It’s estimated that up to 125,000 veterans who have served since 9-11 and have received less than honorable discharges (sometimes referred to as bad paper discharges) are not eligible for healthcare benefits from the Veterans Administration.
Kristofer Goldsmith, an Iraq war veteran who now works for Vietnam Veterans of America says that means many vets with untreated PTSD are not receiving care of any kind. He says some Vietnam vets have struggled for years, and now
it’s affecting younger veterans who signed up since 2001. “The denial of mental healthcare access for a combat veteran I think is criminal,” says Goldsmith.
VA officials from the Charleston-Savannah areas say that the rules governing bad conduct discharges are set in law and as such, the Veterans Administration is prevented from serving this group of veterans no matter how much they may need treatment.
Goldsmith however says “advocates differ with the VA on this topic.”
He and others calling for change say the VA is interpreting the laws and setting its own rules on who it will and will not treat. Sadly, Goldsmith says the vets turned away may need the help the most.
the rules being enforced by the veterans administration keep at least some who need help – from getting it. “What should be most alarming is that veterans with bad paper discharges are most likely to die by suicide,” says Goldsmith.
33 year old Michael Coleman recently told me he attempted suicide after being denied another appeal to the Veterans Administration to receive services. Coleman says he served in Iraq in 2003 and was kicked out of the Army for bad behavior after he returned home.
His mom, Jo Coleman says he showed symptoms of PTSD before his discharge but did not receive proper treatment. “I have been collecting information along with his medical records for the last 13 years that show that he was diagnosed prior to the bad conduct discharge and the reasons why i think his chain of command chose to go that route. But we are trying to appeal to someone’s compassion,” she said. “We are still hoping to get his discharge upgraded and get him the evaluations and treatments that he needs. I don’t think that’s asking too much since he actually joined the military and went to Iraq.”
“When we joined, the VA came and talked to us and told us when we came home and had problems, we would not be alone, that there would be someplace for us to go. But for me, that never happened,” says Michael Coleman. “I’ve been to the VA roughly 100 times and I get turned away every time.”
“We’re denying all these veterans with this dishonorable discharges healthcare,” says Goldsmith. “Is that something that we should consider a reasonable punishment for what is sometimes a minor act of misconduct? A total denial of healthcare for a veteran who may have deployed for a year, 2 years, three years of their lives? I would think most reasonable people would say no.”
Goldsmith and other advocates are supporting legislation that would require the VA to prove why it is denying any combat veteran care instead of putting the burden on a veteran like Coleman to prove they deserve care. But Coleman is discouraged. “I don’t have any hope for a fixed system in my lifetime or the next couple of months or a year,” he said. “But I would hope if possible the system would be changed for the people coming home today.”