[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), a member of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, announced legislation today to ensure that all military recruits who seek to serve don’t face discrimination for certain mental health conditions – particularly military family members who may have sought mental health services as children or teenagers.
“Military kids routinely face the kind of stress that would be difficult for most adults to bear – frequent moves, deployed parents, and the immense burden of not knowing if your loved ones are safe. The decision to seek mental health treatment in those kinds of circumstances shouldn’t stand in the way of military service. These blanket policies impact all recruits, but are especially problematic since military families raise a disproportionate number of future servicemembers,” Blumenthal said. “We owe an immense debt of gratitude to the military families who make sacrifices every day in service to our country – supporting their well-being is our responsibility, and absolutely fundamental to our national security.”
“Prospective service members should not face discrimination for having sought out treatment for mental health challenges in the past. We need to do better to support those who want to serve our nation, especially members of our military families,” said Baldwin. “That’s why I’m working with Senator Blumenthal to destigmatize mental health needs and create a more fair environment for those who want to serve our great country.”
“The Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN) is honored to serve as a trusted voice of military families who share their experiences with us through scientific research. According to MFAN data, the full family’s experience is a top indicator for retention. And, childcare and access to mental health support—two key areas addressed in this legislation—are perennial issues that impact the overarching quality of life for military families,” said Shannon Razsadin, Executive Director of the Military Family Advisory Network. “Military families are looking for a level playing field and experiences that are as close to on par with civilian counterparts as possible. By working to reduce barriers, streamline experiences, and empower families we will make life easier for military families, who already sacrifice so much.”
The Mental Health Discrimination during Military Accession Act would direct all military services to review the medical waiver request process to prevent undue discrimination against military dependents and civilians with prior mental health conditions who seek military service. A Military Times article shared the story of two young women seeking to follow in their father, grandfather, and great-grandfather’s footsteps who were denied the opportunity to serve based on their decision to seek mental health treatment as teenagers.
Current service policies are overly restrictive and unnecessarily penalize prospective servicemembers with a history of minor physical or mental health concerns. Fear of potential future disqualification from military service could dangerously deter military dependents from seeking necessary mental health services. Additionally, military dependents – who have a greater propensity to serve in the military – are more likely to be rejected for seeking standard mental health treatment because their TRICARE medical records may be more easily accessible by recruiters.
The Mental Health Discrimination during Military Accession Act is one of a comprehensive set of policies Blumenthal has proposed to support the partners, children, and close relatives of servicemembers. Military families make immense sacrifices and confront unique challenges, including frequent moves, the stress of deployments, and the difficulty of caring for a loved one who has been injured. Family members provide servicemembers with an invaluable support system, and their well-being is essential to overall military readiness and our national security.