Legislation to Reform Veterans’ Care Passes HouseNovember 9, 2017, 10:15 AM HST (Updated November 9, 2017, 6:53 AM)
H.R. 918, the Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act, a Bipartisan legislation supported by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawai‘i-02) to improve access to mental healthcare for veterans unanimously passed the House of Representatives.
H.R. 918, the Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act, would provide initial mental health assessments and mental healthcare to veterans with an other-than-honorable discharge who have deployed and served in combat zones. Generally, individuals who have such discharges are not eligible for any veteran benefits.
A May 2017 Government Accountability Office report which found that 62% of the 91,764 service members separated for minor forms of misconduct from FY2011 through FY 2015 had been diagnosed within two years prior to separation with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury or other conditions that could be associated with their misconduct.
In a speech on the House floor, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said:
“Our service members have selflessly put their lives on the line to protect and defend our country. Our country owes them a debt of gratitude, something we’re reminded of as we head into Veterans Day. Unfortunately—and too often—our fellow service members come home and are prevented from receiving the care they’ve earned through their service. They bear the brunt of the human cost of war with an average of 20 veterans committing suicide every single day and the rate of mental health and substance-use disorders steadily rising since 2001. Their families carry this sacrifice and this cost throughout their lives.
“This bipartisan legislation would require the V.A. to provide urgent mental healthcare services, including an initial mental health assessment to veterans who participated in combat operations or who have survived sexual assault or harassment. It would also expand mental healthcare services to those who received a discharge under certain other-than-honorable conditions who haven’t received a character of service or discharge determination yet. We’ve heard already about the high numbers of veterans who fall into this category and about how negatively this discharge has affected their lives. When they come home, they’re working on their transition to a successful civilian life. This discharge takes away their access to health care. It takes away their access to services and benefits that they have earned through, often times, multiple deployments. These services are in place to help set our veterans up for success upon their return home.
“In addition, this bill would require the V.A. to provide services at non-V.A. facilities for veterans who live in rural or underserved communities. I can’t state how important this is because it affects those veterans in my district on different islands in the state of Hawai‘i who are separated literally by a body of water from the V.A. clinic. The Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act would also mandate the V.A. to provide additional information for mental health services for veterans and annual reports to Congress on the services provided to our veterans. This is such an important piece of legislation. I urge all of our colleagues to stand up and support its passage and see it through to its enactment because we cannot afford to leave our men and women in uniform behind.”
In addition to passing H.R. 918, the House also passed a series of bipartisan bills to improve veterans’ healthcare, housing opportunities, education benefits, and grow employment opportunities for veterans, including:
- H.R. 1133, Veterans Transplant Coverage Act of 2017, would allow the V.A. to pay for an organ donation to a veteran by any live donor, including at facilities outside the V.A. that are a part of the Veterans Choice Program.
- H.R. 1900, National Veterans Memorial and Museum Act, would designate the Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus, Ohio, as the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.
- H.R. 2123, VETS Act of 2017, would permit V.A. qualified health professionals to practice telemedicine within the scope of their authorized federal duties across state borders. This legislation will allow veterans to receive telemedicine treatment from anywhere, including their home or a community center.
- H.R. 2601, VICTOR Act of 2017, would expand eligibility for veterans receiving transplants within the Veterans Choice Program.
- H.R. 3634, SERVE Act of 2017, would require the Secretary of the V.A. to provide Post 9-11 GI bill recipients with electronic verification of basic allowance for housing to establish eligibility for housing rentals.
- H.R. 3949, VALOR Act, would streamline approval of apprenticeship programs for veterans’ educational benefits.