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VA's Shulkin: Texas Church Killer's Discharge Left Him Ineligible for Services

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By    |   Friday, 10 November 2017 08:34 AM

Texas shooter Devin Kelley, because of his discharge from the Air Force, for bad conduct, would not have been eligible for care under the Veterans Administration, Secretary David Shulkin said Friday, while admitting that the military needs to do "much better" when it comes to reporting the status of people who have committed criminal acts.

"There's no question we need to do much better when it comes to reporting," Shulkin told CNN's "New Day" program. "The VA of course does carefully track the discharge status of all transitioning service members. With the bad conduct discharge, he would not have been taken care of by the VA."

The Air Force has admitted that it did not send information about Kelley, who killed himself after slaughtering 26 people this past Sunday as they attended worship services at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, to the FBI's National Crime Information Center.

Kelley was discharged from the Air Force following his conviction and sentencing for assaulting his then wife and her infant son in 2012. He also escaped from a New Mexico mental health facility shortly after the assault. 

However, neither the discharge nor the violent acts were reported to the FBI, leaving Kelley able to purchase four firearms after his discharge, including three that were used in his shooting spree, during which he shot nearly everyone inside the church.

Shulkin said Friday that members of the military who receive bad conduct or dishonorable discharges are exempt from VA care, as those leaving the service under those reasons have committed much more serious offenses.

"It's very confusing if you're not from the military culture," he said. "There are many levels of discharge. About 85 percent of active service members will leave with an honorable discharge. Fifteen percent will have other than honorable, which is not a conviction of a crime the way this gentleman had a crime."

Many people who are discharged with an other than honorable discharge are released for conditions such as post-traumatic stress, so the VA has extended emergency mental health services for those people, he explained, but "for bad conduct or dishonorable discharge, which are much more serious offenses, we do not provide services for them."

Shulkin on Friday also talked about the VA's efforts when it comes to suicide, with statistics showing that there is an average of 20 veterans a day committing suicide.

"We're focused on this," he said. "Twenty suicides a day is an unacceptable figure."

He noted that actor Tom Hanks has been enlisted in the Be There campaign, and that there is a national public service announcement seeking everyone's help.

"We believe this has to be solved not only by the Department of Veteran Affairs, but by the community working together to find veterans in need and making sure they have access to service," said Shulkin.

He added that many people don't realize that while there has been an increase in younger veterans coming back from recent conflicts, the highest suicide numbers are coming from older veterans, particularly those who served during the Vietnam War.

Shulkin noted that he stepped into his job knowing there would be much work to do, and that the issues spanned multiple administrations, so the concerns are not political.

"What we're doing is we're tackling those issues and transforming the system to be a modern system that responds to the needs of the veterans, and I think we're on our way," Shulkin said. "Thankfully, we are doing it in a bipartisan way and we're getting it done in Washington."

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Texas shooter Devin Kelley, because of his discharge from the Air Force, for bad conduct, would not have been eligible for care under the Veterans Administration, Secretary David Shulkin said Friday...
shulkin, texas, shooter, discharge, military
Friday, 10 November 2017 08:34 AM
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