27 December 2015

'Bad paper' haunts vets after leaving the military – as it must, in my opinion

I stand for careful review of dishonorable discharges to insure PTSD, TBI or other causes are not involved.  Thanks to the National Veterans Legal Services Project this review is underway. Further, individuals have extensive review rights as well as the opportunity to seek redress through their service Board for Correction of Military Records.

I also stand for exclusion from any "veteran" status of an individual who so completely failed the military and his/her comrades through dishonorable conduct. A dishonorable discharge is the result of a judicial procedure with ample protection for the individual's rights.

An honorable discharge is earned by honorable service, and a dishonorable discharge should bring no benefits but instead, public awareness that the individual failed his or her duty, often through criminal acts. 

JIM SALTER | Associated Press, December 25 2015

ST. LOUIS – No medical or mental health care. No subsidized college or work training. For many who leave the U.S. military with less-than-honorable discharges, including thousands who suffered injuries and anguish in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, standard veterans benefits are off limits.

The discharge serves as a scarlet letter of dishonor, and the effects can be severe: Ex-military members with mental health problems or post-traumatic stress disorder can’t turn to Veterans Affairs hospitals or clinics; those who want to go to college aren’t eligible for the GI Bill; the jobless get no assistance for career training; the homeless are excluded from vouchers.

“It’s an indelible mark of their service that follows them for the rest of their lives into the workforce, through background checks, social relationships, and it precludes them from getting the kind of support that most veterans enjoy,” said Phil Carter, an Iraq War vet and senior fellow at the Center for A New American Security.

The Department of Defense said of nearly 207,000 people who left the military last year, just 9 percent received what’s referred to as “bad paper.” Still, that’s more than 18,000 people last year and more than 352,000 since 2000, Defense Department data shows.

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, a Colorado Republican who’s on the House Armed Services Committee, believes many of those men and women suffered battle-related problems that affected their behavior, especially PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

A 2005 study showed Marines deployed to combat who were diagnosed with PTSD were 11 times more likely to receive less-than-honorable discharges, said Brad Adams, an attorney who works with the San Francisco-based organization Swords to Plowshares.

Varying levels of bad paper discharges exist. A general discharge is for those whose service was generally satisfactory, but who engaged in minor misconduct or received non-judicial punishment. Recipients are usually eligible for VA medical and dental services, VA home loans and burial in national cemeteries, but can’t receive educational benefits through the GI Bill.

Virtually no post-military benefits are available below that level.

An other-than-honorable discharge is an administrative action for those with behavior problems such as violence or use of illegal drugs. A bad conduct discharge is punishment for a military crime, and dishonorable discharges are for offenses such as murder or desertion. With those discharges, the VA doesn’t consider the former service members veterans for the purposes of VA benefits.

Maj. Ben Sakrisson, a Defense Department spokesman, said there is “substantial due process” for all cases where people receive a less-than-honorable discharge. Its statistics show that last year, 4,143 service members received other-than-honorable discharges, 637 received bad conduct discharges and 157 were dishonorably discharged.

Once people are discharged, the Department of Veterans Affairs can extend medical and mental health benefits on a case-by-case basis to those whose disabilities were service-connected, the VA said.

Studies show those who are less-than-honorably discharged are far more likely to end up in prison than honorably discharged veterans, and more likely to be suicidal.

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