Veterans who received less than honorable discharges from the military while they suffered from issues stemming from military sexual assault or other mental health issues are getting further clarification from the Department of Defense for reviewing these discharges.
“In the past few years, the department has issued guidance for consideration of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) but there remained some questions about how the guidance applied to sexual assault, sexual harassment, or mental health conditions other than PTSD,” the press announcement reads.
“This guidance fills in the gaps and resolves any confusion that veterans or the review boards may have had, and it ensures a fair and equitable review of separations for all veterans.”
Having bad discharge paperwork can cause a veteran to go without health benefits, education benefits, or to apply for state assistance.
John Hoellwarth, national communications director for AMVETS, said that the new guidance is “a positive step.”
“I think it’s a long time coming. I think there are a lot of guys out there, a lot of women out there, who need VA health care after they leave and aren’t currently getting it,” he said. “And I’m really glad that there’s some guidance.”
AMVETs is concerned that “some of the discharges that have been handed out previously for mental health issues and the like, is that they preclude service members from getting the care that they need,” Hoellwarth said.
Alex Zhang, assistant director of DoD Board and national cemetery at the American Legion said the organization is still reviewing the new guidance and how it can help veterans with discharge upgrades.
For the Legion’s own work in discharge upgrades, the new guidance “supports the efforts that we make,” he said. “It’s like less of a hurdle so now it makes it easier. But it also clarifies things for the DoD board to say hey, now you really have to take this into further consideration.”
Zhang also said that over 700,000 veterans need or are seeking upgrades to their discharges and hopes that this new guidance will help reduce those numbers.
Kristofer Goldsmith, assistant director for policy and government relations at Vietnam Veterans of America and founder of High Ground Veterans Advocacy, has been advocating to get relief for veterans with these “Bad Paper” discharges.
“This is long awaited progress,” he said, “this is something that’s been in the works for, if you count all the works that my colleagues at Vietnam Veterans of America have put in, this is something they’ve waited for about 50 years for.”
But Goldsmith wants to see a faster resolution for these veterans who are without benefits and have suffered because of it, including with homelessness and a higher risk of suicide.
“If they don’t immediately act to reinstate the benefits that these veterans deserve, we’re not really doing anything to help the most at risk veterans.”
Goldsmith says it takes more than a year for a veteran to appeal their discharge and to hear back from the review board. And it is even harder to do without a lawyer.
“So this new memorandum is a positive sign that DoD is recognizing that there is a problem, but it’s going to be years before people start to see the benefit,” he said.