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Report: Sharp Increase in Veterans Denied Benefits at VA

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April 5 2016

The Department of Veteran Affairs has failed so many women and men who have lost life and limb for their country.  These soldiers have fought for the right to even have a place called the VA, and yet the bureaucratic nightmare that is government run medicine hurts those who have sacrificed their all.

A new report shows that men and women who have been less-than-honorably discharged are ruled ineligible for Veteran benefits.  Former members of the military have been refused benefits at an alarmingly high rate since the inception of the system at the end of World War II.  With more than 125,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, that have what are referred to as “bad paper” discharges, these soldiers are precluded from gaining access to care, said the report by the Swords to Plowshares advocacy group.

In one of the bloodiest valleys in Afghanistan, Joshua Bunn, 27, was a rifleman. It was here that his infantry unit killed hundreds of enemy fighters but also lost more comrades than any other battalion in the Marine Corps in 2009.

In an interview from his Jonesboro, Arkansas home, he said, “We were so far out in Taliban country we rarely got resupply.  We just got rockets and small-arms fire every day.”

After deployment, Mr. Bunn, suicidal and haunted by nightmares, went absent without leave. The Marine Corps charged him with misconduct and gave him an other-than-honorable discharge.

As a consequence, the Department of Veterans Affairs does not technically consider Mr. Bunn a veteran and has denied him permanent heath care, disability pay and job training intended to ease his return to civilian life.

This is the first time a report compared  70 years of data from the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, finding that vets who had served after 2001 were twice as likely to be denied benefits as those who had served in Vietnam and four times as likely as those who had served in WWII.

“We separate people for misconduct that is actually a symptom of the very reason they need health care,” said Coco Culhane, a lawyer who works with veterans at the Urban Justice Center in New York.

About 6.5 percent of all Iraq and Afghanistan troops have bad paper discharges, the report said. The highest rate is found in the Marine Corps, where one in 10 is now ineligible for benefits.

“It has gotten worse with every generation, and it appears to hit the veterans Congress intended to protect,” said Bradford Adams, a lawyer and an author of the report. “They knew these folks had been through combat, and wanted to make sure they had help. The V.A. doesn’t seem to be doing that.”

Specifically who is eligible for veterans benefits was detailed in the original Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the G. I. Bill. The law barred troops with dishonorable discharges — those convicted at court-martial of serious crimes — as well as spies, deserters and a few others considered particularly heinous. To allow leeway for less serious misconduct that might result from combat, Congress left open the door to benefits for a spectrum of discharges between honorable and dishonorable, including “undesirable” and “other than honorable.”

The agency interpreted the  G. I. Bill instructions to exclude “other than honorable” discharges, though it states that veterans agency is to care for veterans if their service was “other than dishonorable.”

Veterans can apply for a category upgrade, but the process is slow, inconsistent and confusing, with only 10 percent gaining success.  A decision takes a four year average and in some regions every request was rejected.

Mr. Bunn feels the same. He was hospitalized for slashing his wrists when he got home from Afghanistan. He then became a target of abuse in his platoon and was denied help, he said, so he ran away from his base in California. When he was caught in 2010, he said, he was told that a medical discharge would take years, and that he would be better off voluntarily taking an other-than-honorable discharge.

Now he works part time as a dishwasher but finds it hard to keep a job, he said. He has been in and out of jail. He has five years of health care given to all combat veterans, which is set to run out this year.

“I really don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “Afghanistan happened, and I’m a whole different person. But no one really wants to hear that.”

Source: New York Times