House Bill Expands Mental Health Care For Veterans

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The House has passed a bill that would expand the availability of mental health care for veterans.

The measure would allow veterans who have been other-than-honorably discharged to obtain mental health services, according to The Hill.

There are five ways in which service personnel can be discharged from the military: honorable, general, other-than-honorable, bad conduct, and dishonorable. Mental health services are currently only provided to veterans who received an honorable or general discharge.

"As a Marine Corps combat veteran, I like to live by the rule we never leave anyone behind," said Rep. Mike Coffman, the bill's author, according to The Hill.

He explained why the measure is important: "Unfortunately, the military routinely used the other-than-honorable discharge to rid itself of combat veterans who were designated as having disciplinary problems and who often had documented medical histories of PTSD, rather than providing them with the treatment and rehabilitation they so desperately needed."

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A May 2017 study by the Government Accountability Office found that 62 percent of the 91,764 military personnel discharged due to minor offenses between 2011 and 2015 had been diagnosed less than two years prior to their discharge with PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, or other conditions that could be associated with their misconduct.

Coffman's bill was passed unanimously in the House. Under the measure, veterans with a bad-conduct or dishonorable discharge would not obtain access to mental health care.

Coffman introduced the bill in February.

"It's important that we give all of our combat veterans, irrespective of the discharges they receive, access to mental health care through the Veterans [Affairs Department]," he said, according to Military.com.

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Mental health among veterans has become a high-profile topic following a Nov. 5 mass shooting in Texas that claimed the lives of 26 people. Devin Kelley, who has been identified as the gunman, served in the Air Force and had a history of mental health problems.

Kelley was given a bad conduct discharge after allegedly assaulting his wife, and later escaped from a mental health facility in 2012 before the military put him on trial for the charges. He later pleaded guilty, The Hill reported.

President Donald Trump brought up Kelley's mental health when discussing the shooting on Nov. 6.

"Mental health is your problem here," said Trump, according to NPR. "This was a very, based on preliminary reports, this was a very deranged individual, a lot of problems over a long period of time. We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries."

However, mental health professionals pushed back on Trump's statement.

"There is no real connection between an individual with a mental health diagnosis and mass shootings. That connection according to all experts doesn't exist," said Bethany Lilly, the deputy director of policy and legal advocacy for the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.

Sources: The Hill, Military.com, NPR, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law / Featured Image: James McCann/Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/Flickr via Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: Sandra Niedzwiecki/Dvidshub via Wikimedia Commons, Ebyabe/Wikimedia Commons

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