A renewed call to provide benefits to vets with bad paper discharges

Hartford — A new report calls on Connecticut to provide benefits to veterans with other than honorable discharges who also experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, a traumatic brain injury or sexual trauma during their military service.

The report, prepared by the Connecticut chapter of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic, advocates for legislation to ensure access to state veteran benefits for this group of veterans.

An other-than-honorable discharge, commonly referred to as a bad paper discharge, usually makes a veteran ineligible for state and federal veterans' benefits. In Connecticut, that means being denied local property tax exemptions and tuition waivers for universities and community and technical colleges in the state, for example.

The proposal was first introduced during the 2017 legislative session of the Connecticut General Assembly and was taken up by the Veterans Affairs Committee, but lawmakers were concerned that it would have put the state in a position of making a connection between a vet's diagnosis of PTSD or TBI and his or her bad paper discharge. The report proposes establishing a waiver system in which eligible veterans could go to a VA Hospital or Vet Center, and request that a licensed mental health care provider fill out a standardized form confirming that he or she has a qualifying condition.

"The behaviors most associated with OTH discharges such as self-medicating with drugs or alcohol and missing training exercises often stem from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, or sexual assault. These veterans volunteered to serve, often knowing that they would see combat. They suffered as a result, and the very symptoms of their mental health injuries have precluded them from receiving the proper treatment for these same service-connected injuries,"' said Steve Kennedy, team leader for IAVA-CT, in a news release announcing the report.

Kennedy, who served as an Army infantryman, received a general discharge, and is the lead plaintiff pursuing a class-action lawsuit against the Army on behalf of approximately 60,000 Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans who allege they received less than honorable discharges for behavior later attributed to PTSD and other mental health conditions.

The U.S. military discharges more than 20,000 vets annually with one of five discharge statuses ranging from honorable to dishonorable. An other-than-honorable discharge is classified as an administrative separation, and can be attributed to misconduct such as missing drill or taking unprescribed painkillers for a back injury.

Thomas Burke, 28, of New Haven, who served as a Marine infantryman, has, on several occasions, shared his story of smoking hash after cleaning up the dismembered bodies of Afghan children, who'd been blown up by a rocket-propelled grenade that they were bringing to his military base.

Burke was deployed to Afghanistan at the time, his second combat deployment in a year, and when he returned home months later he was charged for smoking marijuana and was told he'd be kicked out of the Marines. He later attempted suicide.

Burke has said that he was not evaluated for PTSD while in the military but later received that diagnosis. He received an other-than-honorable discharge from the military.

Burke has gone on to advocate for the issue on the national level and brought it to the attention of state Rep. Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield, who sponsored the bill during the 2017 session. The state Veterans Affairs Committee is expected to take up the renewed proposal at a yet-to-be-scheduled public hearing.



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