Voters and Mental Health

James Davenport, director of student veteran affairs at the University of North Texas speaks about mental health treatment as an election issue.

From the leather chair in his therapist's office, a retired U.S. veteran closes his eyes as he is instructed to "go to his happy place." He pictures himself lying atop a hill, in sniper position.

He can smell the oil from his gun and can feel the cold metal beneath his hands. As he looks down upon a Vietnamese village, he can smell the food they are cooking and hear their chatter.

This veteran is in his happy place, ready to kill.

He has been trained to kill, and now finds joy in what many may view as a disturbing scene. He is not the only veteran who will return from war with psychological wounds.

According to the RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research, of the many veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, 20 percent now suffer from major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

James Davenport, director of the University of North Texas student veteran affairs, is a retired U.S. Army veteran. He has seen firsthand the mental health effects of war on himself and the veterans he works with.

"Everyone has a cracking point. Some just hit it sooner than others," Davenport said. "We need more awareness of not just veterans but anyone who might be suffering from mental health problems. Awareness of how to see it, how to respect it and how to work with the people."

Of course it is not only veterans who battle with mental health. According to the National Library of Medicine, 46 percent of Americans may be diagnosed with some mental health condition in their lifetime. Around one in five adults in the United States lives with a mental illness.

"Veterans come from a culture where sometimes you can't discuss your challenges or problems, until they're so bad that you can't avoid them," said Byron Bailey, peer mentor at UNT student veteran affairs. "A better view on mental health and the support would result in a better and more effective fighting force for this country."

For these adults and veterans living with mental health disorders and illnesses, insurance is vital for them to be able to afford the care that they need. As the 2020 presidential election approaches, topics such as mental health care and issues regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) begin to rise.

According to Democrat Joe Biden's campaign website, "instead of starting from scratch and getting rid of private insurance, he has a plan to build on the Affordable Care Act by giving Americans more choice, reducing health care costs, and making our health care system less complex to navigate." Biden and his campaign have pledged to end the stigma around mental health and improve access to mental health care.

Mental health parity is another issue that has been brought up with the upcoming election. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act which was enacted in 2008, requires insurance coverage for mental health conditions to be the same as insurance coverage for other medical conditions.

Former Vice President Biden's campaign states he will redouble efforts to enforce the already existing mental health parity laws, and expand the existing funding for mental health. He has yet to offer specific plans for this.

President Donald Trump's campaign does not address mental health parity or mental health awareness as much. In 2017, Trump signed the repeal of the individual mandate penalty, which had required most Americans to have health insurance

That same year, Trump signed an executive order, increasing the availability of short-term health care coverage. While this may be a positive outcome for some Americans, a lot of short-term health care plans do not cover pre-existing conditions such as mental health problems and mental illness.

The Trump administration is seeking to repeal the ACA, which would in turn limit the extent of existing parity rules. This could take away health care from people with pre-existing conditions unless Trump devised his own form of health care to make up for the loss. Despite this, the Trump administration assures that the president is committed to ensuring individuals with pre-existing conditions have access to affordable health care

Trump's proposals do not all have to do with cutting access or funding to mental health care. In his fiscal year 2020 budget, he planned to add $115 million to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) program.

However, this does not overshadow Trump's attempts to cut significant amounts of funding from Medicaid in his budget proposals since he has taken office. In March of 2019, Trump proposed taking $1.5 trillion from projected Medicaid spending.

This is a significant cut, considering that according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a study run in 2015 stated that "Medicaid covered 22 percent of non-elderly adults with mental illness and 26 percent of non-elderly adults with serious mental illness."

In general, around 5.3 million U.S. adults have mental illnesses, but are uninsured.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly 22 veterans die by suicide per day in America.

A study done by The National Institute of Drug Abuse showed that of the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, 25 percent returned showing signs of substance abuse.

The Veterans Affairs is responsible for providing service to the nation's veterans. According to Davenport and other veterans, the VA is becoming an unattractive option for them with many veterans saying it is a broken system.

"If I had to choose between going to the VA or just paying for help, I'd rather pay," said Davenport. "The VA shouldn't be the only option for veterans."

Some people may not be aware of how severe mental illness can become and what it can lead to. If not seen firsthand, it is hard to grasp how detrimental these illnesses are. Therapists, however, see firsthand how mental health can affect a person.

When speaking with licensed therapist Carla O'Hara, it was clear how important mental health regulation and care is for Americans.

According to O'Hara, mental illness is the root cause of a barrage of other conditions. Weight gain or loss, heart palpitations, mood swings and other conditions may begin from a pre-existing mental health issue.

The most important topic regarding mental health in the upcoming election is how Americans in every socioeconomic status will be able to afford access to mental healthcare, O'Hara said.

"These politicians need to take a look at the Affordable Care Act and do better," O'Hara said. "They can call it whatever they want- as long as mental health is included and every level of government understands the importance of mental health care. Not just for the people who can afford it, but for everyone."

With the 2020 election coming November 3rd, it is important for every American to look at what each candidate is saying about mental health care. There should be no argument that it is equally as important as any other form of health care.

Mental health does not only affect the veterans that fight for the country, but it also affects Americans of every extent, regardless of class or status. It is not an issue of if mental health care should be accounted for, but how it will be accounted for by the next president.