WASHINGTON- United States Senators Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) today introduced the Guarding Mental Health Act, which would require the United States Coast Guard (USCG) to establish behavioral health standards that allow members to seek treatment for mental health issues without automatically being treated for release. This would align the Coast Guard with the rest of the Department of Defense (DoD) standards regarding mental health treatment.
“Addressing potential mental health issues quickly benefits the Coast Guard and the Coast Guard,” said Dr. Cassidy. “Asking for help should not destroy a military career. Our bill ensures that members of the Coast Guard are treated with the same policies as the rest of the armed forces.
“We continue to hear from members of our Coast Guard expressing concern about the outdated regulations currently in place regarding mental and behavioral health. It is incredibly worrying when someone is hesitant to seek needed treatment for fear of a general leave policy. It’s no secret that the military community in Alaska faces additional challenges that can impact mental and behavioral health, including geographic isolation and seasonal workforce disorders, which makes this particularly relevant to USCG members who serve communities across our great state. said Senator Murkowski. “I am proud to introduce this bill, which allows members to seek treatment without automatically being processed for release. By aligning USCG policies with those of other military branches and allowing cases to be reviewed on an individual basis, we are creating a more supportive environment for people to seek the help they deserve.
“Coast Guard members face extreme stress and danger in carrying out their daily duties, whether conducting search and rescue operations during severe storms, fighting transnational crime or securing our maritime borders”, said Senator Sullivan. “Under existing policies, these brave public servants can be automatically fired if they seek professional help for mental health issues that may arise from these extraordinary postings. It’s wrong. Fortunately, other members of the military are no longer threatened with automatic dismissal for asking for help, but this same understanding must be extended to our coastguards. I am pleased to introduce a bill with Senator Murkowski that will not only ensure parity with the rest of the military services, but also provide Coast Guard members with the means to get help when they need it. and to continue their vital service in protecting our country.”
Currently, the USCG has outdated policies regarding personnel presenting to seek treatment for mental and behavioral health issues.
The Coast Guard Medical Manual describes depression (which they classify as a “mood disorder”) as a disqualifying condition when combined with attempted suicide, untreated drug addiction, if it requires hospitalization or if it requires treatment for more than 12 months. This legislation would require the USCG to mirror the DoD’s behavioral health policy, which allows members to seek medical care without being automatically treated for discharge. The DoD reviews each behavioral health issue on a case-by-case basis.