Via Harvard Law Today

On Thursday, Nov. 2, Dr. David Shulkin, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, will deliver the 2017 Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Distinguished Lecture at Harvard Law School. This is the fourth annual event in the DAV Distinguished Speaker Series, which provides a forum for national leaders to address the critical issues facing our nation’s disabled veterans and to engage in conversation with the local community. The series is co-hosted by the Veterans Legal Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School and the Harvard Law School Armed Forces Association.

In advance of his visit to the law school, Secretary Shulkin answered a few questions about the Department of Veterans Affairs and its service to veterans:

Dr. David Shulkin, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Credit: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Dr. David Shulkin, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

A VA study found that 20 veterans commit suicide each day. What is the Department of Veterans Affairs doing to increase the availability of mental health services for all our veterans? And what is being done to increase the availability of these services for individuals who — due to PTSD or other mental health issues developed while in service — may have left the military with less than honorable discharges and are therefore may not be eligible for existing veterans benefits?

Nothing is more important to me than making sure that we don’t lose any veterans to suicide. Twenty veterans a day dying by suicide should be unacceptable to all of us. This is a national public health crisis and it requires solutions that not only VA will work on but all of government and other partnerships in the private sector, nonprofit organizations.

Within weeks of becoming Secretary, I authorized emergency mental health services for those who were less than honorably discharged. That  population of veterans is at very high risk for suicide. Under this initiative, former service members with an OTH (Other Than Honorable) administrative discharge may receive care for their mental health emergency for an initial period of up to 90 days, which can include inpatient, residential or outpatient care. During this time, VHA and the Veterans Benefits Administration will work together to determine if the mental health condition is a result of a service-related injury, making the service member eligible for ongoing coverage for that condition.

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