Bennet Wants VA’s New Chief To Detail Mental Health Coverage For Troubled Vets

Photo: U.S. Senator Michael Bennett
U.S. Senator Michael Bennett (D-CO).

Colorado’s senior senator, Democrat Michael Bennet, has asked new VA Secretary David Shulkin to address mental health care coverage for former military members who received other-than-honorable discharges.

“Access to mental and behavioral health care is currently too limited by VA bureaucracy for veterans with other-than-honorable discharges. We must ensure that any changes to VA policy are meaningful and provide support to veterans in need of these services,” Bennet said in a statement accompanying a letter to Shulkin earlier this week.

The letter also was signed by five other Democratic senators: Jon Tester of Montana, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and Tim Kaine of Virginia.

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The news follows a joint investigation in 2015 by CPR News and NPR that showed the U.S. Army has been pushing out soldiers diagnosed with mental health problems at Fort Carson, in Colorado Springs, and other military bases across the country.

Figures obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that since January 2009, the Army has "separated" 22,000 soldiers — at the very least — for "misconduct" after they came back from Iraq and Afghanistan and were diagnosed with mental health problems or traumatic brain injuries.

That kind of dismissal meant the soldiers could not receive crucial retirement and health care benefits that soldiers receive with an honorable discharge.

Shulkin, who took over the VA under the Trump administration, had previously led the Veterans Health Administration. The first non-veteran to lead the agency, he was confirmed on an unanimous vote in February.

From the letter:

Many of these veterans have diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury. During a recent House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing, Shulkin announced that the VA would begin providing mental health services to these veterans. While supporting efforts to provide additional services, the Senators expressed concern that a policy announcement that isn't clearly defined raises more questions than answers for veterans who may need critical services.

Read the full letter here: