Shaheen Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Provide Perinatal Mental Health Support for Female Service Members
(Washington, DC) - U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a senior member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, introduced the Maintaining our Obligation to Moms (MOMs) who Serve Act, bipartisan legislation that would provide mental health support for female service members before and after they give birth. The bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE), also a senior member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. U.S. Representatives Chrissy Houlahan (PA-06) and Don Bacon (NE-02) introduced a companion bill in the House.
“All too often, the mental health needs of new moms fall to the wayside as they adapt to life with a newborn—and this rings especially true for the brave women serving in our military,” said Senator Shaheen. “I’m proud to introduce the bipartisan Maintaining our Obligation to Moms (MOMs) who Serve Act. This bill would establish perinatal mental health prevention programs and ensure that service women get the information and supports they need from those most equipped to help. Service women sacrifice so much for our nation—it’s our duty to ensure they have access to the best mental health care possible before and after they give birth.”
“Moms in military families suffer from maternal mental health conditions at higher rates than other Americans,” said Senator Fischer. “Our service members and their spouses deserve our support to help prevent and treat these conditions, which only grow more severe if ignored. Our bill will test the best ways to keep these new mothers healthy and prevent maternal mental health conditions before they start.”
“Having given birth to my first daughter while in the Air Force, I know first-hand how pregnancy can take a toll on a mother’s mental health and impact their ability to do their job, and for our servicewomen, that includes protecting our national security,” said Houlahan. “We cannot expect our men and women in uniform to be ready to defend our country if we are not providing them with mental health resources, which must include perinatal and postpartum care. I look forward to seeing this pilot come to fruition to improve another aspect of our service members' quality of life.”
“Almost one third of postpartum servicemembers or their spouses experience a maternal mental health condition which puts them at risk for suicide or drug overdoses,” said Bacon. “The Perinatal Mental Health Bill will reduce the alarming rates of postpartum mental health conditions with evidence-based treatment. As Chairman of the House Armed Services Quality of Life panel, it is important to me that we are taking care of our servicewomen and spouses.”
Studies have also shown that active-duty service members and their spouses experience rates of perinatal mental health diagnoses nearly double that of the national average. In May 2022, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on perinatal mental health and the military, finding almost all branches of the military had a higher rate of perinatal mental health diagnoses than the national average. The report showed that 36% of all TRICARE beneficiaries experienced a perinatal mental health condition, including 62% of retirees, 37% of active-duty service members and 35% of military spouses.
In order to reduce high rates of perinatal mental health (PMH) conditions among our uniformed services, the MOMS Act would create a pilot program at the Department of Defense (DoD) to implement evidence-based PMH prevention programs at Military Treatment Facilities in geographically diverse locations. PMH prevention programs have a proven track record of reducing rates of mental health diagnoses in pregnant and post-partum mothers as well as reducing the severity of symptoms by teaching parents how to reduce stress, improve communication and build social support. The bill would also create an advisory committee comprised of service members and beneficiaries with lived experience as well as experts in the field to help ensure the most impactful pilot is established. The MOMS Act has been endorsed by the Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance, the National Military Families Association and the Military Officers Association of America.
Since arriving in the Senate, Senator Shaheen has spearheaded efforts in support of military families. Earlier this month, Shaheen and U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), sent a bipartisan letter to the Department of Defense (DoD) urging the agency to implement a Leave Without Pay policy (LWOP), which would allow the spouses of service members, who may experience professional gaps during relocation periods, to apply for federal jobs and access existing benefits that they otherwise risk losing.
In the government funding legislation for fiscal year (FY) 2022, Shaheen successfully secured $3 million to implement her bipartisan legislation to improve the transferability of military spouses’ occupational licenses and helps alleviate the burden spouses endure if they’re small business owners from having to constantly re-register their businesses as they move from state to state with their families. In FY 2023 government funding legislation, Shaheen supported the inclusion of $25 million for the Beyond Yellow Ribbon (BYR) program, which funds the New Hampshire National Guard’s Care Coordination Program. BYR programs provide outreach services to troops returning from deployment, including health care, marriage and financial counseling, substance misuse treatment and mental health services. Shaheen previously helped introduce legislation to amend the tax code to provide businesses a financial incentive to hire military spouses and create new flexible spending accounts (FSAs) to make it easier for military families to afford child care.