VA Refuses to Allow Cuomo's Gun Control to Endanger Veterans' Health

Jim A., a two-tour veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, said he can see fellow veterans holding back on getting mental health treatment because of the reporting requirement. "I can't talk to someone about my level of disconnect for fear of my information being shared when I go to buy a rifle."

This week has seen two setbacks for New York liberal fascists. Mayor Bloomberg lost his soda ban and Governor Cuomo was told that medical privacy laws and providing health care for vets takes precedence over his gun control scheme.

The federal Department of Veterans Affairs says its mental health professionals won't comply with a new gun law in New York that requires them to report the names of patients they believe likely to hurt themselves or others.

VA spokesman Mark Ballesteros says federal laws protecting veterans' treatment records take precedence.

Several veterans and their advocates say it would deter many from seeking counseling and medications to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder or other psychological issues. Veterans fear their rights would be taken away.

Mark Ballesteros, spokesperson for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said in an email statement that "federal laws safeguarding the confidentiality of veterans' treatment records do not authorize VA mental health professionals to comply with this NY State law."

Cuomo was a driving force behind the SAFE Act, which was introduced and passed by the Legislature without public debate in the wake of the massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. When he signed it in January, the governor said that the law's mental health reporting requirement was "common sense."

For veterans and active-duty military members, who already face serious cultural obstacles to receiving care and suffer higher rates of suicide, especially with firearms, than the general population, these concerns are all the more acute.

"There is a chilling effect on people getting care, and we're particularly concerned about veterans," said John Richter director of public policy at the state Mental Health Association. "We have a hard enough time getting veterans in for PTSD. Veterans are a prime example of someone who would have a disincentive to go."

A 2011 report by the RAND Corporation on New York veterans' needs, commissioned by the state Health Foundation, found that more than one in five veterans returned with post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression — rates two to four times higher than the general population for major depression, and eight times higher for PTSD.

Yet only a third of surveyed veterans with a mental health need sought care, often driven away by fears about the confidentiality of their treatment and the possibility of losing respect from colleagues and supervisors. RAND concluded that barriers to treatment — and the view that seeking mental health care was undesirable — needed to be moved aside to improve services and enrollment.

Some providers fear these forces keeping veterans away from care will now be exacerbated by the SAFE Act.

"In my experience, a lot of veterans that I've worked with have some kind of a weapon on them, just in terms of self-protection," said Connie Przepasniak, a licensed mental health counselor in Buffalo and member of the board of directors of the Western New York Veterans Housing Coalition and the Veterans One-Stop Center of Western New York. In the past, she worked as a counselor for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. "And I think it's going to prevent them from seeking mental health treatment."

But once the law goes into effect, care providers who encounter suicidal or otherwise dangerous patients will have no choice but to report.

Mental Health Association chapters across the state, as well as National Association of Social Workers New York State, the New York State Psychiatric Association and the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitative Services, Inc. have expressed concerns about the bill's possible effects on New Yorkers with mental illnesses.

Jim A., a two-tour veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, did seek out mental health services when he returned for good. (He asked that his last name not be used to protect his privacy.) At the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany, doctors diagnosed him with PTSD.

But while he actively sought care, he said he can also see fellow veterans holding back on getting mental health treatment because of the reporting requirement.

"I can't talk to someone about my level of disconnect for fear of my information being shared when I go to buy a rifle," he said, putting himself in another veteran's shoes.

"The sharing of information is a huge concern because, hey, if I want to get a new gun, I better not see the doctor. I better figure this out here by myself."

But who cares about the health care needs of vets when the left sees a chance to wipe out an amendment in the Bill of Rights?