Source: United States Senator for New Hampshire Jeanne Shaheen
October 23, 2019
(Washington, DC) — Today, U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Martha McSally (R-AZ), both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, introduced bipartisan legislation to expand eating disorder treatment access for U.S. service members, veterans and their dependents.
Studies have found that 16 percent of female veterans have or have had an eating disorder and 20 percent of female adolescent dependents of a service member are at risk for an eating disorder. Eating disorders have the second highest mortality rates of any mental health illness, due to physical risks and elevated risk of suicide, second only to substance use disorders.
“Eating disorders are serious mental health illnesses that should be treated with the same urgency as any physical illness, and that’s especially true for our service members. Our military members deserve access to the same health benefits as the men and women they’re sworn to protect,” said Senator Shaheen. “I’m proud to stand with Senator McSally and this bipartisan group to introduce the SERVE Act so we can make common-sense reform to our laws that would further expand TRICARE coverage for eating disorder treatments. This bill will help ensure that our military leaders are trained to identify signs and symptoms of mental health illnesses such as eating disorders to address them earlier. Our military families make great sacrifices on behalf of our nation, a debt we can never fully repay. At the very least, we must ensure they have the health care and assistance they need to live safe, healthy and happy lives.”
“Over 30 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder with our servicemembers and their families suffering at even higher rates than their civilian counterparts,” Senator McSally said. “The SERVE Act would ensure that those who fought for us can access necessary recovery treatment under TRICARE and that our commanders and supervisors are equipped to identify the signs and symptoms of mental health disorders.”
The Supporting Eating Disorders Recovery Through Vital Expansion (SERVE) Act would expand access to treatment for eating disorders under TRICARE and increase mental health early identification within the Armed Forces.
Specifically, the bill would:
- Clarify that under TRICARE, eating disorders treatment shall be provided to beneficiaries without age limitations when medically necessary.
- Identify eating disorders as a health condition to be treated and ensure that facilities are available to treat these disorders for all service members.
- Require mental health early identification training be taken by commanders or supervisory personnel, as many are currently not provided the resources to help identify signs and symptoms of mental illnesses like eating disorders.
The SERVE Act is also cosponsored by Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV).
Bill text of the legislation is available here.
More than 40 organizations have endorsed the SERVE Act, including the New Hampshire Community Behavioral Health Association, New Hampshire Psychiatric Association, AMVETS, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Eating Disorders Coalition and numerous other mental health, military and veteran advocacy and eating disorder awareness organizations.
As a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Shaheen has repeatedly worked to expand TRICARE coverage for service members and their families. In the Senate-approved National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year (FY) 2020, Shaheen successfully included an amendment that would update TRICARE criteria for the use of continuous glucose monitors and direct the Secretary of Defense to provide an update on its progress no later than 90 days after the defense legislation is enacted. In the defense bill, Shaheen also included an amendment to ensure that all non-active duty service members and their dependents, in addition to active-duty service members who already have this coverage, have equal access to contraception without cost sharing. For military servicewomen, contraception is critical to ensuring military readiness, for family planning, and as treatment for various health conditions.