Tester Pushes VA to Provide Mental Health Services for Other-Than-Honorably Discharged Veterans

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester, as Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, is leading an effort to ensure that at-risk veterans can access critical mental health care that has been previously denied to them.

Senators Sherrod Brown (D – Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D – Conn.), Chris Murphy (D -Conn.), Michael Bennet (D – Colo.), Tammy Baldwin (D – Wis.), and Tim Kaine (D – Va.) joined Tester in asking VA Secretary David Shulkin for answers about how the VA plans to provide mental health care to veterans with other-than-honorable discharges.

Half a million veterans have been given other-than-honorable discharges. Many of these discharges were given after diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury, and studies have shown these veterans have a higher risk of substance abuse, homelessness, criminal court involvement, and suicide.

Veterans with other-than-honorable discharges are currently unable to receive federal benefits including health care, disability, education and housing benefits.

During a recent House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing, Shulkin announced that the VA would begin providing mental health services to these veterans. While supporting efforts to provide additional services to these at-risk veterans, the Senators expressed concern that a policy announcement that isn’t clearly defined raises more questions than answers for veterans in crisis.

“Ensuring there is clarity on VA’s course of action on this matter is essential to veterans and their loved ones understanding what services VA will provide and that individuals in crisis are not further disrupted by bureaucratic obstacles,” the Senators wrote. “These questions must be addressed quickly, and the answers must be communicated proactively to all veterans immediately.”

The Senators asked a series of questions about the new VA directive:

  • Will VA be providing preventive mental health services or would this care be only for those veterans in urgent crisis, such as those who seek care through the Veterans Crisis Line?
  • What additional authority or resources does VA need to more completely deliver mental and behavioral health care to our nation’s veterans?
  • Since VA currently has authority to treat a veteran at a VA emergency room without checking their discharge status, what additional treatment or services will be provided under this new initiative?

Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, send a text message to 838255, or visit https://www.veteranscrisisline.net to receive confidential support at any time.

The Senators’ letter can be found online HERE.