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Some Question Bill Mandating Training on Veteran Mental Health Issues

CT State Democrats
State Senator Mae Flexer talks with members of the Connecticut National Guard during a ceremony at the State Armory in Hartford on March 5, 2015.

A bill before lawmakers would require certain health care workers to undergo training related to the mental health issues veterans and their family members face. Some providers say the bill is an unnecessary mandate. 

There's increasing attention on a suicide epidemic among veterans. The federal VA estimates 22 of them die by suicide each day.

There's also heightened awareness about post traumatic stress disorder experienced by former service members and some of their family members, especially those who become wounded veterans' primary caregiver.

State Senator Mae Flexer, co-chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee, said one of its bills aims to provide more support to them.

"What we're trying to do is make sure when veterans present themselves for services with a variety of professionals -- be they doctors, or social workers, or psychologists -- that these people will have a better understanding of the unique circumstances that veterans often are facing," Flexer said.

The bill requires even chiropractors, among others,to take a certain amount of continuing education credits related to veterans' issues before they can apply for a license renewal with the state Department of Public Health.   

Steven Karp is the Executive Director of the National Association of Social Workers, Connecticut chapter.

"This is one of those pieces of legislation on the surface that sounds great and makes people feel good," Karp said. "But two hours doesn't make you an expert. Reality is if you work with vets you need a lot more and if you don't work with vets you probably don't need two hours [of training]."

Karp's organization submitted testimony opposing the bill as well as the Connecticut Psychological Association

Karp said the bill is well-intended, but not well-drafted. He said it's an unenforceable mandate, because the Department of Public Heath doesn't check whether a health care professional has completed continuing education courses during a license renewal. DPH said audits are only done if someone submits a complaint against a health care professional.

Flexer stands behind the bill. "It's very unlikely that a social worker who's out there working in the community will never come across a veteran or a family member of a veteran," she said.

Karp said his association worries that if the legislation is approved, it will set a precedent causing other advocates to push for mandatory continuing education related to specific populations. He said these requirements should meet a provider's specific practice needs.

Lucy leads Connecticut Public's strategies to deeply connect and build collaborations with community-focused organizations across the state.

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