Column: Bill helps veterans dealing with opioid addiction

The Promise Act encourages transparency and accountability at the VA and increases safety for opioid therapy and pain management. Associated Press
The Promise Act encourages transparency and accountability at the VA and increases safety for opioid therapy and pain management.Associated Press
Published July 15 2016
Updated July 15 2016

This week, the Senate advanced crucial legislation to help our veterans. Important provisions included in the landmark Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act will help veterans who are battling opioid addiction, struggling with mental health issues and working to transition into civilian life.

We have a mental health crisis in our nation. This legislation will help address this crisis, especially within the veteran community.

Our veterans have been my top priority from day one. They are our true American heroes and, unfortunately, our administration has let them down many times.

The constant barrage of sickening headlines related to wait times and lack of attentive care coming out of the Department of Veterans Affairs is unacceptable. Reports on new statistics highlighting veteran suicide (now 20 veterans a day according to the VA), and stories of their struggles when they return home from service further embolden me to think outside the box to offer returning veterans everything that they deserve.

Our veterans often return with both physical and mental wounds. The invisible wounds they sustain serving our country are just as serious as the physical ones, and we must find the best ways to care for each and every one of them.

My Promise Act and Cover Act, which now head to the president's desk, will bring about necessary reforms at the VA to ensure our veterans have access to safe, quality, personalized care.

The Jason Simcakoski Promoting Responsible Opioid Management and Incorporating Scientific Expertise or the Promise Act (HR 4063) will encourage transparency and accountability at the VA and increase safety for opioid therapy and pain management.

This legislation will require: the VA and Defense Department to update their clinical practice guidelines for management of opioid therapy for chronic pain; VA opioid prescribers to have enhanced pain management and safe opioid prescribing education and training; and the VA to increase information-sharing with state licensing boards.

Too often, our veterans are offered ineffective care in the form of a pill bottle. We must stop the overprescribing of opioids and work to promote safe, alternative forms of therapy for those who can benefit from them.

Additionally, the Promise Act will authorize a program on integration of complementary and integrative health modalities within the VA and encourage more outreach and awareness of patient advocacy program to educate veterans on their care options.

The Cover Act will further change the way the VA approaches the treatment of mental health. This bipartisan provision provides a pathway forward that will eventually allow veterans to have a range of options for mental health treatments such as outdoor sports therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, accelerated resolution therapy and service dog therapy.

When it comes to our veterans' mental health care needs, one size does not fit all. The Cover Act will give our veterans a choice to determine what options work best for them. This will bring about more personalized, targeted care to ensure each and every one of our veterans sees positive results.

Our veterans have sacrificed so much for our country, and we have a responsibility to ensure they are receiving the quality of care they have earned and deserve.

The victory this week would not have been possible without the commitment and tireless work of so many. I heard from families back home, stakeholders, veterans and advocates, and together we were able to make necessary reforms and investments to truly take a stand and save lives.

The Promise and Cover Acts will change the way the VA addresses mental health issues; it will hopefully change the way our entire nation treats mental health.

Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, represents Florida's 12th District in the U.S. Congress.