In Connecticut, giving vets with 'bad paper' a fair chance in hiring

A new initiative in Connecticut seeks to level the playing field for veteran job seekers who've received an other-than-honorable discharge from the military.

Veterans with this kind of administrative discharge, more commonly known as a "bad paper" discharge, can lose out on state and federal benefits, but also face barriers in finding employment, said Alyssa Peterson, a law student intern with Yale's Veterans Legal Services Clinic, which has represented vets seeking to upgrade their discharge status.

The state's Council on Human Rights and Opportunities is getting involved. The agency has begun working with the Connecticut chapter of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and its counsel, the Yale clinic, to address what they say is a systemic discrimination against vets with bad paper discharges.

The goal is to educate employers about their legal obligations to not discriminate, help employers understand the military discharge process and educate veterans about their employment rights.

"We are glad to have the CHRO take up the issue so that we can educate employers about how discharge information can be handled in ways that benefit all deserving veterans and bring all of their skills and experience into the workforce," Steve Kennedy, IAVA-CT team leader, said in an emailed statement.

When hiring, employers consider the characterization of an individual's military service, and a bad paper discharge is often a red flag on job applications. Employers are often unfamiliar with the military discharge process, and are unaware or assume that a bad paper discharge means a veteran engaged in some sort of criminal conduct or served dishonorably, Peterson said.

About 890,000 enlisted service members, or nearly 6 percent of enlisted service members in all military branches except the Coast Guard, have received an other-than-honorable discharge, according to an estimate by the Veterans Legal Clinic at Harvard. Vets can receive this kind of discharge for minor infractions such a watching a movie while on duty or missing a flight for deployment, Peterson said.

In Connecticut, some employers have policies explicitly stating they will only hire vets with honorable discharges, which could put them at risk of violating federal and state civil rights laws, according to Peterson. She offered JPMorgan Chase and Walmart as examples.

A spokesman for JPMorgan did not immediately return a request for comment.

Blair Cromwell, a spokesperson for Walmart, said a veteran must have an honorable discharge to be hired under that company's Veterans Welcome Home Commitment. "Not every veteran we hire is hired under this commitment," Cromwell said in an email.

"We do not require veterans to have been honorably discharged as part our application process for new hires; however, all applicants are subject to the same checks and processes, including drug screens, criminal background checks and assessment results, all when applicable," she said.

Legally, employers are allowed to ask veterans about the characterization of their discharge. If they do ask, they should take into account the nature and gravity of the offense, the presence of mitigating circumstances such as PTSD, how much time has passed since being separated from the military and the nature of the job held or sought, Peterson said.

She points out in a blog post about the new initiative that "generations" of service members have been discharge for discriminatory reasons, such as for being gay before the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy was repealed. The military investigated service members who were suspected of being gay, and many of them were given a bad paper discharge and labeled as undesirable on their military paperwork, she wrote.

j.bergman@theday.com

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