Employers directed not to discriminate based on military discharge status

The state's Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities is directing employers in Connecticut not to discriminate against job applicants on the basis of their military discharge status.

The new guidance, announced Thursday at a news conference at the agency's headquarters in Hartford, clarifies that individualized consideration should be given regardless of an applicant's discharge status, ensuring a fair hiring process for all veterans, officials said.

"Employers should consider the nature of an applicant's offense, how long ago the offense occurred and whether it has any bearing on the duties relevant to the job in question," Cheryl Sharp, deputy director of the commission, said in a news release announcing the new guidance.

The agency has been working with the Connecticut chapter of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and its counsel Yale University's Veterans Legal Service Clinic, to address what they say is a systemic discrimination against veterans with "other than honorable" discharges, often referred to as "bad paper." Some private employers have hiring policies that only apply to veterans with honorable discharges.

There are five types of military discharges. An "other than honorable discharge" is the most severe form of administrative discharge, often given as a result of misconduct. Since 9/11, the military increasingly has discharged service members under "other than honorable" conditions, according to a 2017 report from Brown University. Those who receive this type of discharge generally are ineligible for federal and state veterans' benefits, and it can be a barrier to securing employment.

"It's treated like a criminal record even though for bad paper vets a lot of the conduct isn't criminal in nature," said Alyssa Peterson, a law student intern at Yale University's Legal Veterans Service Clinic, which has represented veterans seeking to upgrade their discharges.

Other-than-honorable discharges are given out with little to no process, she added, noting the new guidance also seeks to educate employers about the military discharge system.

Peterson offered as examples a veteran who missed his flight for deployment after a suicide attempt and service members receiving bad paper discharges for being gay as a result of discriminatory practices and procedures before the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy was repealed.

There are efforts at the national level, and here in Connecticut, to get benefits for veterans who received bad paper discharges due to behavior allegedly attributed to post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health issues. In some cases, vets have sued the individual military service branches in an effort to get their discharge status upgraded.

A bill in the General Assembly to provide state veterans benefits to those with other than honorable discharges who have PTSD, a traumatic brain injury or experienced sexual trauma during their military service, received approval from the state Senate on Wednesday evening. The Senate voted 33-0 in favor of Senate Bill 284. Three senators were absent.

Critics of the effort say it's hard to discern whether a person was a bad soldier or was acting out because of PTSD or other mental health issues.

j.bergman@theday.com

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