DANBURY — Sen. Chris Murphy visited a local Veterans of Foreign Wars post Friday to tout reforms and tell veterans of a bill he introduced this spring that would provide mental health care to those with other-than-honorable discharges.
At the post, he received thanks for his efforts and requests for more help from some 50 veterans and veterans’ advocates, who criticized Department of Veterans Affairs’ red tape and the slow pace of VA reform.
Murphy promised to keep up his fight, and said Congress was making bipartisan progress on issues facing GIs, even as other issues, such as health care reform, have stalled due to party divides.
“For, as political as Washington is these days, issues around veterans’ funding and veterans’ programs tend to be one of the few places where Republicans and Democrats are able to work together, and work together pretty well,” he said. “We’ve made some pretty big changes to that programming just in the 10 years that I’ve been in Congress.”
Changes include an update to the GI Bill, signed into law this month, eliminated a 15-year deadline for veterans to use federal money for education and allowing Purple Heart recipients to receive VA care regardless of time served in the military.
Murphy reiterated Friday that the VA and veteran services are still works in progress. Next stop, he said, is to get the Honor Our Commitment Act of 2017, which he introduced in the Senate, signed into law.
The act would make combat veterans with PTSD who have been dismissed from the military for misconduct eligible for mental health treatment from VA.
“The suicide rate (among veterans) is just out of control, one an hour, and what we found was that a lot of the guys that are committing suicide have gotten what you guys call a bad-paper discharge,” Murphy told the Danbury crowd.
Those veterans might have been discharged for minor offenses or going AWOL for a few days as a result of PTSD or traumatic brain injuries they got on the job, Murphy added.
“It’s so unconscionable because they get PTSD, they come back, they screw up, they get a dishonorable discharge, they lose their eligibility for the VA and then things just spiral downwards,” he said. “They got a diagnosis they can’t get any help for.”
Veterans in the audience thanked Murphy, but had several issues they wanted him to bring back to Washington, such as expanding the GI bill further so veterans who didn’t use their education in the past and missed the 15-year deadline could still go back to school.
Several veterans complained of VA bureaucracy, which makes it difficult to get the care they need.
Sunny Hoskins, of Brookfield, told the room it took her 13 months and contacting Murphy’s office for the local VA to amend her paperwork with a “keystroke change” between single and married.
“That’s what we all go through,” she said.
Murphy, whose aide worked the room collecting stories and contact information, said he would do what he can for each veteran requesting assistance.
“I understand that I get to do my public service in the air conditioned chamber of the U.S. Senate because you all and millions of others have decided to do your public service in a much more brave and courageous way,” Murphy said.