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What Happened to No Man Left Behind? Combat Trauma Deserves Treatment
By Lori Rhea DiSorbo

As we witness the horrors of another war, our hearts go out to the Ukrainian people and all involved in the conflict. Not only do we ache for the loss of life, but also for the suffering, loss, torture, and trauma that will linger in the lives of those who survive, just as we ache for our own veterans who have stared down the horrors of war and come home with invisible wounds.

This being the case, why, then, do we restrict certain veterans from receiving the mental health care they deserve?

Our country must not leave any servicemen and women behind in regard to mental health care.

Traumatized servicemembers who act out against rules or turn to substance misuse in response to trauma can be given a bad conduct or dishonorable discharge and lose the mental health services they desperately need. Although limiting certain military benefits due to misconduct is understandable, we should not deny mental health care from servicemembers who have experienced combat trauma. Instead, mental health care should be a baseline for those who have experienced a service-related incident that leads to PTSD, traumatic brain injury, or military sexual trauma.

The good news is that in recent years, VA has taken a more serious look at the link between combat trauma and veteran homelessness, incarceration, and death by suicide. Congress and the military slowly recognize the sobering fact that 1 in 5 veterans experiences mental health problems and 20 veterans die by suicide each day. VA is aware that the need for advancements in brain science and expanded clinical treatment are great.

In response, VA has reinstated mental health care for veterans with certain less than honorable discharge statuses such as general and other. However, it still does not include those with bad conduct or dishonorable discharges, which accounts for 2% to 5% of veterans. Regardless of an undesirable response to trauma, veterans deserve mental health care in return for their sacrifices.

Therefore, it’s imperative that all state and federal representatives support policy change that would protect this small but important group of veterans that has been left behind to suffer without assistance. A slight overall increase in VA’s budget would provide mental health care to all veterans.

Veterans enlist knowing it could cost them their lives. All those who return mentally wounded deserve the justice and dignity of mental health care. Let’s encourage our representatives and VA to leave no one behind.

— Lori Rhea DiSorbo is a student at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work.