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Colorado Springs mom lauds Trump's order on mental health care for returning vets

January 10, 2018 Updated: January 12, 2018 at 10:10 am
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To help him cope with his PTSD, Noah Harter would sometimes climb the Manitou Incline twice a day. In 2015, Noah took his own life. His Marine boots, dog tags and hat are among his possessions that his parents have to remember him. They held an enlargement of a photo of Noah on Feb. 21, 2017, at the base of the incline near where they hope to put a memorial bench. (Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette file)

A Colorado Springs Gold Star Mom who lost her combat-veteran son to suicide in 2015, Kim Harter is applauding an executive order signed Tuesday by President Trump that provides unconditional access to mental health care for veterans transitioning out of the military.

"Mental health is nothing to keep postponing," she said in an email. "I believe this is a great step in assisting first year veterans with their 'new duty' of healing from the trauma of war."

Trump's order will grant veterans "seamless" access to psychological and suicide prevention services and resources for at least a year after their separation from service, a critical period when the symptoms of PTSD can begin to take root and treatment can be most effective.

Research shows that among the veteran population, the risk of suicide is highest - as much as double - among "new" veterans. But currently, about 60 percent don't qualify for mental health care because they lack an official diagnosis tying the need to a specific medical issue resulting from their time in the military.

It can take time for the symptoms of PTSD to manifest, however, Harter said.

"Not all wounds of war are visible," she said. "The road of transition for these men and women veterans is hard."

Marine Cpl. Noah Harter served almost 300 combat missions during the surges in Irag and Afghanistan. After returning home, though, he struggled with escalating symptoms of PTSD, including depression and insomnia, and repeatedly sought help from VA's Floyd K Lindstrom Clinic in the Springs. Despite the fact that he'd been identified as a high risk suicide patient, Noah was sent home from his final clinic visit with a powerful antidepressant known to increase suicidal thoughts in some patients, and no scheduled follow-up appointments.

In the almost-three years since Noah's death, Kim and Mark Harter have become strong advocates for reform in the system that failed their son. The couple shared their story in a Gazette article, An Ideal Marine, on May 28.

Kim Harter said she believes the new executive guidelines, due to go into effect March 9, will give new veterans options before they start down the "path of hopelessness" that Noah fought - but ultimately failed - to escape on his own.

"This legislation will hopefully prevent our vets from losing their lives in the parking lots of VA centers because they were waiting for mental healthcare approval," she said. "My prayer is for these warriors to now know that they are not on duty any longer. They have earned the right to have the best care available to help them heal."

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