The Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act

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Washington, DC, February 7, 2017 | comments

Today, U.S. Representatives Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA) led the bipartisan reintroduction of the Veteran Urgent Access to Mental HealthCare Act (H.R. 918).

This legislation would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide initial mental health assessments and urgent mental healthcare services to veterans at risk of suicide or harming others, even if they have an other than honorable discharge. 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 all too many recent instances, however, this misconduct resulted from the service member’s experiences during a combat deployment. 

Representative Coffman stated, “It is critical that our men and women in uniform know they can reach out to the VA for help when they come home from a combat deployment. We particularly need to watch out for those suffering from “invisible” wounds that may lead to behavioral and other mental health conditions.  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.”  

Representative Kilmer added, ““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.” 

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.

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