Murphy leads call for VA to comply with law requiring care for bad-paper vets
After veterans in Connecticut and Washington reported being denied care they are entitled to under a 2018 law, U.S. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, is leading a group of senators in writing to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie demanding the department comply with the law.
"Thousands of veterans who are legally owed mental health care are unaware of their eligibility or have been denied care at VA facilities," Murphy and Sens. Jon Tester, Brain Schatz, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell said in the letter to Wilkie.
The law, the Honor or Commitment Act authored by Murphy, requires the VA to provide mental and behavioral health care to "at-risk" combat vets and sexual assault victims, with at least 100 days of active duty service, who received other-than-honorable discharges.
The senators said news reports and information received by their offices allege that VA personnel at the West Haven, Conn., and Puget Sound, Wash., medical centers have turned away these veterans or given them inaccurate information. In some cases, the veterans were told they were ineligible for care or could only get short-term care, neither of which is accurate, the senators said.
The VA has said that its computer systems still automatically categorize this group of veterans as ineligible for care, the senators said.
"The VA must immediately update its systems, retrain VA personnel on the eligibility changes under the Honor Our Commitment Act, and conduct routine inspections of VA intake personnel to ensure they are providing the correct information to OTH veterans," they said.
They also are calling on the VA to conduct a public outreach campaign to educate veterans, veteran service organizations about the law. Murphy wrote to Wilkie last year, several months after the law passed, questioning whether the VA had notified vets of their eligibility.
The senators acknowledged in their letter that the VA in January sent letters to 477,404 veterans, but said the department "must do more than the bare minimum."
The U.S. military discharges more than 20,000 service members annually with one of five discharge statuses ranging from honorable to dishonorable. An other-than-honorable discharge, commonly referred to as "bad paper," is classified as an administrative discharge and in most cases makes veterans ineligible for benefits or health care from the VA.
Advocates for providing services to these veterans say that in many cases, the reason they were administratively discharged was due to behavior linked to post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or sexual assault.
Last year, Connecticut became the first state to open up access to state benefits to this group of veterans.
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