Congressman confronts Camp Lejeune mental health furloughs

By THOMAS BRENNAN | The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C. | Published: July 29, 2013

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — In a recent letter to the Secretary of Defense, a North Carolina congressman challenges the decision to furlough mental health staff aboard Camp Lejeune.

“We have so many troops that have mental wounds from Iraq and Afghanistan,” Congressman Walter Jones said during a telephone interview. “They need that availability that someone is there for them when they need it.”

On July 23, Jones sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense about furloughs affecting, on average, more than 1,860 patients treated weekly at the Naval Hospital, Camp Lejeune’s mental health directorate and Marine Corps Community Services. In the letter, Jones urged Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to give service men and women “the high quality mental health care they desperately need.”

The furloughs, which are a byproduct of sequestration, began July 8 and will render more than 800 appointments unavailable to Marines and sailors during the 11-week furlough, according to base mental and behavioral health officials.

The mental health needs of local troops, Jones said, will not abate.

“It’s a very serious situation and I hate to say it, but I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Jones said. “The real problem is coming in the fall of 2014. ...The more troops that come home mentally and physically injured will just add to this problem.”

In his letter, Jones urges Hagel to end the furloughs of base mental health workers.

“Many service members in my district receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury are suffering because of the furloughs,” Jones wrote.

“These veterans and active duty service members depend on civilian mental health care workers for treatment, which is increasingly delayed as more individuals seek treatment and the capacity to provide care decreases as employees are furloughed,” Jones wrote.

Jones said he expects a response from Hagel within the next two to three weeks, adding that as a combat-wounded veteran himself, Hagel understands what service members are going through and that he will ensure appropriate care is restored.

The congressman said future actions will be determined by the response.