March 16, 2016
As the push to find housing for all of L.A.’s homeless military veterans hurls towards a summer deadline, service providers say they’re running into one type of vet over and over again: someone who’s been discharged with “bad papers.”
Translation: they got kicked out of the military without an Honorable Discharge.
According to data obtained by KPCC from the Defense Manpower Data Center, more than 615,000 Army, Navy, Marine, and Air Force veterans were discharged with less-than-honorable discharges from 1990-2015.
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Co.) is a retired Marine officer and said that high a number is “very alarming.”
Coffman says in his day, a servicemember caught for a minor offense might’ve been denied the chance to reenlist, but would not have been kicked out with bad paperwork that denied them benefits afterwards.
There’s a range of discharges below the level of honorable— and they can be awarded after conviction by a courts-martial for felonies as well as by non-judicial administrative boards for misdemeanor-level misconduct.
Among other things, bad paper can be a pathway to homelessness, according to a recent study by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Researchers attempting to find factors that contribute to veteran homelessness discovered that bad paper makes a veteran five to seven times more likely to fall into homelessness.
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Seems really high especially when you consider the New York Times report that came out in February had the number at 300,000 from 2001.
Congress created military review boards after World War II to correct wartime missteps, but observers say this has rarely happened in recent years. In 2013, the Army Board for Correction of Military Records, the supreme authority in the Army’s review agency, ruled against veterans in about 96 percent of PTSD-related cases, according to an analysis done by Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic.
“The boards are broken,” said Michael Wishnie, a Yale professor who oversees the clinic. “They are not functioning the way Congress has intended.”
Yet in 2015 the Pentagon said it was just 140,000.
But none of that is new either.
If Vietnam Vets Had PTSD, They Deserve Benefits
Veterans lawsuit seeks redress on discharges
December 11, 2012
John Shepherd Jr. enlisted in the Army and earned a Bronze Star for valor fighting with the Ninth Infantry Division in the Mekong Delta in 1969. But after his platoon leader was killed while trying to help him out of a canal, Mr. Shepherd appeared to come undone, eventually refusing to go out on patrol.
He was court-martialed and given an other-than-honorable discharge, making him ineligible for most veterans' benefits. He believes his behavior was the result of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. His immediate problem: PTSD wasn't recognized as a medical condition until 1980.
Mr. Shepherd and the veterans organization Vietnam Veterans of America have filed a lawsuit in federal court in New Haven on behalf of Vietnam veterans who were given other-than-honorable discharges for conduct they say was caused by undiagnosed PTSD. The suit, brought by the activist Veterans Legal Clinic at Yale Law School, seeks to have their discharges upgraded, something the military has thus far been reluctant to do.
The legal action, which could affect tens of thousands of veterans, raises a novel question: Can a soldier be given a retroactive diagnosis for a condition that was not then recognized as an ailment?
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Jarrid Starks, another Army veteran with a Bronze Star for Valor did have his discharge overturned in 2012.