A new federal law will allow hundreds of Connecticut veterans with “bad paper” discharges to be eligible for long-term mental health care for the first time, and thus reduce their suicide risk. U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., a co-sponsor of the law, said it will “change the lives of veterans.” The legislation was included in the federal budget signed last Friday by President Trump. The new law affects veterans with an “other than honorable (OTH)” discharge, a status increasingly given for minor offenses. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs usually denies benefits to veterans with OTH discharges, even though Congress stipulated in 1944 that only severe conduct that would lead to court martial and dishonorable discharges should disqualify veterans from basic VA care. Many veterans have maintained that their minor offenses were triggered by service-related mental health issues like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Under the new law, veterans with OTH discharges who either served in combat areas, were victims of military sexual trauma, or operated drones are eligible for VA mental health and behavioral health care.
A federal report has found that 62 percent of military personnel discharged for misconduct from 2011 through 2015 had been diagnosed with mental illnesses that could have caused their behaviors. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) report concluded that the military failed to follow policies designed to prevent inappropriate discharge of service members with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The result is many veterans received less than honorable discharges, making them ineligible for health care, disability benefits, or education aid from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The GAO said 57,141 service members discharged for misconduct had been diagnosed up to two years before their release with conditions that included: PTSD, TBI, adjustment disorders, alcohol-related and substance abuse disorders, depression and anxiety. The conditions, which the GAO called “signature wounds” of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, can affect moods, thoughts and behaviors and may trigger activities such as drug use, insubordination, absence from the military without permission, and crimes, the report states.
A Connecticut veteran who has spent years trying to gain Agent Orange benefits for veterans who served in Korea in 1967 has persuaded the Veterans of Foreign Wars and two other veterans’ organizations to take his case before Congress. On Wednesday, VFW National Commander John A. Biedrzycki Jr. will ask Congress to pass a law requiring the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to grant VA health care and compensation to veterans who served in Korea in 1967 if they have illnesses linked to Agent Orange. Biedrzycki’s prepared testimony states that current VA rules exclude many veterans “who now suffer from diseases and illnesses that have been directly linked to the chemical defoliant.”
Carlos Fuentes, VFW senior legislative associate, said documents provided by Army veteran Eugene Clarke of Redding swayed the national organization to seek the benefits change through Congress. The documents include proof of test spraying of defoliants in Korea in 1967 and of veterans’ exposure to Korean government spraying. Fuentes said VFW efforts to convince the VA to change its policy have been unsuccessful.
The federal government will pay for disabled veterans now residing in assisted-living facilities, under a bill passed by Congress in December. But the measure doesn’t cover veterans who may move to such places in the future. Disabled veterans living at retirement homes, including those at Seacrest Retirement Center in West Haven, HighVue Manor in Hamden, and Mattatuck Health Care in Waterbury, were told in 2013 by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that coverage of their housing was a mistake and would end. The coverage began in 2010. U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro obtained extensions for the Connecticut veterans who sought her help and she proposed the language in the bill approved that ensured their coverage would continue.
It has taken more than 40 years, but Connecticut veteran Conley Monk has won his battle to have his military discharge status upgraded and can now receive federal benefits. Monk, 66, and four other Vietnam War veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) were granted upgrades by the Pentagon after filing a federal lawsuit in March 2014 against the Armed Forces. The veterans had received Other Than Honorable (OTH) discharges, which they contend were based on behaviors later attributed to PTSD. PTSD was not designated as a medical condition until 1980. The five veterans were given General Under Honorable Conditions discharges.
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Davis saw three combat zones during one tour of duty and dodged bullets just like her male comrades. Still, the Enfield resident says she’s never been treated as an equal in her 24 years as a soldier, and she doesn’t believe that will change once she retires at the end of this year. According to a January report released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Connecticut is home to 16,545 female veterans — a number that is expected to grow. As these women return to Connecticut, they need support, information, and access to appropriate, quality care.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides inconsistent treatment to veterans with depression and may be underestimating the number of vets who suffer from the condition, according to a government watchdog agency. The VA also needs to do a better job monitoring veterans who are prescribed antidepressants and in tracking suicides, according to a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The GAO analyzed VA data from the 2009 through 2013 fiscal years and found inconsistencies in the way veterans were treated and medical records were kept. It also found that the VA’s own clinical guidelines were not always followed. VA officials did not respond to requests for comment about the report.
Veterans ages 18 to 54 had similar, or slightly lower, rates of unemployment than their civilian counterparts from 2000-2013, but older veterans were more likely than their peers to be unemployed, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The report also shows that the majority of veterans who were unemployed – 60 percent – were 45 and older, and that nearly a third were veterans who served after 2001. The unemployment rate for that latest generation of veterans fell to 5.7 percent in November – down from 9.9 percent a year ago. The newest women veterans face a higher unemployment rate than men: 8.1 percent, compared to 5.3 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate for the U.S. as a whole was 5.8 percent in November.
After months of delays, the U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed state Veterans Affairs Commissioner Linda Schwartz as the new Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Policy and Planning in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Schwartz, 69, a former nurse and Air Force veteran, was chosen for the national post last year by President Barack Obama. In her decade as head of the Connecticut agency, she has become known for her strong advocacy of veterans, especially around issues of homelessness, post-traumatic stress disorder and women and disabled veterans. Her confirmation was applauded Tuesday by U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, who noted in a joint statement that the VA is “in critical need of new approaches, greater accountability and new people to tackle tough challenges.”
This summer, former Proctor & Gamble chief executive Robert A. McDonald took over as Secretary of the embattled department, after a scandal over the manipulation of patient wait-time data led to the ouster of former Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Connecticut is far behind in the goal to end homelessness among veterans by the federal 2015 deadline. Despite efforts since 2010, when the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs launched its plan to end veterans’ homelessness, Connecticut’s numbers have dropped less than 15 percent, now totaling about 340 – while the demand for services is growing. Overall, more than 1,000 state veterans have sought services, such as housing assistance, counseling, and job placement, from the VA homeless system in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, up from 400 five years ago, said Preston Maynard, director of homeless programs for the Connecticut VA. “Our work is far from over,” Maynard said.