WASHINGTON – After U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin announced his intention to offer mental health services to veterans who have been released from military service with other-than-honorable or bad-paper discharges, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) announced that he will introduce legislation to require that service members with other-than-honorable discharges receive access to mental health and behavioral health services from the VA. Murphy is a member of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies and co-author of the recently passed Mental Health Reform Act.
For over a year, Murphy has made the case to the VA that they could already provide mental health benefits to service members with other-than-honorable discharges. During a March 2016 hearing, Murphy argued, “You have essentially a chance to look at those conditions of discharge and make a determination as to whether they would be able to be eligible for benefits.” Secretary Shulkin responded, “This is a Department of Defense decision. This is not a VA decision, and we are prohibited by law from treating somebody in what we call bad-paper – a dishonorable discharge.”
“I’m glad that Secretary Shulkin has reversed course and promised to treat our service members suffering from PTSD and TBIs with the honor and respect that they deserve – this is a move in the right direction,” said Murphy. “The brave men and women who have risked their lives for our country and suffered the wounds of war should never be kicked to the curb. I’m introducing legislation to make sure that the VA keeps its commitment to help veterans with mental health issues. I won’t stop fighting until they get the care and benefits they’re entitled to.”
After a National Public Radio investigation revealed that the U.S. Army has, since 2009, wrongfully dismissed more than 22,000 soldiers for misconduct after they returned from deployment and were diagnosed with mental health disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) or traumatic brain injuries (TBI), Murphy has led Senate efforts to push VA to change their policies and ensure that wrongfully discharged veterans with mental illness continue to receive the critical benefits and mental health care they need. Murphy 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.
The wrongful discharge of service members ultimately bars those members from receiving retirement, health care, housing, and employment benefits. The forceful separation of soldiers with PTSD or TBI denies these men and women of much-needed treatments, and may even discourage other service members from seeking the medical treatment they need.