Rep. Coffman Veterans’ Mental Health Bill Passes House

Bill Provides Mental Healthcare Services to ‘At Risk’ Veterans

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Washington, November 7, 2017 | Daniel Bucheli (202-225-7882) | comments

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Representative Mike Coffman (CO-06), a Marine Corps combat veteran and a member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, applauded the unanimous passage of his bill: H.R. 918, the ‘Veteran Urgent Access to Mental HealthCare Act’.

Coffman is the sponsor of HR 918 and wrote his bill to require the Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Secretary to provide initial mental health assessments and mental healthcare to veterans with ‘an other than honorable’ discharge’ who have deployed and served in combat zones. Generally, individuals who have such discharges are not eligible for any veteran benefits.

“Today, this House sent a critical message to our men and women in uniform. That message is that you are not alone. We are here to help those suffering from the ‘invisible’ wounds of war. The passage of H.R. 918 is an important bipartisan effort to ensure that our combat veterans receive the mental healthcare services they need. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to get this bill across the finish line.”  

Coffman decided it was time for an exception to this rule after reviewing a May 2017 Government Accountability Office report which found that 62% of the 91,764 service members separated for minor forms of misconduct from FY2011 – FY 2015 had been diagnosed within two years prior to separation with PTSD, TBI, or other conditions that could be associated with their misconduct.  

Additionally, the bill requires the VA to establish a formal “character of service” determination process, triggering reviews of the “character of discharge” for potential eligibility of VA benefits. The bill does not extend this benefit to those with Bad Conduct or Dishonorable discharges. 

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.

“While the correlation between their mental health condition and minor misconduct could be linked, this made no difference to their ‘character of discharge’. My legislation seeks to correct this. As a Marine Corps combat veteran, I like to live by the rule that ‘we never leave anyone behind.’ concluded Coffman.

For full bill text, click here.

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