ARLINGTON, Va. — Two leading Democratic senators have called for new measures to ensure that U.S. troops with mental health problems are not sent to the combat zone.

U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said they have added a provision to the proposed 2007 Defense Authorization Bill that would require U.S. troops to undergo extensive mental screening before deploying and mandate that troops be given immediate access to mental health care providers.

Boxer said thousands of U.S. troops have psychological problems that come with serving multiple combat tours.

“So far, the Pentagon has failed to adequately address the mental health problems of our troops,” she said.

Under the proposed legislation, U.S. troops would have to provide a complete mental history, say what medications they are taking and undergo an assessment of any behavior identified by unit commanders that might indicate a disorder prior to deploying, Boxer said.

“If a servicemember shows symptoms or indicators of a mental health condition during this assessment, that’s when they must be referred to a credentialed mental health care professional for further observation,” Boxer said.

Commanders would not be able to deploy servicemembers deemed to have a duty-limiting condition without first getting clearance from a mental health care professional, Boxer said.

“A unit commander cannot override a medical determination that a servicemember has a duty-limiting mental health condition unless they get a second opinion from a mental health professional that overrides the first opinion,” Lieberman said.

He said the proposed legislation would also mandate that deployed servicemembers who want to see a mental health care professional must be able to do so within 72 hours or at the earliest available opportunity.

Boxer said she has talked to Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs William Winkenwerder about the proposed legislation but found him “defensive” and insisted that “everything is fine” with troops’ mental health support.

“So what we’re facing here is, you know, is an administration that just says everything is fine, and we don’t think everything is fine,” she said.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Winkenwerder said he remembers having a “very good” conversation with Boxer in which she mentioned she had some ideas on improving troops’ mental health support but did not share them.

While he welcomes ideas on how to improve mental health support for troops, Winkenwerder said he could not comment on the proposed legislation because he has not seen it.

Asked about Boxer’s contention that the Pentagon was not providing adequate mental health support for U.S. troops, Winkenwerder said, “No military in history has done more to identify, evaluate, prevent and treat mental health needs and concerns of its personnel than this Department of Defense.”

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