Training Program that provides voluntary stress management training to Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency, and National Resources Conservation Service employees 

— Forming a partnership between the Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Department of Agriculture to create a $3 million public service announcement campaign to increase public awareness of farm and ranch stress and destigmatize mental health care in rural communities

—  Directing the Secretary of Agriculture to work with state, local, and nongovernmental stakeholders to determine best practices for responding to farm and ranch mental stress 

Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK, or 1-800-273-8255.

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