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Page 14
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<< 13. Militarization of Police15. Jacob David George, 1982-2014 >>

Congress Drowns Suicide Prevention Act While DoD Makes Moves to Help

By Geoff Millard

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Veterans with bad paper (less-than-honorable discharges) are at an increased risk of suicide because of barriers that prevent access to care and supportive services. Congress recently introduced legislation to help curb the number of veterans who commit suicide, which currently stands at 22 per day. Swords To Plowshares (STP) was happy to see there was a provision to help veterans with bad paper discharges. This provision was important, but lacked true effectiveness under its current language to make a significant difference. STP sent its staff members to DC to work with members of Congress to improve the section, to the point where it really could have been a game changer for veterans with less-than-honorable discharges. We worked to make any minor misconduct violations for veterans diagnosed with PTSD to carry the presumption that the behavior was caused by the PTSD in the upgrade process. This would change the present boards having to consider this to a presumption much the same as VBA does for PTSD claims in combat. We also worked to ensure that VA standards for character of service determination will have the same presumptive conditions applied to their process as well.

Despite having broad bipartisan support in Congress coupled with support from veteran service organizations across the nation, however, the legislation could already be dead in the water. Congressional gridlock has even started to overtake progress on continuation of VA reform.

The Suicide Prevention Act was not on the list of bills to be worked on by the House, with no sign of being re-introduced this congressional session. In light of this fact, veterans are taking their lives at a record number of 22 per day.

The Department of Defense, meanwhile, has issued new regulations for veterans attempting to upgrade their discharges. The new regulations would help Vietnam veterans with less-than-honorable discharges obtain upgrades by helping veterans with PTSD link their misconduct to their PTSD diagnosis. This is a small but important step that will help a sizable number of veterans with bad paper discharges. Note, however, this new regulation from the DoD is not a settlement to the lawsuit brought on by Yale Law and Vietnam Veterans of America, which will continue to progress with the plaintiffs having recently expressed some cautious optimism.

Swords to Plowshares hopes that all veterans and supporters will call, write, and demand that their members of Congress move forward on this suicide legislation, particularly with the addition of the bad paper provision.

If you're a veteran in need of assistance and live in the San Francisco Bay Area, we encourage you to come to our drop-in center or call to make an appointment with our legal team. If you are not in the Bay Area but still need help, check out our self-help guides on our website or look for a VSO in your area.

Geoff Millard is an Iraq combat veteran and a Policy Associate at Swords to Plowshares. Swords to Plowshares is a San Francisco based veteran service organization that can be reached by going to swords-to-plowshares.org or calling (415) 252-4788.

<< 13. Militarization of Police15. Jacob David George, 1982-2014 >>