DoD Issues New Guidance for Discharge Upgrades Involving Mental Health

Gregory M. Rada Legal Update

New DoD Guidance for Discharge Upgrades Involving Mental Health

As I have noted before, service-connected mental health conditions frequently lead to veterans receiving other-than-honorable discharges. In turn, other-than-honorable discharges often prevent veterans from receiving much needed VA benefits and health care. In response to this problem, the Department of Defense (DoD) has issued new New DoD Discharge Upgrade Guidance for Mental Health to Military Discharge Review Boards and Boards of Correction of Military/Naval Records.

Acknowledging that cases involving invisible wounds are among the most difficult to review, the new guidance specifically addresses requests for discharge upgrades due to mental health conditions, traumatic brain injury, military sexual assault, and sexual harassment. Read More

VA to Revamp Appeals Process

Gregory M. Rada Disability Compensation, Legal Update

Big changes are coming to the VA appeals process as a result of a new law, the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, which became law on August 23, 2017. The new law restructures the current appeals process to address the massive backlog of veterans presently waiting for decisions on their appeals.

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VA Expands Mental Health Care for Veterans with Other-Than-Honorable Discharges

Gregory M. Rada Health Benefits

In a change to longstanding policy, the VA will now provide emergency mental health care to veterans with other-than-honorable (OTH) administrative discharges. As of July 2017, all former service members suffering from a mental health emergency may access the VA health care system by visiting a VA emergency room, an outpatient clinic, or a vet center, and by calling the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255).

This new policy is aimed at reducing the increasingly high suicide rates among veterans. VA Secretary David Shulkin pushed for the change, stating in recent remarks to the congressional appropriation committee, that “suicide prevention is the VA’s highest clinical priority” and noting that the majority of veterans that commit suicide each day have not received health care within the VA system.

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PTSD Update: New Research Reveals Physical Effects on the Brain

Gregory M. Rada Disability Compensation

While traumatic stress from combat is as old as war itself, PTSD did not become an official psychological diagnosis until 1980. Psychological symptoms associated with PTSD are varied and may include persistent nightmares, intrusive thoughts, negative changes in mood, and heightened reactivity.

According to new research presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s Sports Concussion Conference, PTSD may also result in physical changes to the brain. In particular, veterans with PTSD tend to have a larger right amygdala—the part of the brain that controls fear and regulates emotion.

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Members of Congress Introduce Legislation to Support Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma

Gregory M. Rada Legal Update

Last month U.S. legislators introduced H.R. 1954 – the Servicemembers and Veterans Empowerment and Support Act of 2017. In large part, legislators drafted H.R. 1954 in response to reports of nude photos of female service members being posted online. The bill is aimed at ensuring that these veterans have sufficient access to counseling and benefits. Under the present laws, it is not clear that victims of cyber sexual harassment are eligible for these services.

Legislators also drafted the bill to make it easier for victims of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) to prove disability claims for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). H.R. 1954 would change the standard of proof and allow for the victim’s own testimony to corroborate these claims. Advocacy groups have been working to lessen the burden of proof for years, arguing the current standard unfairly disadvantages MST victims who do not have sufficient corroborating evidence.

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