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Awareness of Veterans' Mental Health Spreading

Jonathan Schulze was a decorated marine and Iraq war veteran. According to Kare 11’s Web site, he sought admittance to the V.A. Medical Center in St. Cloud on January 11th because he was suicidal. Schulze was instead put on a wait list. He hung himself days later.

To improve access to counseling services for Minnesota’s veterans, five senators have authored a bill requesting money for a telephone hotline and improved counseling services in “underserved areas.?

“Senator Erickson Ropes (the main author of the bill) sponsored this bill because many of our returning veterans are not receiving sufficient mental health care,? Tim Donahue, legislative assistant to Sen. Erickson Ropes said. “Depression and post-traumatic stress disorder have been great burdens on veterans, and are often not fully treated.?

The bill also asks for the commissioner of veterans affairs and the adjutant general of the National Guard to report to the state Senate on the psychological status of soldiers returning to Minnesota after serving in Iraq.

“As a co-author of the bill, I think that it’s important we protect our veterans in every way possible,? Sen. Mike Jungbauer, a co-author of the bill, said.

Currently, a soldier looking for mental health counseling must find a clinic or veteran’s hospital and call to make an appointment by him or herself, Donahue said. The hotline would help to facilitate the process.

Emily Stark, who teaches psychology at the University of Minnesota, says that even if access to counseling resources is improved, many people who need them may not use them.

“Improving access to mental health resources is always good, but I think a bigger problem is that there’s a stigma about seeing a counselor,? Stark said. “Some people might feel that if they admit they need therapy, then they are ‘weak’ or ‘crazy,’ and this type of thinking might be even more prevalent amongst the military.?

Aaron Abel, a specialist in the Army Reserve who served in Iraq driving supply trucks agrees with Stark.

“I’ve personally never needed counseling, but I have a good friend from my platoon who just started seeing a counselor for PTSD,? Abel says, referring to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. “I’m not too worried about him, but I know a few other guys who probably should be getting therapy and aren’t.?

Stark says the bill would be more effective if it included a component to guard against the negative stigma of therapy.

As of now no committee hearings have been scheduled to further the bill.

“At this point with our committee deadlines, this bill may not go anywhere this session,? Sen. Jungbauer says. “But stranger things have happened.?

However, even if no legislation is enacted to help, other resources are appearing.

In an article appearing today in the Pioneer Press, author David Hanners describes a former Marine and Iraq veteran who teamed up with Schulze's family to establish a foundation to help soldiers get mental health help quicker.

"The family announced it had incorporated the nonprofit Jonathan Schulze 'I Can't Hear You' Foundation. The name comes from the phrase barked by Marine Corps drill sergeants to their charges," says the article.