Padilla Introduces Bill to Improve Access to Mental Health Care for Military Children

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) introduced legislation to ensure that children of military families, who are at a greater risk for mental and behavioral health problems than the general population, have access to mental health screenings and check-ups at Department of Defense Education Activity schools (DoDEA). This legislation builds on efforts in the House of Representatives by Congressman Seth Moulton (D-Mass.-06) to include language in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act to address this issue.

The Supporting Mental Health for Military Children Act of 2023 would direct the DoD to establish a pilot program to provide routine mental health screenings or check-ups for common disorders for children ages 3-17, including questions about patients’ mood, emotional state, habits, and behaviors.

“As the father of three boys I understand that our nation’s children are facing a significant mental health crisis – one that disproportionately impacts our servicemembers and their children,” said Senator Padilla. “We can no longer turn a blind eye to students experiencing mental health challenges in military schools. That’s why my bill would help make early detection of mental and behavioral health problems the norm in all DoDEA schools. Military families who have sacrificed in order to serve our nation deserve no less.”

“The fact that nearly half of high school students report experiencing persistent feelings of sadness means that the status quo must change,” said Congressman Seth Moulton. “Creating this pilot program for students in the DOD community has many benefits: it will directly help kids who face unique challenges and stressors, and it will set the example for the rest of the country. I’m proud to have submitted this program for inclusion in the next National Defense Authorization Act, and to have the partnership of Senator Padilla on this important initiative.”

Padilla is introducing this legislation as our nation’s youth face an unprecedented mental health crisis. An estimated 49.5% of American adolescents have had a mental health disorder at some point in their lives, with 50% of all lifetime mental illnesses beginning by age 14 and 75% by age 24. Early screening and treatment are essential to decreasing the risk of suicide and improving management of and recovery from mental health conditions. Padilla previously introduced the Comprehensive Mental Health in Schools Pilot Program Act, which would direct the Secretary of Education to establish a $20 million 4-year pilot grant program to help schools address mental and behavioral well-being.

A one-pager of the bill is available here.

Full text of the bill is available here


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