• Mental Health Care for All Veterans

    May 20, 2017 // 7 Comments »

    How far into the future should punishment go? Should we punish some veterans to death?

    Until the rules change this summer, that is indeed how the Department of Defense has been handling access to emergency mental health care for those with less than honorable discharges. In particular lack of mental health care for vets suffering from PTSD or moral injury has proven deadly; despite whatever the vets did to be discharged with less than honorable status (and the offenses can range from security infractions to crimes of violence), their suffering from the stresses of service is as real as for any other service member. They deserve the (psychological) treatment they may finally get later this year, not the punishment treatment they have been receiving.

    The thinking behind this denial of care was straightforward: benefits, such as access to medical care, should be a reward for those who completed their service honorably. But what seemed straightforward enough ended up leaving vulnerable people, who came home wounded, without help.

    So it was significant that the Department of Veterans Affairs took an important, belated step to protect tens of thousands of former service members. Starting this summer, with Congressional support, the VA will provide emergency mental health care to vets who received less than honorable discharges.

    “Our goal is simple: to save lives,” said David Shulkin, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. “Veterans who are in crisis should receive help immediately.” And help is certainly needed, for among the entire population of veterans, regardless of discharge status, some 20 per day on average commit suicide.

    The number of people who will be eligible for help is significant; there are roughly 500,000 veterans with less than honorable discharges, including more than 100,000 who left service during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of those, since 2009 when the statistic started to be recorded, the military has discharged at least 22,000 combat veterans for alleged misconduct who had mental health problems or related traumatic brain injuries.

    These changes, while important, only address a subset of veterans. The military has a tiered system of discharges (honorable discharge, general discharge under honorable conditions, other than honorable discharge, bad conduct discharge [issued by special court martial or general court martial] dishonorable discharge, and entry-level separation.) Even under the new rules, some vets who leave the military with service-related psychological issues but under dishonorable discharges will still remain ineligible for care.

    Veterans in crisis should call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 (press 1), or text 838255.

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