Tactical

Lawmakers push for better mental health care for new moms

The leaders of a special House panel on military quality of life issues are pushing the Defense Department to launch a new pilot program providing targeted mental health care to pregnant service members and new parents.

Their proposal — the Maintaining Our Obligation to Moms who Serve Act — could be included among a host of expected quality of life proposals expected to be unveiled by the House Armed Services Committee later this year. Comparison legislation was also introduced in the Senate on Thursday.

In a joint release announcing the plan, Reps. Don Bacon, R-Neb., and Chrissy Houlahan, D-Penn., said the goal of the plan is “to reduce the rates of poor mental health conditions among mothers in the military and improve the military readiness of service members.”

The pair lead the committee’s military quality of life panel, which for the last nine months has been interviewing troops, spouses and military leaders to determine how to fix gaps in benefits and support services for military families.

Under the proposal, the number of sites and service members involved would be left to military officials, with some general guidelines. The legislation would set aside $25 million for the five-year program.

“Having given birth to my first daughter while in the Air Force, I know first-hand how pregnancy can take a toll on a mother’s mental health and impact their ability to do their job,” Houlahan said in a statement.

“We cannot expect our men and women in uniform to be ready to defend our country if we are not providing them with mental health resources, which must include perinatal and postpartum care.”

A 2022 study by the Government Accountability Office found that one in three mothers in the military experience some maternal mental health conditions, a significantly higher rate than the civilian population (about one in five women).

Congress has approved measures in recent years to increase access to postpartum care in Military Treatment Facilities, to include mental health assessments, pelvic health evaluation, and other related therapies.

Supporters said this measure would push those services even further. The Senate legislation was introduced by Senate Armed Services Committee members Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Deb Fischer, R-Neb.

The House quality of life panel is expected to unveil a series of proposals in early spring designed to help military families for inclusion in the annual defense authorization bill debate. That legislation has passed each year for more than six decades, but typically is not signed into law until late in the year.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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