Fmr. Navy SEAL commander Rep. Zinke fighting for better veteran mental healthcare: ‘There should not be victims’

A new bill has the backing of all five former Navy SEAL lawmakers in Congress and leading the charge is Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) who is aggressively fighting to “streamline” mental healthcare for veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The bipartisan push for the “Protecting Veteran Community Care Act” is being led by former Navy SEAL commander Zinke and Air Force veteran Rep. Donald Davis (D-NC) in Congress. It seeks to get faster and better care for veterans with mental health issues and to do away with extremely long wait times and the continuous rescheduling of appointments.

The five former Navy SEAL lawmakers in Congress who all support the bill include Zinke, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), Morgan Luttrell (R-TX), Eli Crane (R-AZ), and Derrick Van Orden (R-WI).

Zinke served in the military for 23 years. He told the Daily Mail in an interview that the bill is an opportunity for his fellow SEALs in Congress to “give back to the community we love.”

“We want to provide our expertise to make sure that the mental health issues facing veterans are addressed. There should not be victims,” Zinke proclaimed.

“I think we probably trained harder than the SEALs today,” he asserted, citing the rise of technology on the battlefield.

Zinke noted that most of his time was spent learning how to integrate thermal optics and technology drones on the battlefield. He said he “occasionally” went to war.

The congressman recounted that what he went through while he was in the military was different than what veterans experienced in the Vietnam War and World War II. It is also different than what newer veterans are experiencing.

The Iraq mission leader contends that due to the changing nature of combat, younger veterans are having a more difficult time “integrating back into society after completing multiple tours abroad. They get out of service and then go right back in because they’re addicted to it, and they feel like it’s their safe place, which is ironic.”

Newer veterans are no longer taking part in veterans’ clubs or the American Legion which leaves them feeling “separated” because there is no connection for them, Zinke told the Daily Mail. “We have to do better.”

“I can’t tell you how many friends I have lost – those that have suffered from [traumatic brain injuries] TBI, anxiety or suicide,” he added. “We want veterans to be productive members of society, be confident, be pillars in the community, and it’s hard to attain that goal if you’re struggling with issues that can’t be addressed.”

Zinke views the current politicization of veterans’ issues as “distasteful.” Democrats have accused Republicans of attempting to cut funding in the recently-passed debt ceiling bill, a charge that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has vehemently denied.

The former military leader points out that Congress was given the power by the Founding Fathers in Article I of the Constitution to prioritize spending. He feels that one of our priorities should be access to mental healthcare for veterans that will help alleviate homelessness, suicide, and a host of other issues.

Zinke, who is also the former secretary of the interior under President Trump, referred to the bill as “non-Partisan” and said the funding for it will be taken from already-allocated resources that are currently untouched.

According to the Daily Mail, “Under the proposed legislation, veterans who meet criteria for priority admission – within 72 hours – would not have to wait longer for a VA option for mental health care when community care is available sooner. In addition, it creates guardrails to restrict the VA from ‘subverting’ community care access standards and also requires the agency to provide to Congress a yearly update on how many community care eligibility decisions have been made.”

“Finally, any modifications to community care access standards would have to be signed off by Congress first before they are enacted,” the media outlet reported.

“As a disabled combat veteran and a Representative for a large veteran community, I understand the challenges our military members face when they return from service — it’s not always physical or visible,” former Navy SEAL Rep. Luttrell told the Daily Mail.

“When I speak with veterans in my district, they always express concerns for broader access and diverse forms of treatments for mental healthcare. I’m proud to cosponsor this legislation that will provide much-deserved swifter and higher quality care for veterans,” he remarked.

“With many of our veterans living in rural areas, expanding access to favorable healthcare choices often means the difference between life and death,” Luttrell stated.

“After returning home, many veterans still carry the weight of their service with them in their day-to-day lives, and face long wait times to utilize VA resources,” Rep. Crenshaw commented.

Other original cosponsors of the bill include Air Force veteran Rep. Donald Davis (D-NC), Rep. Brad Finstad (R-MN), Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT), Rep. Michelle Steel (R-CA), Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-OK), Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ), Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL), Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), and Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK).

An identical version of the bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) last week.

“The VA’s mission is to ‘care for those who have served in our nation’s military,’ that means ensuring our brave Montana veterans have access to the highest quality of care no matter where they live,” Daines declared in a statement. “I will always work to protect Montana veterans’ access to health care in communities across Montana.”

Veterans groups such as the American Legion, Concerned Veterans for America, and the Independence Fund also reportedly support the bill.

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