Rep. Thompson pushing help for veterans

U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson hopes an act he wrote more than a year ago will be signed into a law by May — something he believes could be part of the solution to limit military tragedies after combat.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Republican from Howard Township addressed a group of Patton Township Business Association members at its monthly meeting at the township municipal building about newly signed laws he sponsored and co-sponsored.

Perhaps the most important, Thompson said, is one in a three-part series of acts that targets military men and women.

The MEPS Act — Medical Evaluation Parity for Service Members — would require all service members to undergo a mental health evaluation along with a physical and medical evaluation.

“Bottom line for that is that if you join the military, you get a great physical examination,” Thompson said. “Interestingly enough, there is no mental health examination or screening.”

According to an Army study, nearly 1 in 5 Army soldiers enter the service with a psychiatric disorder. Nearly half of all soldiers who tried suicide first attempted it before enlisting, Thompson said.

He added that a majority of those individuals who attempted suicide or committed suicide were never even deployed.

“I’m not looking to wash anyone out of the military,” Thompson said. “I think that’s a great way to serve our country and I think that’s a great pathway to success, but I want to make sure we’re taking care of folks to identify pre-existing conditions.”

Thompson said he has support from military and veteran associations, and hopes to get the same support from Congress.

“I actually think it would be a perfect thing for this Congress to do in a bipartisan way in the aftermath of Fort Hood,” Thompson said. “I’m not saying this would stop every terrible thing from happening, but I think this can be part of the solution.”

On April 2, a shooting spree occurred on the Texas military base. Four people were killed, including gunman Army Spc. Ivan Lopez. Sixteen were injured.

The idea to create the MEPS Act was sparked more than a year ago after Thompson’s son, Army Staff Sgt. Logan Thompson, brought the problem to his father’s attention.

“He called and talked with me about all the men he served with who committed suicide, and it sparked my interest,” Thompson said. “It’s a logical next step in the series.”

The first part of the series, called STEP — the Servicemembers’ Telemedicine & E-Health Portability Act — was introduced in 2010. It allows members of the military to reach out for mental health assistance using face-to-face electronic communication with Department of Defense-certified professionals.

Formerly, the Department of Defense limited health care professionals from providing care to a patient in a different state.

Thompson said that as a result, many who relied on military care were required to travel to receive treatment, which created burdens and obstacles for those individuals.

“I happen to believe that telemedicine’s the kind of thing we need to look at in health care,” he said

STEP was followed by the TAMP Act — Transitional Assistance Management Program — which was signed into law in January.

TAMP gives service members released from duty an additional six months of transitional assistance through telemedicine.

Veterans were formerly only given six months of transitional assistance to help them transform into civilian life, but Thomson said studies found that diagnoses like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can take up to eight or nine months to control.

“It’s part of my passion to continue to do everything we can to keep them safe during and after service,” Thompson said. “I acknowledge one suicide is one too many.”