VA Will Open Emergency Rooms To Vets With 'Bad Paper' Beginning In July

Veterans Benefits
Dr. Jeffrey Tiede, Director of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center's Interdisciplinary Pain Management Center checks and ultrasound during a stellate ganglion block injection.
U.S. Army photo

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Thursday that it would begin offering emergency mental health services starting July 5 to veterans with other-than-honorable discharges – following through on a departmental change that VA Secretary David Shulkin promised in March.


The change acknowledges the population of veterans has been denied needed care, but it doesn’t go far enough, according to a report released last week from Brown University and a statement from Vietnam Veterans of America, which has advocated for years on behalf of “bad paper” veterans.

“I applaud the VA for saying they’re not taking care of all the veterans and denying care. It’s a great first step,” said Ali Tayyeb, a Navy veteran and the co-author of Brown University’s June 20 report. “But it falls short of what the veterans community needs. It falls way short.”

Starting July 5, all VA medical centers will treat veterans who show up with an urgent need for mental health care. Veterans with other-than-honorable discharges can receive mental health care for up to 90 days, according to a VA statement. During the 90 days, the VA will determine whether the veteran’s mental health condition is the result of an injury incurred during their military service. If so, the veteran could be eligible for continued VA care.

“We want these former servicemembers to know there is someplace they can turn if they are facing a mental health emergency — whether it means urgent care at a VA emergency department, a vet center or through the Veterans Crisis Line,” Shulkin said in the statement.

During his first appearance before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on March 8, Shulkin promised the change as a suicide prevention effort. He also said he’d open up the Veterans Crisis Line to veterans with other-than-honorable discharges, as well as counseling at about 300 vet centers across the country.

The March announcement drew applause from the committee, and advocates said it was a step toward righting a wrong. Some lawmakers and veterans advocates have long argued servicemembers with bad paper were, in many cases, unjustly released from the military because of mental health issues.

More than 13,000 servicemembers separated from the military for misconduct in recent years suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or another disorder and were prevented from receiving treatment from the VA because of their discharge status, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office released in May. Most of the servicemembers were given a “general” discharge, making them ineligible for some VA services. But 13,283 were given the more stringent “other-than-honorable” discharge, which disqualifies them from receiving VA health care.

“Previous VA secretaries have allowed the problem of denying health care to veterans with so-called ‘bad paper’ discharges [to] fester,” Vietnam Veterans of America President John Rowan said in a statement. “[Shulkin is] working to correct the VA’s self-imposed policies, which have denied care to our most vulnerable veterans for decades.”

The changes to provide emergency mental health care at medical centers, vet centers and through the Veterans Crisis Line could have already been in place at the VA, Tayyeb said.

The report from Brown University states vet centers have been open to veterans with bad paper discharges since they were first implemented in the 1970s. VA emergency rooms could’ve already provided emergency mental health care to all veterans under the VA’s rules on humanitarian care, and the Veterans Crisis Line did not previously ask veterans about their discharge status before counseling them.

Veterans can reach the Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 800-273-8255, then press 1, or text 838255.

“While Shulkin’s announcement represents a watershed moment… reforms currently on the table are far too limited, simply codifying a number of things the VA already informally does for veterans experiencing mental health crises,” the report reads. “Much more expansive changes are necessary.”

While Vietnam Veterans of America praised the changes, the group also asked for more to be done.

Along with the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Harvard Law School and the San Francisco-based veterans organization Swords to Plowshares, Vietnam Veterans of America drafted legislation titled, the “Leave No Veteran Behind Act.”

According to a copy of the proposal shared with Stars and Stripes, the bill would expand services offered by vet centers, mandate the VA open health care to veterans who suffered military sexual trauma regardless of discharge status, and make veterans with bad paper discharges eligible for disability compensation if they honorably completed at least one enlistment.

It would also require front-line VA staff be trained on eligibility criteria and mandate the VA to publish an annual report on veterans with bad paper discharges and their ability to access VA health care, as well as to study the effect of discharge status on veterans’ risk of suicide.

The organizations sent the proposal to the VA and the House and Senate veterans affairs committees.

Tayyeb said the proposals in the draft would take “additional steps” to expand care. But he said Congress should also introduce legislation to limit how many bad paper discharges that the Defense Department issues.

According to a 2015 study from Swords to Plowshares, the number of other-than-honorable discharges has grown steadily since World War II, from 1 percent to nearly 6 percent of post-9/11 veterans.

“We’re trying to fix the issue after it has already happened,” Tayyeb said. “It’s like, after the meat has been put in the meat grinder, trying to put it together again. It’s best if we just didn’t put the meat in the grinder to begin with.”

View the full report from Brown University here.

———

©2017 the Stars and Stripes. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

WATCH NOW:

From left to right: Naval Special Warfare Operator First Class Eddie Gallagher, Army 1Lt. Clint Lorance, and Army Special Forces Maj. Mathew Golsteyn

On Friday, President Donald Trump intervened in the cases of three U.S. service members accused of war crimes, granting pardons to two Army soldiers accused of murder in Afghanistan and restoring the rank of a Navy SEAL found guilty of wrongdoing in Iraq.

While the statements coming out of the Pentagon regarding Trump's actions have been understandably measured, comments from former military leaders and other knowledgable veterans help paint a picture as to why the president's Friday actions are so controversial.

Read More Show Less

A former Soviet submarine that became a tourist attraction docked adjacent to the Queen Mary in Long Beach is expected to be sold soon to an anonymous buyer, with plans to remove the rusting sub by mid-May.

The 48-year-old Russian Foxtrot-class submarine, known as the Scorpion, had hosted paying visitors for 17 years before it fell into such disrepair that it became infested with raccoons and was closed to the public in 2015.

Read More Show Less

Former Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, whom President Donald Trump recently pardoned of his 2013 murder conviction, claims he was nothing more than a pawn whom generals sacrificed for political expediency.

The infantry officer had been sentenced to 19 years in prison for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed Afghan men in 2012. Two of the men were killed.

During a Monday interview on Fox & Friends, Lorance accused his superiors of betraying him.

"A service member who knows that their commanders love them will go to the gates of hell for their country and knock them down," Lorance said. "I think that's extremely important. Anybody who is not part of the senior Pentagon brass will tell you the same thing."

"I think folks that start putting stars on their collar — anybody that has got to be confirmed by the Senate for a promotion — they are no longer a soldier, they are a politician," he continued. "And so I think they lose some of their values — and they certainly lose a lot of their respect from their subordinates — when they do what they did to me, which was throw me under the bus."

Read More Show Less
Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps march during a parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in Tehran September 22, 2011. (Reuters photo)

Fifteen years after the U.S. military toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein, the Army's massive two-volume study of the Iraq War closed with a sobering assessment of the campaign's outcome: With nearly 3,500 U.S. service members killed in action and trillions of dollars spent, "an emboldened and expansionist Iran appears to be the only victor.

Thanks to roughly 700 pages of newly-publicized secret Iranian intelligence cables, we now have a good idea as to why.

Read More Show Less
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Cody Smith (Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

A U.S. Air Force combat controller will receive the nation's third highest award for valor this week for playing an essential role in two intense firefight missions against the Taliban in Afghanistan last year.

Tech. Sgt. Cody Smith, an airman with the 26th Special Tactics Squadron, 24th Special Operations Wing at Air Force Special Operations Command, will receive the Silver Star at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico on Nov. 22, the service announced Monday.

Read More Show Less