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House passes mental health bill, Arciero bill for veterans seeking mental health services on college campuses included

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BOSTON — The Massachusetts House of Representatives recently passed unanimously House Bill 4869, An Act addressing barriers to care for mental health, with language included from a bill filed by State Representative James Arciero to address mental health services for veterans on state college campuses— a priority of Representative Arciero during both this legislative session, as well as the last one when the proposal was originally filed for consideration.  

The wide-ranging bill includes initiatives to create online portals that will provide access to real-time data on youth and adults seeking mental health and substance use services; increased access across the Commonwealth to immediate behavioral health care through the implementation of the nationwide 988 hotline for 24/7 suicide prevention and behavioral health crisis services; initiates a public awareness campaign on the Commonwealth’s red flag law and extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs) that limit access to guns for people at risk of hurting themselves or others; enhances school-based behavioral health services and increases access points for youth for effective behavioral health treatment.

The bill also develops an education program with the University of Massachusetts medical school in Worcester that will train mental health professionals on military service-related behavioral health conditions — language from a bill Representative James Arciero filed for the last two legislative sessions.

“I an incredibly honored to vote alongside my colleagues today to enact legislation that will directly benefit our veterans in our colleges and universities,” State Representative James Arciero said. 

“As a former eight-year member of the Joint Committee on Veteran and Federal Affairs, as well as being a member of a family with two members serving multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, I know first-hand that veterans have a myriad of mental health needs and challenges, due to their time overseas, in both actual service and from training experiences, and that our public universities and colleges should be aware of, and trained to handle, and assist with when veterans enter higher education,” the Representative added.

“Student veterans are one of the fastest growing segments of the veterans’ community here in Massachusetts,” said Coleman Nee, a Marine Corps veteran who served during the Gulf War and was the Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans Affairs from 2011 to 2015. “These individuals bring a tremendous amount of experience, knowledge and unique perspectives to our classrooms and campuses. Unfortunately, reintegration to civilian and student life can be challenging.”   

The original bill filed by Arciero, House Bill 3656, An Act relative to the training of higher education counselors in PTSD, would task the University of Massachusetts medical school to develop a continuing education program for clinical and non-clinical counselors on the 29 public college campuses to understand, recognize and address military, service member and veteran’s post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, it would create outreach programs that deal with symptoms of depression, suicide ideation, substance abuse and deployment-related insomnia for veterans on college campuses.

The bill was previously reported out favorably by the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, chaired by State Senator John Velis and State Representative Paul McMurtry.

“Mental health is, and will continue to be, a major priority for myself and this legislative body,” Rep. Arciero added. “Every person in the Commonwealth deserves high-quality services and care so they can live a more dignified life, whether in the workplace, at home, or in the classroom, especially our brave women and men who served our country in uniform.”