According to a recent New York Times article, an increasing reliance on military discharges that are other-than-honorable have led to many veterans being denied benefits. Take a look at some of the history as well as the current trends highlighted in the article.
When the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (or “GI Bill”) was passed in 1944, it provided numerous benefits for those returning from the last World War. In an effort to give veterans the benefit of the doubt and account for less serious misconduct, Congress changed the discharge system.
Instead of simply “honorable” or “dishonorable” discharges, a spectrum of other-than-honorable discharges was instituted. The GI Bill explicitly barred those dishonorably discharged from receiving benefits, but said that the VA should ensure care for those whose service was “other than dishonorable.” However, the VA’s interpretation excluded any veterans with other-than-honorable discharges.
Veterans may request a category upgrade, but it is a lengthy, confusing process fraught with bureaucratic red tape. Very few veterans succeed—only about 10%--and in certain regions, the policy is to reject all requests.
Since 2001 and the beginning of US troop deployments to areas such as Afghanistan and Iraq, the military’s use of these other-than-honorable discharges has increased significantly. The article suggests that part of the reasoning behind the steep increase may hinge on avoidance of more lengthy and expensive medical discharges.
In fact, according to a report based on 70 years of data from both the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs by the veterans advocacy group Swords to Plowshares, veterans during the period after 2001 are almost two times as likely to be barred from benefits as those who served in Vietnam. The statistics are even more telling when comparing WWII veterans to those deployed post-9/11: today’s military members are four times more likely to be barred than their WWII-era counterparts.
Approximately 6.5% of the men and women who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq have these so-called “bad paper” discharges, keeping them from permanent health care, job training for the transition to civilian life and disability pay. Barring veterans from benefits seems to correlate to a higher risk of drug abuse, incarceration and suicide, as well. That is especially the case for veterans with untreated post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD).
One veteran of the fighting in Afghanistan was reportedly told that a medical discharge could take years and that it would be better to voluntarily take an other-than-honorable discharge. Little did he know he’d be barred from benefits and struggle to find civilian work. Now, he struggles to keep a job and make ends meet.
While the VA responded to the report by Swords to Plowshares by welcoming the opportunity to review how it can better advocate for and serve our nation’s veterans, there is still much work to be done. If you are a veteran or know a veteran, make sure you or your loved one consults a legal adviser to discuss options and ensure access to benefits.
Reference: New York Times (March 30, 2016) “Report Finds Sharp Increase in Veterans Denied V.A. Benefits”