In FY 2021, VA provided 270% more mental health visits to former service members with an other-than-honorable (OTH) discharge compared to FY 2020. The available services cover the full continuum of VA mental health care, including outpatient care, residential rehabilitation care and acute inpatient psychiatric hospitalization.
This marked increase was due to a number of factors.
First, in 2017, VA began providing emergency mental health coverage for former service members with OTH administrative discharges. In 2018, Public Law 115-141 authorized VA to provide an initial mental health assessment and subsequent mental or behavioral health care services to certain former service members. This included those who served in the reserve component.
Following the expansion of eligibility criteria beginning in FY 2017, VA began seeing gradual increases in the number of former service members with OTH who seek VA mental health services. In FY 2018, 1,651 former service members with an OTH discharge received mental health treatment, three times more than the 648 treated in 2017.
In 2019, VA – in collaboration with the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security – introduced VA Solid Start to proactively contact all newly separated service members at least three times during their first year of transition from the military. The goal of VA Solid Start is to establish a strong relationship between the VA and transitioning service members, promoting awareness of VA benefits, services and partner resources available to them.
Too often, Veterans think their OTH discharge makes them ineligible for VA benefits and services.
To reduce the suicide rate among Veterans and service members, VA hopes to make mental health care as widely available as possible. VA has the greatest respect for the men and women who have served in our nation’s Armed Forces and it will not relent in efforts to provide lifesaving support to those who are experiencing an emotional or mental health crisis.
How to access services
- Former service members may decide when they are in distress and require emergency mental health care.
- A VA provider will assess the patient to determine whether or not it is a mental health emergency and requires immediate attention.
- Former service members may enter the system to use the emergency services benefit by visiting a VA emergency room or Vet Center, or by calling the Veterans Crisis Line.
- Former service members may be treated using VA’s tentative eligibility authority but will still need to have their claim adjudicated by the Veterans Benefits Administration. If the former service member is subsequently found not to be eligible, they can be billed for services.
In addition, VA is working to increase awareness for service members with OTH discharges, seeking to educate them on eligibility for benefits and services, despite the character of discharge (COD) assigned at separation.
Too often, Veterans self-select away from VA thinking the OTH discharge makes them ineligible for VA benefits and services. However, in some instances, they may still be found eligible to receive health care and/or compensation.
Over the past three years, VA’s eligibility determination rate for OTH Veterans has been above 72% in granting Veterans access to benefits and/or health care. VA continues to encourage Veterans to apply, regardless of their COD, and let VA determine eligibility.
If you’re a Veteran having thoughts of suicide or you know one who is, contact the Veterans Crisis Line 24/7/365 days a year. Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, text 838255, or chat online at http://veteranscrisisline.net/Chat.