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“The Vets We Reject And Ignore”: Leave No Fallen Comrade Behind Applies At Home And To All Veterans, Regardless Of “Bad Paper”

Today, we honor the nation’s 22 million veterans, including more than 2.5 million who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and other fronts in the war against Al Qaeda. But we are turning our backs on hundreds of thousands of veterans who were discharged “under conditions other than honorable” and so do not qualify as veterans under federal law.

Their discharges, which include overly broad categories encompassing everything from administrative discharges for minor misconduct to dishonorable discharges following a court-martial, nevertheless make them ineligible for the health care, employment, housing and education benefits offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Because of the “bad paper” they carry in the form of their discharge certificates, many of these veterans struggle upon leaving the military. And when they falter, the burden for supporting them falls heavily on their local communities because federal agencies cannot, by law, help them.

No federal agency publishes the numbers of bad paper discharges. But historical studies suggest that at least several hundred thousand veterans fall into this category. Approximately 260,000 of the 8.7 million Vietnam-era veterans were pushed out of the service with bad paper. More recently, according to documents separately obtained by the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Army discharged 76,165 soldiers between 2006 and 2012 with bad paper. Of these recent Army discharges, only one in seven were kicked out following a criminal conviction for a serious offense. The rest were discharged for smaller breaches of military discipline like missing duty or abusing alcohol or drugs. For many of them, their misconduct was likely related to the stresses of war.

Instead of showing compassion for these troops who were carrying the invisible wounds of war, their commanders kicked them out. These troops’ getting pushed out under such circumstances would be enough of a blow, but these commanders compounded the injury by giving them bad paper, instead of merely administratively separating them from the service.

While assessing the needs of veterans in the Western United States, my research team met with community leaders and nonprofit agency staff members in seven cities with the largest populations of veterans, and interviewed others in outlying cities and rural areas as well. Across these communities, veterans with bad paper were believed to be significantly overrepresented in the at-risk veterans populations. All too frequently these veterans become part of the nation’s chronically homeless or incarcerated populations.

When they end up in distress or on the streets, their communities must bear this burden alone.

We have a moral obligation to those who serve, especially those who serve us in combat. At times, the military must discharge those who can’t perform or conform. However, commanders should exercise far greater discretion and compassion in trimming the ranks. Bad discharges indelibly mark veterans as damaged goods and cost society a great deal too.

Congress should also allow the V.A. to more broadly provide mental health care, homelessness support and other forms of crisis intervention to veterans with bad paper. The V.A. has case-by-case authority to do so now, but that does not help veterans with bad paper who have acute needs. A more compassionate policy would not diminish the military’s ability to maintain discipline, nor would it cheapen the valor of those who have served honorably.

The military has a process to fix bad paper, but that process takes too much time, and veterans often need legal help to prevail in an incredibly bureaucratic and difficult process.

The story of John Shepherd Jr., who earned a Bronze Star for valor in Vietnam but was kicked out after disobeying an order to return to combat after developing severe post-traumatic stress disorder, shows how difficult these cases can be. Mr. Shepherd went without V.A. support for 40 years until a team of students and lawyers at Yale Law School helped him correct his record this month.

Excellent programs exist to help veterans in such cases, but they deserve more resources. Small investments in pro bono legal services can help unlock a lifetime of access to the V.A. and help the neediest veterans with bad paper move on with their lives.

Finally, the veterans community should do more to lift up those veterans who have been discharged with bad paper, particularly in those cases where combat experience lies at the heart of the bad discharge. The American military ethos calls on all of us to leave no fallen comrade behind. That applies at home, too, and to all veterans, regardless of whether they carry bad paper.

By: Phillip Carter, Op-Ed Contributor, Opinion Pages, The New York Times, November 10, 2013

November 11, 2013 Posted by | Veterans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Thank You For Your Service, Or Not”: Republicans Thank Veterans By Cutting Food Stamps

The next time I hear a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives thank a veteran for his or her service, I’ll hurl.

Veterans Day is on Monday. This year the holiday will come 10 days after cuts in federal food aid demanded by House Republicans go into effect. The cuts mean that 47 million hungry Americans, including almost 1 million veterans, will be even hungrier and more malnourished than they were last Veterans Day.

Mother’s Day won’t be much better because 80 percent, or 37 million, of the food aid recipients are women and children. And for the record, 10 percent or almost 5 million of the recipients are senior citizens.

I hope the House Republican budget guru, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is proud of his handiwork because it’s a callous way of thanking vets for their service. Before the cuts, the average veteran received a little more than $4 a day for food from the feds. Now vets will have to get by on even less. Don’t try this at home, because if you try to eat on $4 a day, you will be malnourished pretty quickly. The GOP went to the mat to get these cuts and now they want even more.

The Republican hostility towards vets is just the latest episode in the sad saga of vets under the GOP. George W. Bush and his vice president Dick Cheney both avoided serving in Vietnam when they were of draft age in the 1960’s. But that didn’t stop the deadly duo from sending more than 4,000 brave young Americans to their deaths in Iraq based on a lie about the existence of weapons of mass destruction there.

If wounded soldiers were lucky enough to make it out of Iraq alive, things didn’t get much better back home. During the Bush/Cheney administration, hospitals administered by the Veterans Administration were poorly staffed and inadequately equipped. The corridors of the “crown jewel” of the military hospital system, Walter Reed Hospital, were plagued with garbage and rats.

The tea party caucus in Congress forced $5 million a year in cuts for food aid. Why? Because the GOP shot down President Obama’s proposal to eliminate $6 billion in federal tax freebies to oil companies and firms that own corporate jets. While millionaires, billionaires and oil company executives fly the friendly federal skies, almost 1 million veterans are still in the desert, fighting hard. This time they struggle in a fight for food in the land of plenty.

Thank you for your service!

 

By: Brad Bannon, U. S. News and World Report, November 8, 2013

November 9, 2013 Posted by | SNAP, Veterans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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