Northville, MI (Law Firm Newswire) April 6, 2017 – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will soon offer urgent mental health care to thousands of veterans with less-than-honorable discharges. The services are part of the agency’s expanded efforts to reduce high suicide rates among former service members.
VA Secretary David Shulkin emphasized the need to act as soon as possible rather than wait for legislation to pass Congress. Speaking to members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, he noted that most of the veterans who have committed suicide did not have access to VA care.
“Far too many veterans are trying to cope with mental health issues without having access to the treatment that they need,” said Jim Fausone, a Michigan veterans attorney. “Former service members with bad paper discharges have traditionally been denied access to mental health care and rendered ineligible for a range of VA benefits, increasing their risk of suicide. This change in policy will be a crucial step forward for thousands of veterans and their families.”
The VA is aiming to provide mental health care services to at-risk veterans with other-than-honorable military discharges by summer. The department is expected to release a directive for hospitals on treatment options and outreach in the next several months. Shulkin’s announcement about the expanded coverage drew applause from lawmakers and veterans groups who attended the hearing in March.
“This is a national emergency that requires bold action,” said Shulkin. “So many veterans are just disconnected from our system. The 20 a day committing suicide are not getting the care they need.”
Less-than-honorable discharges are usually given for substance abuse, violence and other types of misconduct. They can prevent veterans from receiving health care or disability benefits. However, veterans advocacy groups have argued that many such dismissals occur due to undiagnosed mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Around 22,000 veterans diagnosed with traumatic brain injury or other mental health conditions have received less-than-honorable discharges since 2009.
Shulkin also said the VA is planning to hire 1,000 more mental health providers. In addition, the department is seeking to provide more counseling services via the Veterans Crisis Line and its centers. Former service members needing urgent care will soon also be able to visit VA emergency rooms.
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