VA to add mental health benefits for previously banned group of vets

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According to a press release, beginning July 5, veterans with other-than-honorable (OTH) administrative discharges from military service will also be eligible to receive emergency mental health care from a VA emergency room. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin announced the change Tuesday, saying, “Suicide prevention is my top clinical priority.”

In a statement this week, the VA says this is the first time a VA Secretary has carried out an initiative focused specifically on this group of former service members suffering from mental health distress.

“We want these former service members to know there is someplace they can turn if they are facing a mental health emergency — whether it means urgent care at a VA emergency department, a Vet Center or through the Veterans Crisis Line,” said Shulkin, who is also a physician.

“VA Secretary Shulkin leads with the heart of a physician, and takes seriously his oath to ‘do no harm,’” said John Rowan, national president of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). “That’s why he’s working to correct the VA’s self-imposed policies, which have denied care to our most vulnerable veterans for decades.”

Rowan says he’s “heartened” by the change, which will mean service members with an OTH administrative discharge, or “bad paper”, will be eligible for treatment for mental health emergencies at all Veteran Health Administration (VHA) medical centers, for an initial period of up to 90 days. Treatment can include inpatient, residential, or outpatient care.

The announcement cites a Brown University Study from June 20 called, “’Bad Papers’: The Invisible and Increasing Costs of War for Excluded Veterans.”  The paper, by Ali R. Tayyeb and Jennifer Greenburg, finds that one of the most devastating costs for veterans is not very apparent. The study found that following the 9/11 wars, a heavy “cost for our nation’s veterans is the denial of benefits and services to a growing portion of former service members who are most in need of support.”

According to the report, six percent of the veteran population of the post-9/11 era was not eligible to receive health care due to OTH discharges. Apparently, many of those were from “minor disciplinary infractions” that were “symptomatic of trauma sustained during military service.”

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