WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), co-author of the Honor Our Commitment Act of 2017, released a statement on Tuesday after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released finalized plans to provide emergency mental health coverage to former service members with Other-Than-Honorable (OTH) discharges for up to 90 days. Investigations have revealed that tens of thousands of veterans with mental health and behavioral health diagnoses have been wrongfully discharged, ultimately barring them from receiving health care benefits. Murphy called for immediate passage of his Honor Our Commitment Act, which would expand existing law and ensure that combat veterans with OTH or Bad Paper administrative discharges whose diagnosed mental health disorder is confirmed to be connected to their service receive permanent access to mental health and behavioral health services from the VA.
“I’m glad the VA is going to start providing some care to these veterans next week, but I still don’t understand why they’re choosing to limit that care to just 90 days. 90 days is not a number based on any scientific evidence or best medical practices, and it’s unacceptable that we’re shutting them off from care they need,” said Murphy. “Congress needs to pass my Honor Our Commitment Act and make good on our promise to care for the men and women who put everything on the line for our country.”
Beginning July 5, 2017, all Veterans Health Administration (VHA) medical centers will offer emergency care to former service members with an emergent mental health need. Under this initiative, former service members with an OTH administrative discharge may receive care for their mental health emergency for an initial period of up to 90 days.
During a U.S. Senate Appropriations Veterans Affairs Subcommittee hearing on preventing veteran suicide earlier this year, Murphy argued that the VA still places unnecessary and “arbitrary limitations” on the length of care – just 90 days – they provide to these individuals. Murphy called on the VA to remove these limitations.
As co-author of the recently passed Mental Health Reform Act, Murphy has led Senate efforts to push the VA to change their policies and ensure that discharged veterans with mental illness continue to receive the critical benefits and mental health care they need. For over a year, Murphy has made the case to the VA that they could already provide mental health benefits to service members with OTH discharges. In 2015, he led 11 other senators in calling on the Pentagon to conduct a full U.S. Army Inspector General investigation into the thousands of less than honorable discharges, and successfully convinced the Army to commit to reforming its policies. Last month, Murphy joined Tester and a group of other senators in calling on the VA to more clearly define the steps they will take to begin providing mental health services and other VA benefits to OTH discharged veterans.