The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced on Wednesday that it is extending mental health services to veterans who had a "less than honorable discharge" from military service. The federal agency now is being managed by the administration of Donald Trump, who stated a few weeks ago that his administration is "running like a fine-tuned machine," (ABC News, 2/17/17). The VA stated that the inclusion of veterans, who for various reasons did not attain an "honorable discharge," was necessary because of increasingly high suicide rates among veterans.

A 'national emergency.'

David Shulkin, the VA Secretary, stated that veterans are more likely than other Americans to have "mental health distress." Shulkin discussed the fact that nearly 20 veterans commit suicide daily and stated that "This is a national emergency," (ABC News, 3/8/17). Shulkin stated that the VA could not wait for Congress to enact legislation for veterans because of their prolific propensity to suicide. Consequently, as Shulkin explained, the VA took unilateral action on its own and made the announcement that it is extending services to veterans with "other than honorable discharges," (ABC News, 3/8/17).

Drug charges and violence

In most cases, the veterans who attained "less than honorable discharges" had been discharged for drug abuse and/or violence.

These veterans historically have been denied federal benefits after being discharged, including mental health services through the VA. However, in light of the mounting suicide problem among veterans, the VA has made an exception. It is unknown if other departments within the Trump Administration will follow suit and also extend services to this group of veterans.

It is customary for honorably discharged veterans to attain scholarships and federal loans to go to college, apply for VA home loans, and apply for civil service jobs, and attain employment services from state-run employment agencies. Such services usually are not extended to veterans with less than honorable discharges.

VA hiring mental health providers

Although the formal extension of mental health services to veterans with "less than honorable discharges" will not begin until June or July, Shulkin stated that his agency can begin seeing clients "right away." Shulkin also stated that the VA is hiring 1,000 additional mental health providers who even will be able to reach veterans in rural areas by phone, if necessary. Shulkin explained that around a half a million veterans have "less than honorable" discharges and that an excess of 22,000 combat veterans who had mental disabilities or "traumatic brain injuries" were discharged for misconduct.

Ben Carson's views on slaves as 'immigrants'

Meanwhile, HUD (Housing and Urban Development) Director Ben Carson, speaking to the employees of his department, stated that slaves were "immigrants" to the United States.

The comment drew sharp criticism from Whoopi Goldberg and the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect. Carson also had erroneously stated in 2014 that “Anyone caught involved in voter fraud should be immediately deported and have his citizenship revoked,” (MSNBC 11/13/14). Carson did not stipulate how illegal immigrants could be stripped of something that they never had from the beginning.

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