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Increasingly, Veterans Denied VA Care Due to Discharge Circumstances

discharge

By Debbie Gregory.

An other than honorable discharge is the military equivalent of a “scarlet letter.” Often called “bad paper,”  the designation carries serious post-service consequences. A growing number of veterans have been ruled ineligible for benefits because of less-than-honorable discharges.

Former members of the military are being refused benefits at the highest rate since the system was created at the end of World War II, according to a recent report. More than 125,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have what are known as “bad paper” discharges that preclude them from receiving care. But veterans with bad paper argue that their conduct was the result of post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.

The situation has created a unique conundrum.

“We separate people for misconduct that is actually a symptom of the very reason they need health care,” said Coco Culhane, a lawyer who works with veterans at the Urban Justice Center in New York.

The highest rate of bad paper is found in the Marine Corps, where one in 10 is now ineligible for benefits.

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the G. I. Bill, defined who was eligible for VA  benefits. It instructed the VA to care for veterans if their service was “other than dishonorable.” The agency interpreted this as excluding “other than honorable” discharges.

The rising proportion of ineligible veterans is largely due to the military’s increasing reliance on other-than-honorable discharges, which have been used as a quick way to dismiss troubled servicemembers who might otherwise qualify for time-consuming and expensive medical discharges.

Though veterans can apply for a category upgrade, the process is confusing, inconsistent and slow, Mr. Adams said.

Only 10 percent of veterans are successful; a decision takes, on average, four years, the report said. In some regions, all requests are rejected.

Research has shown that veterans with bad paper discharges may be more likely to commit suicide. Those with untreated post-traumatic stress disorder are at higher risk of homelessness, drug abuse and incarceration.

“The nation’s long had a social contract with its troops that says we will send you to war, and when you come home we will care for you,” said Phil Carter, an Iraq veteran now at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington DC think tank specializing in national security issues. “There’s been this gap; this population that’s gone to war and earned the benefits of that social contract, but for whatever reason had these benefits taken away.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

 

Taking PTS and TBI Into Consideration for Military Discharge Rating

dd214

By Debbie Gregory.

If a military service member received a good or excellent rating for their service time by exceeding standards for performance and personal conduct, they will receive a military discharge rating of honorable. But there are many servicemembers who receive military discharge ratings that are other than honorable due to behaviors related to post-traumatic stress (PTS) and/or traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

Many of these men and women had multiple deployments, witnessed friends maimed or killed in battle, and were physically and/or mentally wounded themselves. Yet, instead of getting the help they needed, they were booted.

A less-than-honorable discharge severely limits the care and support options available to those veterans, leaving them with decreased medical support and an increased risk of suicide. These veterans are also at risk of family instability, elevated rates of homelessness, and joblessness. But help may be on the way.

In 2014, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that boards for correction of military records or naval records should “fully and carefully consider every petition based on PTSD brought by each veteran.”

And now lawmakers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have introduced legislation that would require military discharge review boards to factor in troops’ mental health issues, and accept a PTSD or TBI diagnosis from a professional as an acceptable rebuttal to a dismissal.

As well as benefitting those currently leaving the military, the legislation could affect past discharges, many for minor offenses related to alcohol use or tardiness.

The bill’s sponsor, Iraq War veteran Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., called expanding treatment for troubled veterans a desperate need.

“In the case of veterans with severe mental health problems, access to these services may be life-saving,” he said. “It is my hope that veterans with questionable, less-than-honorable discharges receive quick access to the mental health care they earned and deserve.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

 

Military Connection: Website for Discharge Upgrades: By Debbie Gregory

PTSD Discharge upgrade

When the news first broke in September, we informed our readers about the memorandum sent by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel regarding discharge upgrade requests by Veterans claiming post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The memorandum to the Military Department Boards for Correction of Military/Naval Records (BCM/NR) directed each review board to carefully consider each and every petition. Since that directive has been given, actions have been taken to assist Veterans who wish upgrade their discharge status. The latest action comes in the form of a web page, launched to assist Veterans who are seeking to upgrade punitive discharges related to behavior problems caused by PTSD.

The Army Review Boards Agency (ARBA) is the Army’s highest level of administrative review for personnel actions taken by lower level organizations. ARBA is comprised of several boards, and hears the claims of soldiers and former soldiers who are appealing unfavorable information in their personnel records. ARBA has established a web page that describes the change in policy, offers Army Veterans guidance with how to apply for discharge upgrades, and answers frequently asked questions about the policy change and the procedures involved with the review process.

The policy change and the website are the direct result of the revelation that 250,000 Vietnam era Veterans may have been given punitive discharges because of behaviors associated with PTSD, long before it was recognized as a debilitating medical condition.

Today, PTSD is universally recognized throughout the medical field, and is commonly associated with the military. Several estimates gauge that around 20% of combat Veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. It is likely that PTSD ratios from earlier wars are at least that high. But without any policy acknowledging or recognizing PTSD or its symptoms, many Vietnam Veterans were instead punished. In many cases, these Veterans were kicked out of the military with other than honorable discharges because of their behavior, which we now know are symptoms of the service-related disorder.

Discharge upgrades are extremely important to these affected Veterans, because many benefits offered through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can be denied due to the character of discharge. Upgrading the character of their discharge could mean that these Veterans will be granted access to several VA benefits that they were previously not eligible for, including care for their medical and psychological health.

Secretary Hagel’s memorandum does not guarantee status upgrades, but merely directs the review boards to factor in what we now know about PTSD when making their decisions. The memo and the ARBA site clearly state that review boards are not courts of law or investigative institutions. All appeals for discharge status updates need to come with evidence provided by the applicant. The memorandum also clearly states that, “PTSD is not a likely cause of premeditated misconduct.”

If you, or a Veteran that you know could benefit from a discharge upgrade, please refer them to http://arba.army.pentagon.mil/abcmr-overview.cfm for applications and more information.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Website for Discharge Upgrades: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: DOD to Review OTH Discharges: By Debbie Gregory

Discharge upgradesUp to 80,000 veterans with “Other Than Honorable” military discharges due to PTSD have been given the opportunity to petition to have their discharges upgraded.

On September 3, 2014, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued a memorandum that directed the boards for correction of military records or naval records to “fully and carefully consider every petition based on PTSD brought by each veteran.”

Secretary Hagel instructed the boards to give “liberal consideration” to any language found in medical records describing one or more symptoms that meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD or related conditions.  Liberal consideration is also to be used when veterans’ civilian providers have diagnosed PTSD. And where PTSD is reasonably determined to have existed at the time of discharge, it is to be “a mitigating factor” in the misconduct that generated an Other Than Honorable Discharge.

The generation of veterans who will most benefit from this new directive will be Vietnam Veterans. PTSD wasn’t formally recognized until 1980. Studies have estimated that as many as 30% of Vietnam Veterans suffered from PTSD at some point after the war.

An immeasurable number of Vietnam Veterans came home with PTSD, and were then punished for behaviors that are recognized today as symptoms of post-traumatic stress. With their Other Than Honorable Discharges, these veterans were not eligible for VA benefits and care. Many of these veterans also faced an uphill employment battle because of their type of discharge.

Forty years have gone by, and for many, the damage has been done. But a number of veterans, estimated as high as 80,000, could have their discharge statuses upgraded, which would possibly qualify them to receive benefits, including healthcare.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: DOD to Review OTH Discharges: By Debbie Gregory