New York Times
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
MARCH 11, 2017
There are roughly 500,000 veterans with less than honorable discharges, including more than 100,000 who left the service during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The government does not know what percentage of these veterans have acute mental health problems, but it became apparent after the Iraq drawdown that many were struggling.
After the United States withdrew troops from Iraq in 2011, thousands of combat troops were expelled from the force with less than honorable discharges as the military came under pressure to downsize quickly. This left a large number of veterans — including many kicked out for minor infractions — without access to health care and other benefits that are granted to service members who leave the armed forces with honorable discharges.Credit Caroline Gamon
After being cut off from care and benefits, many turned to drugs and painkillers, often to relieve physical pain and mental distress that resulted from combat. Some wound up homeless. Others killed themselves.
Last week, the Department of Veterans Affairs took an important, belated step to protect tens of thousands of former service members who risked their lives in war zones. Starting this summer, the agency decided, it will provide emergency mental health care to some veterans who received less than honorable discharges.
“Our goal is simple: to save lives,” David Shulkin, the secretary of veterans affairs, said on Tuesday as he announced the change in policy during testimony before the House Veterans Affairs Committee. “Veterans who are in crisis should receive help immediately.”
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