Coffman, Kilmer Praise VA Move to Increase Mental Health Services for At-Risk Veterans
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representatives Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA) praised an announcement from Veterans Affairs Secretary, David Shulkin, that the VA will move to immediately increase mental health services for at-risk veterans. At a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing VA Secretary Shulkin committed to providing mental health services for veterans with other than honorable discharges.
The VA Secretary’s proposal on outreach and urgent care options for these veterans is expected to be rolled out in the next few months. The move follows the reintroduction of legislation from Coffman and Kilmer which would direct the VA to provide initial mental health assessment and urgent mental healthcare services to veterans at risk of suicide or harming others, even if they have an other than honorable discharge.
“I was delighted to hear Secretary Shulkin say that he is authorizing mental health assessments and urgent mental healthcare services for our veterans with “other than honorable” discharges. This will particularly help those suffering from the “invisible” wounds of combat that can lead to behavioral and other mental health conditions and, sadly in too many cases to an other than honorable discharge.” Said Representative Coffman, adding “This is a great first step, but Representative. Kilmer and I will continue to press for the passage of our Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act to make this authorization permanent.”
“Two years ago I met with a group of young veterans in Tacoma who described how some of our most at risk veterans were those struggling with mental health issues because of their experiences on the battlefield, and how in many cases those who need our help the most were being denied access to the medical professionals that could help them heal,” said Representative Kilmer. “This is good step forward and builds on the legislation I introduced with Representative Coffman to let more veterans facing a crisis know they are not alone. These folks should have a place to turn for expert support and treatment.”
A service member receives a less than honorable discharge, or “bad paper” discharge, when released from the military for relatively minor forms of misconduct. In many recent instances, however, this misconduct resulted from a service member’s experiences during a combat deployment.
Last year the New York Times reported on the experiences of service members like Kristofer Goldsmith, who was discharged from the Army for missing a plane to Baghdad while he was hospitalized. He was never screened for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and overdosed after coming home. Thomas Burke, currently at Yale Divinity School was charged with misconduct for drug use while serving in the Marines but was never evaluated for PTSD.
Since 2009, the Army has separated at least 22,000 combat veterans diagnosed with mental health disabilities or TBI for alleged misconduct. This has occurred despite congressionally mandated reforms intended to halt the administrative separations of veterans suffering from service-related conditions.
The bill also requires a third-party study of veteran suicide to review: The effect of combat service on veteran suicide rates; the rate and method of suicide among veterans who have received healthcare from VA; and the rate and method of suicide among veterans who have not received healthcare from the VA.
According to the VA’s 2016 veteran suicide report, an average of 20 veterans per day commits suicide. However, evidence collected suggests that there is a decrease in rates of suicide among veterans receiving VA health care, as opposed to veterans who do not.