According to the Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, the agency will — for the first time ever — start to make mental health services open to veterans with “bad paper”, or less-than-honorable discharges.
“I don’t want to wait,” Shulkin told the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in Washington, DC Tuesday night. “We want to start doing that.”
Historically, “bad paper” has prevented veterans from not only getting doctors appointments and other medical benefits, but it’s also barred them from disability payments, housing assistance and education.
Many estimate that more than 22,000 vets with mental illnesses have been handed “bad paper” all the way up until 2009.
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Shulkin’s announcement Tuesday follows a recent push from Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., to force the VA to provide emergency mental health care to veterans with other-than-honorable discharges. Coffman introduced a bill last month requiring the VA to do so.
Shulkin credited Coffman for “changing my whole view of this.”
The plan was announced in response to a question during the hearing about how Shulkin would attempt to prevent veteran suicides. In addition to providing care to veterans with bad paper, the VA secretary also told lawmakers that he wanted to hire approximately 1,000 more mental health care providers.
“Our concern is those are some of the people that right now aren’t getting the services and contributing to this unbelievably unacceptable number of veterans suicides,” Shulkin said.
He said he’s notifying medical centers about the change and that he’d like to implement a program sometime in the next few months.
“So many veterans we see are disconnected from our system, and that’s the frustration,” said Shulkin.