More than 20,000 U.S. veterans have left military service during the past four years with an other-than-honorable discharge, which can restrict their disability and veterans health care benefits, The Seattle Times reports. Many of these men and women are struggling with drug abuse and/or post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to federal law, veterans who are not honorably discharged because of misdeeds must submit to a review of whether they engaged in “willful and persistent misconduct,” and whether that behavior disqualifies them for health care or disability benefits. These rules leave some veterans struggling to find treatment, the article notes.
Officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs told the newspaper the department has no way to track how many reviews are conducted, how long they take, or what the outcomes are.
“I would go so far to say that, when we speak of Army values, leaving no soldier behind, there is almost a moral obligation,” said Major Evan Seamone, Chief of Military Justice at Fort Benning, Georgia. “We are creating a class of people who need help the most, and may not be able to get it. And, when you do that, there are whole families torn apart, and higher levels of crime. It’s a public-health and public-safety issue.”
Major Tiffany Chapman, a former Army prosecutor, said some soldiers who are dishonorably discharged were troubled before they joined the military, while others appeared to be relatively stable before they faced combat. “You just don’t know how you are going to react once you have been to war,” she said.