TAMPA — Many military veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, but if they are discharged with anything less than an honorable discharge they cannot get the mental-health treatment they need.
The Department of Veterans Affairs said that 20 percent of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq could have PTSD.
“Veterans who have received less-than-honorable discharges because they suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder ... or other mental illnesses are entitled to receive an honorable discharge,” David Magann, a Tampa-based veterans lawyer, said in a news release on LawFirmNewswire.com. “They should not lose their Veterans Affairs health benefits or GI bill education benefits.”
There are five kinds of discharges from the military besides an honorable discharge: general discharge under honorable conditions, other than honorable discharge, bad-conduct discharge, dishonorable, and entry-level separation.
A number of veterans advocacy groups are trying to get all veterans the health-care benefits they need, aside from those given a dishonorable discharge.
In December 2015, Swords to Ploughshares, an advocacy group for veterans based in California, submitted to the Department of Veterans Affairs a Rulemaking Petition requesting simple amendments to the VA’s regulations that would open up access the care and benefits that we owe to the veterans. The group was joined on the petition by the National Veterans Legal Services Program, the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, and Latham and Watkins LLP. The petition read, in part:
“Deserving veterans are turned away from VA hospitals every day. We ask the VA to expedite a review and amendment of its regulation in order to ensure that we are in fact serving all who served.”
“It is challenging the VA’s interpretation of who is a veteran,” Kevin C. Miller, a media-relations specialist for Swords to Ploughshares, told theFlorida Record.
Miller says the Rulemaking Petition has a clear goal.
“If the VA ends up accepting our recommendations from the Rulemaking Petition, basically that would grant these veterans eligibility apply for health-care services, and change their characterization of discharge to make them eligible for health-care benefits, so they could seek treatment for their mental-health conditions,” he said.
A law was passed by Congress in 2009 saying mental-health discharges should be treated as medical discharges, but it is not being enforced.
“That is more on the [Department of Defense] side of things and our Rulemaking Report is focused more on the VA side of things,” Miller said.
The DOD side pertains to service members who have not yet been discharged.
After discharge, there are avenues to change discharge status, Miller said.
“Those with other than honorable discharge don’t always need a discharge upgrade. They can actually apply through the VA for a Character of Service Determination, which basically is the VA ruling if their service was what they’d consider honorable, and if the VA says it was then they can be eligible for healthcare benefits,” he said. “We found in our report that most VA facilities, 3 out of 4 veterans with PTSD have been denied eligibility through these Boards of Veteran Appeals. So despite going through that process, a majority of the time veterans are still being denied.”
“The majority of the veterans who end up committing suicide are outside of the VA system,” Miller said.