By Matthew Jack | firstname.lastname@example.org
Nine weeks away from Nov. 8, the major party presidential candidates are shifting gears to more directly address military voters by emphasizing their mental healthcare plans.
In step with higher scrutiny regarding the practices of VA facilities nationwide, the candidates have zeroed in on veterans’ interests with a string of military-focused speeches and press releases.
Wednesday — a day after airing an ad attacking Trump for his heated exchanges with veterans —Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton unveiled Iowa Veteran and Military Families for Hillary in a press release, a group which “includes 54 Iowans who have served our nation in the armed services and are supporting Hillary Clinton for president.”
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Both candidates will speak Wednesday night at a televised forum sponsored by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, where they will “take questions on national security, military affairs and veterans issues from NBC News and an audience comprised mainly of IAVA military veterans and members of the military,” according to the organization’s website.
While both Clinton and Trump have addressed mental health, they differ in the scope of their audience.
Clinton’s mental health care plan — which she released in August — includes plans for suicide prevention and veteran’s access to treatment, as well as a lack of counseling staff on college campuses.
In a press release accompanying her plan, Clinton says her “plan will integrate our mental and physical health care systems. Her goal is that within her time in office, Americans will no longer separate mental health from physical health when it comes to access to care or quality of treatment,” citing her conversations about mental health policy with “American parents, students, veterans, nurses, and police officers about how these challenges keep them up at night.”
Her Republican rival Donald Trump outlines his healthcare reform plan on his website, but devotes only a paragraph to mental health:
“Finally, we need to reform our mental health programs and institutions in this country. Families, without the ability to get the information needed to help those who are ailing, are too often not given the tools to help their loved ones. There are promising reforms being developed in Congress that should receive bi-partisan support.”
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Trump spoke about a VA reform plan during an address to the American Legion earlier this month, which included appointing “a commission to investigate all the wrongdoing at the VA,” and ensuring “every veteran in America gets timely access to top-quality care.
During Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst’s 2nd annual Roast & Ride fundraiser last month, he also remarked that he would never again “allow a Veteran to die waiting for the care they need.”
In July, Iowa City’s Veteran’s Affairs hospital came under scrutiny for turning away an Iraq War veteran seeking mental health treatment who was later committed suicide.
Iowa Republican Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, as well as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) wrote to the VA seeking answers as to what procedures could be put into place to ensure a similar situation would not occur again. U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa City) was troubled by the lack of transparency shown by the VA, who said in a statement that they could not share details regarding specific medical situations.
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While both candidates seem to be tying mental health issues in with their pitches to veteran voters, a lack of available mental health resources is also effecting campus life.
The International Association of Counseling Services recommends that college mental health services have at least one full-time counselor for every 1,000 to 1,500 students. This year, UI was ranked last among Big Ten schools for adequate counseling staff, with 12 full-time counselors and an enrollment of over 32,000 students.
This year, UI Counseling Service Director Barry Schreier said UI planned to add eight full-time counselors by fall 2017. The UI Counseling website currently lists 17 senior staff members.
“Mental health nationally on college campuses is a growing concern in terms of severity and complexity,” Schreier said in an e-mail.
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Regarding an increase in Clinton’s plan promises to “dramatically increase funding for campus suicide prevention, investing up to $50 million per year to provide a pathway for the country’s nearly 5,000 colleges.”
Schreier believes that increasing funding is an important part of the solution that also requires “very deliberately deciding what scale of service is needed and how best to make use of resources to meet that scale.”
In addition to her financial investment, Clinton recommends “an interdisciplinary team (including but not limited to school leadership, faculty, students, and personnel from counseling, health services, student affairs, and the office supporting students with disabilities) to oversee the campus’s mental health policies and programming.”
“As an administrator,” Schreier said, “I am gladdened by [UI’s] response to the concerns that have been raised about mental health resources on our campus so we can develop a resource scaled to meet the needs we have.”
Follow Matthew Jack (@matthewmjack) on Twitter for updates on the campaign trail in Iowa