My family has a long history of serving our country. My father was an Army Master Sergeant and made 43 North Atlantic crossings during World War II. His three brothers served as well. My grandfather was a “doughboy” and earned a Purple Heart running from trench to trench delivering messages in World War I, while his brother rode with the Calvary. I remember them always, but on Veterans Day, I remember how much they gave to our country and others around the world.

In Bucks and Montgomery Counties, there are approximately 50,000 veterans, and we should all find a way to honor them this Veterans Day. But let’s take a moment to discuss how we can better serve those who have served our country.

The National Council for Behavioral Health claims that 30 percent of active duty and reserve military personnel (approximately 730,000 men and women) have a mental health condition requiring treatment. Many experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depression. The sad reality is that less than 50 percent of returning veterans in need receive any mental health treatment. This should especially be striking to all of us, considering the Veterans Administration reports that 22 veterans die by suicide every day.

This is unacceptable.

We have a duty to repay the sacrifice of those who have served our country by ensuring they have access to mental healthcare. We also need to educate them and their loved ones on the early signs of mental health issues and on the resources available.

The lack of mental healthcare goes beyond our veterans, it’s a national issue. The National Alliance on Mental Illness claims that 11.3 percent of U.S. adults with mental illness had no insurance coverage in 2018. For those that are able to get covered, the average delay between the onset of symptoms and treatment is 11 years.

After we lost our son, we were in emotional and physical pain. The community came together and helped our family through the aftermath. As a teacher and member of NJEA, I had access to mental healthcare. Without that care, I would not have been able to find my way out of the darkness.

Unfortunately, our current system places an undue burden on those who may need help but cannot afford it. We must do better at the federal level. We must ensure mental healthcare is accessible and affordable to all in need. By doing so we can fight back against stigma and save on long-term costs of care for the numerous effects that come with unchecked mental health issues, such as cardiovascular disease and substance abuse.

With an ongoing opioid and addiction crisis, it is key to note that 19.3 percent of U.S. adults with mental illness also experienced a substance abuse disorder within the last year. We need money for rehabilitation and treatment programs, yes, but if we want to be proactive and stop substance abuse before it starts, we need more funds for expanded access to affordable mental healthcare.

There’s no reason why we can’t end the stigma, get help to those who need it, and stop failing our veterans. It starts by spreading awareness. Talk to your friends, family and neighbors about mental illness. Demand your elected officials talk about it. I won’t stop talking about it, either during this campaign or as your representative in Congress.

This Veterans Day, thank a veteran, and let them know you are there to help if they need it and that you are willing to fight for them, as they have for you.

- Submitted by Judi Reiss of Lower Makefield, Bucks County Prothonotary and candidate for U.S. Congress

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