Bill would expand mental health services for veterans

Senate Bill 1054 would clear red tape for hospitals

The U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs Medical Center is shown in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
The U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs Medical Center is shown in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, March 31, 2015. Wait times for Oregon veterans seeking medical care have been slow to improve as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs struggles to hire doctors and nurses. Frustrations competing with the private sector to fill 174 newly authorized positions in the Portland area have been compounded by the city's status as one of the fastest-growing VA medical service area in the nation. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon lawmakers are lobbying to pass a bill that could help expand mental health services for veterans by the clearing “red tape” preventing the construction of new facilities.

Supporters of Senate Bill 1054 say right now, hospitals have to prove there is a need for their services before they can build or expand, but under the new bill, they wouldn’t have to.

“Our hope is when they are done with their service to us, we can serve them,” said supporter Julie Terry, who lost her brother to suicide in January.

A group of veterans health advocates and lawmakers met at the capitol to rally for the bill and how their support for veterans.

Greg Walker, Ambassador for the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and Hawaii for the Green Beret Foundation, fought in two wartime campaigns and said he’s lost several friends to PTSD related issues.

“Those are invisible wounds, the wounds you can’t see but you can feel,” Walker said.

He said there aren’t enough treatment options in Oregon, especially rural areas. He said the bill would, “encourage other entities, private sector entities to come into our state.”

Walker said the Oregon Health Authority testified that the bill would allow private entities who can build fast and provide cheaper services to compete with traditional health systems, which he said was presented as a negative.

In a statement, Jonathan Modie with OHA said, in part:

“…Part of the purpose of the testimony was to point out that behavioral health issues are often accompanied by a complex array of chronic and other health conditions requiring facilities that provide comprehensive medical services, rather than specialty hospitals that offer a very narrow focus of care. The OHA is concerned that these types of specialty hospitals could result from this legislation, and diminish the comprehensive care that veterans require by duplicating inpatient psychiatric and chemical dependency services.

“The testimony was not intended to address any specific Certificate of Need application.

“It’s important to note that many local hospitals across Oregon already provide psychiatric services. If qualified veterans are admitted into a local hospital with psychiatric needs, they are transferred to the Portland VA Medical Center in Portland. If veterans are dually eligible for both VA benefits and Oregon Health Plan, they will most likely remain at the local hospital where they were admitted. Additionally, veterans value home- and community-based care, and the state seeks to help veterans stay in their communities with home-based care whenever and wherever clinically recommended and possible.”