The Department of Veterans Affairs is set to provide veterans who have other-than-honorable discharges with emergency mental health care, beginning July 5.
In a statement released Tuesday morning, VA Secretary David Shulkin said that this initiative, which is the first to focus on veterans with other-than-honorable discharges, has the aim of reducing the high rate of veteran suicide in the nation.
“Suicide prevention is my top clinical priority,” Shulkin said. “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.”
All medical centers will be set to offer emergency mental health care to this subset of the veteran population, starting July 5. Care for the mental health emergency may last up to 90 days, which may entail inpatient, residential or outpatient care. If VA medical staff believe that the mental health condition is service-related in origin, the veteran will be able to receive ongoing coverage past the initial 90-day period.
Shulkin first announced his intent to forward this new policy in March. Two months after the announcement, the Government Accountability Office released a study showing that 62,000 service members separated from the military had mental health issues. Of that total, 13,000 were separated for other-than-honorable reasons, which excludes them from various health benefits at the VA.
The updated policy on emergency healthcare is Shulkin’s attempt to lessen that consequence in order to lower the rate of suicide among veterans. The VA found in a 2016 study that approximately 20 veterans commit suicide every day.
Yuval Neria, a professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center, told The Daily Caller News Foundation in May that kicking troops out of the military who are unable to meet military demands because they are suffering from PTSD is unfair, as it constitutes blaming the victim for their condition.
“Both PTSD and depression and other anxiety disorders result in inability to carry on military demands,” Neria told TheDCNF. “So, it is really unfair to give those people dishonorable discharge because it’s not really their fault. If they had mental health problems, including PTSD, they were the result of military experience, and to punish them for those problems is really unnecessary and unfair.”
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