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Veterans push for new bill that would provide greater access to mental health care

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SALEM, OR (KPTV) -

Veterans and their families are lobbying lawmakers in Salem to provide greater access to mental health care.

Senate Bill 1054, currently being considered by the Joint Committee on Rules, would temporarily relax the state's requirement that hospitals secure a "Certificate of Need," before adding inpatient beds for mental health.

Julie Terry, whose brother recently committed suicide while serving in the National Guard, has been appealing to lawmakers to pass the bill.

"They stood up for us, and they left on the Governor's orders," said Terry. "So I think that we are obligated to stand up for them and take care of them when they return."

Terry said the search history on her brother's computer revealed he had been researching treatment options shortly before his death.

Justin Brecht, Policy Director for Senator Kim Thatcher, and a former combat marine, said SB 1054 would remove barriers to hospitals willing to provide additional services.

Brecht recently lost his brother-in-law, who served with him in Iraq, to alcohol abuse related to post-traumatic stress.

"We tried to get him into care, but there weren't any beds available at the time," said Brecht. "When somebody needs help, they need help right away. It's not something that can wait for months, and that's what happened to him."

Not everyone thinks SB 1054 is the right solution, including Senator Ginny Burdick. 

In a statement released by her office, Burdick said "I believe that SB 1054 is written too broadly, and I am working to reach a consensus that improves access and quality of services to veterans without doing anything inadvertently that is detrimental to the Certificate of Need."

Burdick said she believes the Certificate of Need requirement helps control health care costs by allowing the state to put resources where they are most needed.

Brecht said the state is currently at or near capacity when it comes to inpatient mental health services.

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