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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2013 - 2014 Regular Session


Posted: November 25, 2013 09:58 AM
From: Senator John T. Yudichak
To: All Senate members
Subject: Veteran Peer to Peer Counseling
In the coming weeks I plan to introduce SB 1133, legislation that will create a pilot program for peer-to-peer counseling among veterans.

While many veterans return from active duty with physical injuries and disabilities, a larger number often return with psychological injuries connected to the trauma and stress associated with combat. Post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), traumatic brain injury (“TBI”), military sexual trauma and alarming rates of suicide among active duty personnel and veterans require the Commonwealth to ensure that the proper mental health, addiction, and other services are available to our military personnel.

Statistics show that over 300,000 veterans (approximately 1 in 5) of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom have been diagnosed with PTSD by the end of 2012. Treatment costs for these veterans have been estimated to exceed $2,000,000,000. In 2012, suicide rates among active duty personnel averaged 1 per day. Veterans now account for 20% of all U.S. suicides, with the youngest veterans (under the age of 24) committing suicide at rates four times higher than other veterans groups. In excess of 3,300 cases characterized as military sexual trauma were reported in 2012, however it has been estimated that there were over 25,000 incidents of unwanted sexual contact.

PTSD, TBI, military sexual trauma and suicide among veterans are often linked with alcohol or substance abuse as veterans seek to find relief from the symptoms and feelings. Unfortunately, the stigma attached to receiving mental health treatment often causes military personnel and veterans to avoid seeking professional treatment for their condition. I believe establishing a program where veterans can support one another through peer-to-peer counseling may assist in removing the stigma surrounding receipt of mental health or addiction services and allow our veterans to receive the care they need as they recover from the psychological scars often associated with military service.

Under my proposal, the Secretary of Health will establish a minimum of 4 regional and geographically diverse peer support programs for veterans to ensure that veterans and military personnel in the Commonwealth have access to the counseling services. The Secretary will work with the Secretary of the Department of Drug and Alcohol and the Adjutant General in developing the program and certifying veterans who have suffered from similar conditions as peer counselors. The Department of Health would also be authorized to contract with existing nonprofits who offer such services to carry out the intent of the program.

Introduced as SB1133