April 18, 2009
El Paso, TX. – State senators this week advanced bills that would provide a support network for combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or other psychological problems. State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, filed a bill that would direct the Department of State Health Services to set up a peer counseling program.
Legislation approved by the Senate Defense and Veterans Affairs Committee would go even further. The bill, filed by Sen. Leticia van de Putte, D-San Antonio, would require the Department of State Health Services to develop a set of guidelines for professionals treating veterans with psychological disorders.
Another part of the bill would coordinate mental-health services in areas without Veterans Affairs offices. The bill has features of one filed by state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso. Gary Larcenaire, chief executive officer of El Paso Mental Health Mental Retardation, has started a program to train U.S. veterans in mental-health counseling. The idea is to help returning soldiers overcome the stigma of being treated for mental illness.
“There was a military culture I could never really understand,” he said. “They will not speak with a trained psychological professional who has not seen combat.” A 2005 Veterans Affairs study found that 20 percent of Iraq war veterans reported some form of psychological disorder. Larcenaire said that, because of underreporting from veterans, the statistics on psychological disorders probably were on the low side.