Steven Sodders, Wally Horn

Iowa state Sen. Steven Sodders, D-State Center, left, speaks during a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee special meeting about the Iowa Veterans Home as Sen. Wally Horn, D-Cedar Rapids, looks on May 6, 2013, at the Statehouse in Des Moines. A group wants more psychiatric services and suicide prevention counseling for veterans. 

CEDAR RAPIDS | An Iowa veterans group is calling on the state Legislature to expand psychiatric services and suicide prevention counseling for veterans, and allow victims of military sexual assault through civilian courts.

The legislation being proposed by the Veterans’ National Recovery Center is “crucial for the recovery” of many veterans, especially those who have served since 9/11, said the group’s president, Bob Krause, of Des Moines.

The group wants to expand psychiatric services at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown. Services there have shrunk even as veterans have been returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan, Krause said. Many have conditions caused by post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

He said the facility is functioning as a nursing home for elderly veterans rather than as a long-term treatment and recovery center.

“We aim to reverse that,” Krause said. He estimates Iowa has about half of the 1,500 psychiatric beds needed. The veterans’ home had between 20 and 30 at one time.

He has an ally on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center. He has pushed for increased psychiatric services at the veterans’ home.

However, a major obstacle is the lack of psychologists and psychiatrists, Sodders said. Another challenge is funding the staff and services.

Another VNRC proposal would require insurance companies to cover professional counseling services for veterans as well as Guard and Reserve members identified with suicidal tendencies.

A third proposal would address the scarcity of legal resources within the military for victims of military sexual assault even when the Guard member or reservist was on active duty and covered by federal law.

Sexual assault incidents often are reported with no follow through, Krause said. There is one judge advocate general for about 6,000 Guard and Reserve members in a five-state area including Iowa, he said.

“Iowa needs to take care of its own, and punish those that act in this reprehensible manner,” he said.

Finally, the VNRC wants to protect whistleblowers in the National Guard in response to legislation that some see as a gag rule on Guard members, Krause said.

Chairmen of the Iowa House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees did not immediately respond to request for comment on the proposals.

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