President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2013 on January 2, 2013. The NDAA is comprehensive legislation which sets policy and authorizes the budget authority of the Department of Defense (DoD). This $633 billion bill contains numerous provisions spanning research, program requirements, operation and maintenance, personnel, compensation and benefits, health care, and construction matters.
The NDAA includes provisions from Senator Patty Murray’s (D-WA) Mental Health ACCESS Act, crafted in cooperation with and supported by WWP, to improve mental health care for servicemembers and veterans. The NDAA also contains provisions to strengthen DoD policies to prevent sexual assaults in the military, improve Medical Evaluation Board and Physical Evaluation Board processes, and establish performance measures to evaluate warriors’ experience at warrior transitions units.
The NDAA mental health provisions include measures to:
- Require VA to make critical improvements to its mental health care services through a comprehensive assessment conducted by the National Academy of Sciences to determine the extent of unmet needs and establishment of accurate, reliable measures and staffing guidelines to assure that its mental health care is both timely and effective;
- Direct DoD to develop and implement a comprehensive suicide-prevention program for the armed forces and establish a position with responsibility for oversight and management of all DoD suicide-prevention and resilience programs;
- Direct VA to establish peer-support specialist positions at all VA medical centers and require DoD to refer OEF/OIF servicemembers to VA to be considered for such employment;
- Authorizes Vet Center staff to participate in recreational programs that are designed to encourage veterans’ readjustment and are operated by a veterans’ service organization, such as Project Odyssey®; and
- Expand the scope of Vet Center services to include counseling family members of deployed service members.