Coffman gets unanimous House approval for combat veterans’ mental health bill

Author: Joey Bunch - November 9, 2017 - Updated: November 9, 2017

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman addresses Arapahoe County Republicans at the party's reorganization meeting on Feb. 7, 2015. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman addresses Arapahoe County Republicans at the party’s reorganization meeting in 2015. (Colorado Politics file photo)

The U.S. House this week approved Rep. Mike Coffman’s bill to help less-than-honorably discharged veterans get mental health assistance after serving in combat.

H.R. 918, called the Veteran Urgent Access to Mental HealthCare Act, would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide initial mental health assessments and ongoing care.

Coffman said the House “sent a critical message” to those who serve.

“That message is that you are not alone,” he said in a statement. “We are here to help those suffering from the ‘invisible’ wounds of war. The passage of H.R. 918 is an important bipartisan effort to ensure that our combat veterans receive the mental healthcare services they need. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to get this bill across the finish line.”

Coffman was prompted to act by a Government Accountability Office report in May that said 62 percent of the 91,764 service members discharged from the military from 2011 to 2015 had a documented history of mental health struggles within the previous two years, including post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

The bill also would require the VA to set up a “character of service” determination process to more closely review why people were dismissed and how it should affect their eligibility of VA benefits, while ensuring those with bad conduct or dishonorable discharges don’t qualify.

“While the correlation between their mental health condition and minor misconduct could be linked, this made no difference to their ‘character of discharge,’” Coffman said. “My legislation seeks to correct this. As a Marine Corps combat veteran, I like to live by the rule that ‘we never leave anyone behind.”

Coffman has had a string of wins on veterans mental health issues this year, including legislation to move VA doctors away from over-prescribing strong psychotherapeutic medications to veterans with mental health needs.

In September the GAO accepted Coffman’s recommendation to do a full review of mental health care for combat veterans with PTSD.

Coffman, is a veteran of the Army and Marine Corps, who served combat tours is both Iraq wars.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.