Coffman Introduces Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act

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Washington, DC, March 3, 2016 | comments

Today, U.S. Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO) introduced the Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act. The bill is a bi-partisan effort led by Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and cosponsored by Representative Kathleen Rice (D-NY).

“It is absolutely vital that we as a nation address the twin crisis of veteran suicide and mental health issues,” said Coffman. “This bill would give at-risk veterans a direct route into VA for emergency mental healthcare.” 

This legislation would require VA to create a program to provide initial mental health assessments and urgent healthcare services to veterans at risk of suicide or harming others, even if they have a “bad paper” discharge. A less than honorable discharge, or “bad paper” discharge, is used to release service members from the military for relatively minor forms of misconduct. In some cases, however, this misconduct is the result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Since 2009, the Army has separated at least 22,000 combat veterans diagnosed with mental health disabilities or traumatic brain injury (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 the VA and,
  • The rate and method of suicide among veterans who have not received healthcare from the VA.

Preliminary evidence collected by VA suggests that there are decreased rates of suicide among veterans receiving VA health care as opposed to veterans who do not.

“Twenty-two veterans per day commit suicide. That’s twenty-two too many,” said Coffman. “It’s essential that when our men and women in uniform return to the civilian world and reach out for help that the VA reaches back. This bill will ensure that happens,” continued Coffman.

“We ask a great deal of those who serve our country,” said Kilmer. “The men and women who protect our freedoms at home should expect to receive quality care when they retire. But too many veterans are struggling with mental health issues and don’t have access to the medical professionals that could help them heal. This bill would let more veterans facing a crisis know that they are not alone and have a place to turn for expert support and treatment.”  

Coffman has a combined 21 years of military service.  He is the only member of Congress to have served in both Iraq wars. 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. 

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