Coffman Introduces Fairness for Veterans Act
Washington, DC -- Today, U.S. Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO) introduced the Fairness for Veterans Act. The bill is part of a two-pronged effort on the part of Coffman to provide veterans with better access to mental health services.
The Fairness for Veterans Act ensures the most vulnerable veteran population receives the care and benefits they have earned. Currently, veterans with less-than-honorable discharges, or “bad paper” discharges, may not be eligible for a broad range of healthcare and benefits including critical mental healthcare services.
According to Coffman, the Army has separated at least 22,000 combat veterans with less-than-honorable discharges since 2009. A less than honorable discharge is often issued to service members for minor misconduct, including being late to formation and being absent without leave. These actions, however, can be linked with behavior seen in returning combat veterans suffering from PTSD.
“Increasing access to mental healthcare care is a critical step to combating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and in the case of veterans with severe mental health problems, access to these services may be life-saving,” said Coffman, a Marine Corps combat veteran. “Twenty-two veterans die from suicide each day. This number is far too high and it is my hope that veterans with questionable, less-than-honorable discharges receive quick access to the mental healthcare they earned and deserve.”
Often service members with clear medical histories of PTSD have been improperly discharged for minor misconduct rather than receiving a medical discharge or being retained in the military for treatment and rehabilitation. The Fairness for Veterans Act ensures that combat veterans, whose condition should have been considered prior to their discharge, receive due consideration in their post-discharge appeals.
The proposed legislation creates a presumption in favor of the combat veteran during the post-discharge appeals process. If a veteran was deployed to a combat zone and diagnosed by a mental healthcare professional as experiencing PTSD or TBI as a result of their deployment, the military’s Discharge Review Boards (DRB) must consider this diagnosis with a rebuttable presumption in favor of the veteran.
Coffman’s legislation is a bipartisan effort supported by Representatives Tim Walz (D-MN), Lee Zeldin (R-NY), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Ryan Zinke (R-MT), Steve Russell (R-OK), Peter King (R-NY), Walter Jones (R-NC), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Patrick Murphy (D-FL), and Ruben Gallego (D-AZ).
“After fighting for our country overseas, our warriors shouldn’t be discharged from the military without proper diagnosis or left without the care they need to reintegrate into the lives they once knew,” said Walz, a 24-year veteran of the Army National Guard. “We must act to ensure these brave men and women, suffering from invisible wounds, have the care and benefits they have earned. Last year, I was proud of our work to pass the Clay Hunt SAV Act and wish this provision had been included. I thank Representative Coffman for his leadership on this vital next step in the effort to improve our veterans’ access to mental health care.”
Zeldin, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said, “I am proud to partner with Rep. Coffman to introduce this bipartisan legislation in Congress to help the most vulnerable of our service members. Serving our nation’s veterans is a commitment that I do not take lightly. The Fairness for Veterans Act is an essential and commonsense piece of legislation to improve the quality of life for those who have sacrificed so much for our country. We must ensure that our nation’s most vulnerable receive the care, treatment and benefits they both earned and deserve.”
“As a result of these bad paper discharges, thousands of combat veterans struggling with PTSD have been denied benefits and health care when they’re most vulnerable and most in need of our support,” said Rice. “We cannot turn our backs on men and women who have risked their lives for our country and suffered and sacrificed to keep us safe. The bipartisan Fairness for Veterans Act will help correct this injustice and ensure that no combat veteran suffering from PTSD or combat-derived traumatic brain injury is ever denied access to the comprehensive mental health care and benefits they need and deserve. I want to thank Kris Goldsmith, a veteran from my district who has worked so hard to share his story and make sure this issue gets the urgent attention it deserves. And I want to thank Congressman Coffman, Congressman Walz and all of our cosponsors for working together to move forward with this legislation in such a constructive, bipartisan way.”
A Marine Corps combat veteran, Coffman serves on the House Armed Services Committee and House Veteran’s Affairs Committee, where he is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. He is a Marine Corps combat veteran with service in both the first Gulf War and the Iraq War.