New law in Alabama ensures mental healthcare for veterans

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) -Alabama lawmakers are taking strides to ensure veterans have access to quality mental healthcare.

Senate Bill 135 passed this year at Alabama’s House and went into effect on June 1st.

The law establishes a Veterans Mental Health Steering Committee of 20 members, comprised of state agency heads, public officials and other stakeholders.

“We’re seeing more and more interest and attention being given to veterans’ well-being and veterans’ mental health,” said Brandon Miller, public information manager with the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs.

He says the committee will help ensure the mental health needs of every veteran in the state of Alabama.

“Over the last several years, we’ve been averaging about 145-155 veteran suicides per year,” Miller.

It’s a topic Tim Riley, a circuit court judge in Marshall County knows all too well. After 37 years of military service, he oversees the Veterans Court. A program rehabilitating veterans who have difficulty adjusting after coming home.

He said the mental toll is one of the biggest obstacles our veterans face.

“People get killed, you see people that are burned, injured. Your people, the bad guys. But you see, mostly what sticks with you is when your guys get hurt and it sticks with you,” said Riley.

Riley said it can be difficult for former combat veterans to disclose or process what they’ve seen in a battle.

That is where the new committee established by the Senate Bill will come in.

“It’s long past due. I just, my hat is off to the legislature for getting this pushed through.”

Miller said the committee will develop a comprehensive mental healthcare plan tailored to our veterans which will be implemented statewide. It’s in the early stages, with members of the committee still waiting to be appointed, but things are in motion.

“That comprehensive plan for bridging the gap for identifying what the state needs to do will be presented to the state and house military and veterans committees for their input, their review and then after that, it will go to the governor,” said Miller.

Miller says the new steering committee will meet for the first time this August.

He says they are set to draft that comprehensive healthcare plan to propose to Governor Ivey by June of 2025.

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