WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, applauded a recent report released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that showed progress in providing mental and behavioral health care to at-risk combat veterans and sexual assault survivors after the passage of Murphy’s Honor Our Commitment Act. The new law authored by Murphy and former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) requires the VA to, for the first time, provide mental and behavioral health care to hundreds of thousands of at-risk combat veterans and sexual assault survivors who received Other-than-Honorable (OTH) discharges, sometimes referred to as ‘Bad Paper’ discharges. Previously, these veterans were denied access to mental health and behavioral health services through the VA.
“This report from the VA shows our Honor Our Commitment law is working. More veterans are getting mental health care, and many of them for the first time. For years, the VA denied mental health care for the veterans who needed it the most –sexual assault survivors and combat veterans with Bad Paper and Other-than-Honorable discharges. No veteran who sacrificed for his or her country should be forgotten. We still have a lot of work to do to make sure all veterans have access to the services they need, but this reports shows encouraging progress,” said Murphy.
The report stated that the VA treated 2,350 OTH veterans for mental and behavioral health care in Fiscal Year 2018. Of those, 70% were evaluated in mental health clinics, and 65% were treated for mental health conditions, including 20% for depression, 19% for substance use disorder, and 12% for PTSD. The VA formally notified VA network directors of the new eligibility on November 15, 2018. After Murphy’s urging, in December 2018, the VA completed the required notification of the approximately 500,000 individuals who received an OTH discharge. This is the first contact almost all of these veterans have ever received from the VA.
The report reads, “The focus of this legislation is to save lives, as research demonstrates that those who left the service with an OTH discharge may have an elevated risk for suicide. The rate of death by suicide among veterans who do not use VA care is increasing at a significantly greater rate than that among veterans who use VA care … The decision to provide immediate mental and health care to these former service members is a moral and humanitarian obligation.”