Beginning the day after this Fourth of July, veterans with other-than-honorable (OTH) administrative discharges from military service — or what’s often called “bad paper” — can soon receive emergency mental health care from a VA emergency room, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin announced Tuesday.
It is the first time a VA Secretary has implemented an initiative specifically focused on this group of former service members who are in mental health distress, the VA said in a statement.
“Suicide prevention is my top clinical priority,” said Shulkin. “We want these former service members to know there is someplace they can turn if they are facing a mental health emergency — whether it means urgent care at a VA emergency department, a Vet Center or through the Veterans Crisis Line.”
Beginning July 5, former service members who received an OTH administration discharge from the military can go to all Veteran Health Administration (VHA) medical centers to receive care for mental health emergencies for an initial period of up to 90 days.
Phillip Carter, a senior fellow and director of the Center for a New American Security’s Military, Veterans and Society research program, called the announcement a “big deal.”
The care can include inpatient, residential or outpatient care, according to the VA statement. During the care, the VHA and the Veterans Benefits Administration will work together to determine if the mental health condition is a result of a service-related injury, which would make the service member eligible for ongoing care for that condition.
Veteran service organization Vietnam Veterans of America lauded Shulkin for the move.
“VA Secretary Shulkin leads with the heart of a physician, and takes seriously his oath to ‘do no harm,’” said John Rowan, national president of VVA. “That’s why he’s working to correct the VA’s self-imposed policies, which have denied care to our most vulnerable veterans for decades.”
(Washington, D.C.)–“VA Secretary Shulkin leads with the heart of a physician, and takes seriously his oath to… https://t.co/4gY8fDrm6H
— VVA (@VVAmerica) June 27, 2017
VVA said in a statement that previous VA secretaries had allowed the denying of healthcare to veterans with so-called “bad-paper” discharges to “fester.”
That was because the VA defined the term “veteran” as a person who had served in the active military, and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable. That regulation denied care for hundreds of thousands of veterans who meet the definition of “veteran,” the VVA said.
VVA cited a Brown University Study released on June 20 that said six percent of the entire veteran population of this era could not receive health care due to OTH discharges, and that most of those were from “minor disciplinary infractions” that were “symptomatic of trauma sustained during military service.”
The VVA, in partnership with Swords to Plowshares and the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Harvard Law, is working to on legislation named the “Leave No Veteran Behind Act,” which has a provision to ensure that veterans with OTH discharges are able to access the comprehensive services that they deserve.
“Secretary Shulkin can’t solve this problem alone,” said Rowan. “That’s why VVA is calling on Congress to introduce and pass the Leave No Veteran Behind Act.”