By Debbie Gregory.
More than a half-million Veterans with other-than-honorable discharges will begin receiving mental health care services through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“We are going to go and start providing mental health care to those with other-than-honorable discharges,” VA Secretary David Shulkin testified to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “I don’t want to wait. We want to start doing that.”
Shulkin said he had the authority to start providing the care without legislation and credited Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo for “changing my whole view of this.”
Coffman has reintroduced the Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Health Care Act, which would allow the VA to provide initial mental health assessments and urgent mental health services to veterans at risk of suicide or harming others, regardless of an other-than-honorable discharge.
In addition to providing care to veterans with bad paper, the VA secretary also announced his plan to hire approximately 1,000 more mental health care providers..
After the hearing, Shulkin said he’s working to notify medical centers about providing mental health care services to veterans with other-than-honorable discharges, and that he’d like to implement a program sometime in the next few months.
“So many veterans we see are disconnected from our system, and that’s the frustration,” he said. “We want to do as much as we can.”
Shulkin is also working with educators, researchers and other health care systems to determine other actions the VA can take. He said he will go to Congress soon with more proposals.
VA officials said they expect to finalize plans for rolling out the program in early summer. Shulkin intends to consult with members of Congress, veterans service organizations and the Pentagon on the best way forward.
Discharges that are other-than-honorable, including a “general” discharge, are known as “bad paper” and can prevent veterans from receiving federal benefits, such as health care, disability payments, education and housing assistance.
Note from Debbie Gregory and MilitaryConnection.com
Please pass the word to those you know who need help and can now obtain these important mental health benefits. Please tell us what you think and share any comments regarding this important issue.