Durbin Urges Department Of Defense To Bolster Support For Mental Health Treatment In Military

In today’s Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, Durbin urged Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs to address the stigma surrounding mental health that discourages servicemembers from seeking support

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, today participated in a Subcommittee hearing entitled “Briefing: A Review of the Department of Defense Health Program.”  During the hearing, Durbin questioned the witness, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Lester Martínez-López, on the stigma of seeking mental health support in the military.

“Mental health counseling is so important for all of us.  All of us.  It’s especially important in the military where they are under stressful situations and face trauma incidents on a regular basis.  In the past, let’s be honest about it, in virtually every aspect of it, there was a stigma attached to mental health counseling.  There was a belief that if you conceded that you needed counseling, it was a black mark on your record which would hold you back come time for promotion and advancement,” said Durbin.  “Has that changed? Are you changing it?” 

Dr. Martínez-López replied that there has been movement to see “mental health as health,” but he noted that cultural shifts happen gradually.  He acknowledged that while access to mental health professionals has improved in the military, there is still more room for the military to expand services and breakdown the stigma that deters servicemembers from seeking support.

Durbin went on to describe the toll of war on military members, including his own family member, who was deeply impacted by his experience fighting in the Vietnam War.  Durbin expressed his own relief that Iraq war veterans have helped to break down the stigma around mental health by more openly talking about their experiences on the battlefield and the importance of professional counseling to address their trauma.  

“Contrast that [the perspective on mental health held by Vietnam War veterans] with those who served in Iraq.  Many times, these young military veterans would come home and be very open and honest about the need for counseling.  What a dramatic reversal that was over the Vietnam generation. I hope that is the spirit that the military is looking at this issue moving forward,” said Durbin. 

Dr. Martínez-López reiterated his support for the wellbeing of all servicemembers, including caring for their mental health.

Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here. 

Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s question in Committee is available here for TV stations.