Too often, our office hears from veterans who are unable to work because of service-connected disabilities but are denied benefits by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs because of circumstances surrounding their discharge from the military. As I explained in an article this February, VA recently simplified the process for upgrading your discharge if you believe the conduct that made your discharge other-than-honorable was related to Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) or Military Sexual Trauma (MST). In 2014, the Obama Administration’s Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel (a Vietnam veteran himself), mandated that discharge review boards afford “liberal consideration” to discharge-upgrade applicants with service-related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
This month, a bi-partisan group of senators is trying to resurrect a proposal to amend the National Defense Authorization Act to make it even easier for veterans to upgrade discharges known as “bad paper discharges,” ones that stemmed from sexual trauma or PTSD. In a letter to Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the bi-partisan group cited figures that show that approximate 318,000 veterans have separated from service with less-than-honorable discharges and that discharges for misconduct are 11 times more likely following a PTSD diagnosis. The letter stressed the importance of including the amendment when the National Defense Authorization Act is, hopefully, passed when the House and Senate approve the Defense Department’s 2017 budget.
As the senators’ letter to Senator McCain states, the problem is that "a less than honorable discharge, or bad paper discharge, is often given for instances of minor misconduct such as being late to formation and missing appointments -- behavior often seen in those suffering from PTSD, TBI, and other trauma-related conditions." Less –than-honorable discharges are roadblocks for veterans who would otherwise be entitled to disability benefits, GI Bill education benefits and even VA home loans. According to the senators, their goal is to make Secretary Hagel’s 2014 mandate the law of the land.
It is estimated that about 30 out of every 100 (or 30%) of Vietnam Veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime. Current estimates of PTSD in military personnel who served in Iraq range from 12% to 20%, but the number is likely far higher due to the number of veterans who decline to apply for benefits, due to reasons such as believing “Some of my fellow soldiers are much worse off than me” or “I have a bad discharge, so I’d never qualify for benefits.”
If the bi-partisan group of senators’ amendment passes, Secretary Hagel’s mandate that “liberal consideration” be given to discharge-upgrade applications where there is evidence PTSD contributed to the misconduct that led to the less-than-honorable discharge would become law, and then would be great news for many thousands of veterans. Currently, our office often succeeds in helping veterans upgrade their discharges based on evidence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but the amendment currently up for vote is absolutely necessary to make it easier for veterans to get the benefits they deserve even if a less-than-honorable discharge is in the way.
If you have any questions about the bi-partisan senate group’s amendment and what It means for you, or want help applying for a discharge upgrade right away, please call our office today at 877-629-1712.