Veterans need treatment, not imprisonment
Our government must honor its commitment to make sure service members are never left behind. That includes making sure they get treatment for mental disorders caused by the trauma of war.
Thousands of the men and women return home physically or mentally scarred after serving our country proudly. We must make sure these heroes receive treatment to allow them to live fulfilling lives and make sure they don’t harm themselves or others.
Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi’s unjust detention in Mexican jail for 214 days highlights this problem. Tahmooressi is a Marine and an Afghan War Veteran who was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) shortly before he was detained last March. Mexican authorities arrested him after he crossed the border with guns in his car. His lawyer argued successfully that Tahmooressi crossed the border by mistake and that PTSD played a role.
I coauthored the bipartisan House Resolution 620 telling Mexico to send home our Marine. I sent letters to Tahmooressi’s lawyer and the judge responsible for the case pushing for his return to the United States for treatment of his PTSD. Sitting in Mexican jail for hundreds of days robbed Tahmooressi of necessary treatment and might have worsened his condition. He needed treatment, not punishment.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD affects 10 percent to 18 percent of troops that served in Afghanistan and Iraq. PTSD occurs after experiencing traumatic events, like those often seen on the battlefield, and can develop after troops leave the combat zone. This can be successfully treated with psychotherapy and medications. However, if the condition goes untreated it can lead to depression and anxiety, heavy drug and alcohol use, and destroy personal relationships.
Veterans like Tahmooressi deserve proper treatment for PTSD. Our commitment to never leave service members behind doesn’t end once they come home. With the VA scandals, we’ve seen that too often our country has let down our veterans. I’ve worked diligently to ensure the men and women who serve our country aren’t left behind when it comes to their health. In August, the House of Representatives passed major reforms to the VA that were signed into law.
These reforms will help ensure veterans receive timely and comprehensive care from the VA, especially those who are suffering from PTSD. It’s critical the VA implements these reforms immediately and get Sergeant Tahmooressi and all of our veterans the care they have earned.
Paul Cook represents the Eighth District of California in the United States House of Representatives.