Warning of significant mental health risks that veterans, first responders, and others face, advocates urged lawmakers last week to launch a commission tasked with improving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Two bills before the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery call for convening groups to produce formal studies on the disorder and how the state could respond to better help those afflicted.
“In my era, no one ever heard of PTSD. You were told to deal with it or get another job,” said Dennis Moschella, a former Revere police officer who served in the Vietnam War and is now president of Veterans Assisting Veterans. “It never goes away, though. It’s there forever.”
Speakers who testified at the July 11 hearing pointed to harrowing statistics as evidence for the need to address PTSD: an average of 22 veterans per day die by suicide; and in New York City, more police officers and firefighters took their own lives than were killed in the line of duty.
Although both pieces of legislation tackle a similar topic, the version penned by Rep. Colleen Garry (H 1714) focuses on new research to address the disorder while Rep. Paul Brodeur’s bill (H 1701) calls for studying insurance coverage and retirement benefits for those with PTSD.
“From children to veterans, there are a lot of people in this commonwealth dealing with PTSD,” Garry said. “We’ve got the best and the brightest in the world here. We’d like them to get together officially and report back to the state.”
Garry testified in support of the bills alongside veterans like former Air Force pilot John MacDonald, who said veterans have waited “long enough” for an expert task force.
“Very often, people walk up to veterans and first responders and say ‘thank you,’” MacDonald, a Dracut resident, said. “I ask today that you hold your thanks, but rather, get them help — help for many of my brothers and sisters suffering from something that they didn’t do to themselves, something they got from serving all of you and all of us.”
Several other bills calling for commission studies on key mental health issues are before the committee as well, including suicide prevention (H 1740 and S 1143) and disproportionate effects of substance use disorder (H 1755 / S 1156).