Editor’s note: This article by Rebecca Kheel originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.
Service members who are pregnant or just gave birth could get specialized mental health care under a pilot program proposed by the leaders of a House panel focused on military quality of life.
The Maintaining Our Obligation to Moms, or MOMS, Who Serve Act, which was introduced in Congress this week, would establish a five-year, $25 million pilot program to provide evidence-based perinatal mental health programs for pregnant and postpartum service members and other beneficiaries in military treatment facilities.
"Having given birth to my first daughter while in the Air Force, I know firsthand how pregnancy can take a toll on a mother's mental health and impact their ability to do their job, and for our servicewomen, that includes protecting our national security," Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., said in a statement announcing the bill's introduction in the House. "We cannot expect our men and women in uniform to be ready to defend our country if we are not providing them with mental health resources, which must include perinatal and postpartum care."
Houlahan and the bill's other House sponsor, Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., are the ranking member and chairman, respectively, of the House Armed Services Committee's quality-of-life panel. An identical bill was also introduced in the Senate this week by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Deb Fischer, R-Neb., both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Houlahan and Bacon's backing of the bill suggests it could be wrapped into the quality-of-life panel's final report, which will provide recommendations for reforms that could be included in the annual defense policy bill that lawmakers will consider later this year.
The House panel has spent months examining issues such as health care, housing and pay that affect service members' well-being. The group has held briefings with Defense Department officials, military spouses and military advocacy groups, and is aiming to release its final report next month.
The issue of mental health care for pregnant and postpartum service members has been raised during the panel's briefings, and Houlahan has asked briefers questions about the issue, particularly during the panel's health care-focused meetings, a spokesperson for the congresswoman told Military.com on Friday.
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The bill comes after a Government Accountability Office report in 2022 found service members face mental health conditions during the perinatal period at a higher rate than civilians. While one in five civilian women will experience depression during or within a year of pregnancy, about one in three service members receive a new mental health diagnosis during or shortly after pregnancy, according to the GAO report.
Lawmakers have previously tried to improve postpartum care in military treatment facilities with a bill passed in 2021 that required mental health assessments, pelvic health evaluation and treatment, and considerations for physical therapy, among other areas.
The MOMS Who Serve Act aims to build on those previous improvements, according to a news release from Houlahan's office.
"The perinatal mental health bill will reduce the alarming rates of postpartum mental health conditions with evidence-based treatment," Bacon said in a statement included in the news release. "As chairman of the House Armed Services quality-of-life panel, it is important to me that we are taking care of our servicewomen and spouses."
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