A smart shift on mental health for our veterans

Most of us have little idea the horrors of combat facing men and women in our armed forces. But the high suicide rates and mental health problems that war too often bestows upon the strongest and bravest among us cry out for attention.

Last week, as the nation celebrated its veterans, we were pleased to see a bill advancing in Washington that would make it easier for more troops to be screened for mental health issues and properly treated for problems.

House Resolution 918, sponsored by Colorado’s Mike Coffman, the Republican congressman from Aurora, won unanimous passage in the House and is headed to the Senate, where we hope it receives similar treatment.

Presently, service members discharged from duty for less than honorable reasons aren’t allowed benefits. But a report by the Government Accountability Office this spring found that of 91,764 service members canned for minor infractions between fiscal years 2011 and 2015, 62 percent of them were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or other mental health problems that could explain or contribute to the bad behavior.

Citing the report and The Gazette’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation from 2013 as motivation for the bill, Coffman — himself a Marine combat veteran — quickly found support from both sides of the political spectrum.

Should it pass into law, the measure would require the military to screen and treat even those discharged for misconduct unless the severity of their actions earned them a bad-conduct or dishonorable discharge.

The legislation would apply to those who served in combat or in areas where hostilities took place. Drone pilots, even if not on the battlefield itself, as is often the case with the technology, would also be covered. Sexual assault victims also would qualify.

Should veterans with discovered disorders not have easy access to a Veterans Affairs facility, or existing VA facilities weren’t able to help, they would be covered for private care.

“Today, this House sent a critical message to our men and women in uniform,” Coffman said in a statement. “That message is that you are not alone. We are here to help those suffering from the ‘invisible’ wounds of war,” adding that the measure should “ensure that our combat veterans receive the mental health care services they need.”

Certainly we don’t wish to reward bad behavior. The bill is right to exclude the most serious offenders. But we also don’t think it is…

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