The Honor Our Commitment Act will require VA to provide mental health services to combat veterans with certain Other-Than-Honorable discharges

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – After investigations revealed that the U.S. Department of Defense has issued tens of thousands of Other-Than-Honorable (OTH) discharges to veterans with mental health and behavioral health diagnoses, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a senior member of the U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, joined several of her Senate colleagues to introduce new legislation – called the Honor Our Commitment Act of 2017 – to require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide mental health and behavioral health services to former combat veterans who received OTH or Bad Paper discharges if the conduct that led to those negative discharges was actually the result of an undiagnosed or inadequately treated mental health condition. Until recently, VA denied it had the legal authority to provide any care to these veterans. In addition, VA has failed to explain to Congress whether it intends to provide full mental and behavioral health care or just basic crisis and suicide prevention assistance to these at-risk veterans. The Honor Our Commitment Act will clarify and expand existing law to ensure that combat veterans maintain access to critical mental health care and behavioral health care to treat war-time injuries.

“Just as important as a veteran’s physical health is their mental health – and providing quality mental health care services is part of our promise to care for veterans when they return home,” said Senator Murray. “They need to know that their country has their back after they lay their lives on the line for their country, no matter what physical or emotional harm they experienced causing their discharge from service.”

U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) are also original cosponsors of the Honor Our Commitment Act. U.S. Representatives Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and Mike Bost (R-Ill.) introduced the legislation in the House.

A National Public Radio and Colorado Public Radio investigation revealed that the U.S. Army has, since 2009, wrongfully dismissed more than 22,000 soldiers for misconduct after they returned from deployment and were diagnosed with mental health disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) or traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Underserved, a joint study by the Veterans Legal Clinic at Harvard Law School, Swords to Plowshares, and the National Veterans Legal Services Program discusses the scope and impact of the problem. The forceful separation of servicemembers with mental health disorders denies these men and women much-needed treatments, and may even discourage other servicemembers from seeking the medical treatment they need.