It’s called a bad paper discharge and 33 year old Michael Coleman could tell you a lot about it. It’s a piece of paper that he says has affected his life since he was about 20 years old.
The discharge has prevented the young man who was part of the first wave of troops to go into Iraq in 2003 from accessing any kind of benefits from the VA (Veterans Administration) for more than a decade. And he says he’s in desperate need of mental health services, because he suffers from PTSD which goes untreated most of the time.
In terms of his military service he says his discharge was “kind of like the Army was saying this guy’s broken so we’ll just go get 30 more next week,”
Coleman says he felt like he “just fell apart” in early 2004 after returning to Fort Benning from Iraq. He’d been then less than six months but says he couldn’t get “the sounds of explosions and the sights of bodies strewn everywhere” out of his mind.
He told me he began using drugs and alcohol and told his commanding officers he was feeling stressed and just wanted out. Coleman claims as a result of being honest about his feelings that he was ostracized and instead of receiving any sort of help or counseling. Coleman ended up being court martialed but his mother, Jo Coleman who worked for the military at the time, ironically in mental health services said that Michael showed signs of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and that she testified to that at the trial.
Nonetheless, she said her son was drummed out of the military and as a result “has no benefits and no help.”
Mrs. Coleman has spent well over a decade trying to help her son change his discharge status with the VA so he can receive mental health services. That has included filing and keeping track of hundreds of documents. She has even hired an attorney at a big expense in an effort to help her son get the help she says “anyone who’s been in combat simply deserves.’
“I can’t even get him into a veterans supported homeless shelter because of his discharge and he’s not the only one,” said Mrs. Coleman. “There are thousands of gentlemen and women out there since 2001 that have gotten out with bad conduct discharges and I don’t know how many have already committed suicide because they have reached the same level of destitution and frustration that Michael has come to..”
“They gave me a bad conduct discharge and released me from the Army, ” said Michael Coleman. “I did what I had to do and the military pretty much got out of their obligation every chance they got the opportunity to take.”
The day we talked, Michael was teary eyed as he recounted the years of frustration. He says he often lives in the woods because he can’t hold down a job. He has no life to speak of but keeps in touch with him mom. He and Mrs. Coleman had recently been to Atlanta for yet a hearing with higher ups at the VA, pleading his case. But it was all to no avail. “We went to a VA hearing in Atlanta and I was turned away again because I need to get my discharge upgraded and we came home and I attempted to kill myself,” he told me.
His mom has used her own resources to get him into a facility for a few days to get him some help and some medication. But Michael told me was at the end of his rope. “I still don’t see a clear path or a light at the end of the tunnel so it’s still pretty dark,” he said.
In the next few days we will continue looking at this topic. Meanwhile, both Mrs. Coleman and a veterans advocate, Kristofer Goldsmith are urging Americans to learn more about the topic of bad discharges and to watch a new online documentary about the topic called “Charlie Foxtrot.”