By Sandra Basu
WASHINGTON — In his first appearance before Congress as VA Secretary, David Shulkin, MD, said that “there is no other clinical issue” that concerns him as much as veteran suicides.
“What we are doing now, and we are doing a lot, is not enough. We are not satisfied, and we are continuing to look for new approaches to be able to address this issue,” he said.
In light of that, Shulkin told lawmakers that VA’s intends to expand provisions for urgent mental health care provided to former servicemembers with other-than-honorable (OTH) administrative discharges.
According to the VA, this is “the first time a VA Secretary has implemented an initiative specifically focused on expanding access to assist former OTH servicemembers who are in mental health distress and may be at risk for suicide or other adverse behaviors.”
VA estimates that there are a little more than 500,000 former service members with OTH discharges. As part of the proposal, former OTH service members would be able to seek treatment at a VA emergency department, Vet Center or contact the Veterans Crisis Line, the agency explained.
“So many veterans that we see are just disconnected from our system,” Shulkin told the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
Noting that an estimated 20 veterans take their own lives each day, he added, “As you know, 14 [of those] are not getting care in the VA and yet we have this great comprehensive mental health system. We are going to do whatever we can.”