USJAG and Underserved, Prevention vs. Reactive Responses

Underserved, VA failing vets

      “Underserved: How the VA Wrongly Excludes Veterans with Bad Paper”

     The National Veterans Legal Services Project (NVLSP) and Swords to Plowshares (S2PS) released a hard-hitting report entitled “Underserved: How the VA Wrongly Excludes Veterans with Bad Paper” on March 19, 2016. The report notes that hundreds of thousands of US Military Veterans, many of whom served in combat zones, are not recognized by the Veteran’s Administration (VA) as veterans.  Due to this lack of recognition of their veterans status, these veterans are ineligible for compensation, access to healthcare, homeless services, employment services and other programs offered by the Veteran’s Administration. The report notes that when Congress passed legislation in 1944 it granted eligibility for nearly all veterans, even those who had been separated from military service due to some level of misconduct, provided such separations had not occurred via processing through courts martial and dishonorable discharge.

There are two categorical channels for separation from military service; administrative and punitive. Those separated through administrative channels may receive the following types of discharge; General, General under Honorable Conditions or Other Than Honorable (OTH) discharges. Those punitively discharged are separated from service via the Courts Martial and receive Bad Conduct Discharges (BCDs) or Dishonorable Discharges. Those separated under OTH conditions may later be eligible for discharge upgrades and are not categorically ineligible for VA services. Yet as the report notes, while overall character of service and levels of misconduct have not increased from WWII forward, the numbers of OTH Discharges have increased exponentially.

  Among the findings of the report are the following;

 

  • The VA excludes 6.5% of veterans who served

          since 2001, compared to 2.8% of Vietnam era

          veterans and 1.7% of World War II era veterans.2

  • Over 125,000 veterans who served since 2001

          are unable to access basic veteran services, even

          though the VA has never completed an evaluati on

          of their service.

  • Only 1% of service members discharged in 2011

          are barred from VA services due to Congress’

          criteria. VA regulations cause the exclusion of an

          additional 5.5% of all service members.

  • Three out of four veterans with bad paper discharges

           who served in combat and who have Post-Traumatic Stress

           Disorder are denied eligibility by the Board of Veterans’

           Appeals.

  • In 2013, VA Regional Offices labeled 90% of

          veterans with bad paper discharges as “Dishonorable”—

          even though the military chose not to

          Dishonorably discharge them.

  • VA Regional Offi ces have vast disparities in how

           they treat veterans with bad paper discharges.

           In 2013, the Indianapolis Regional Offi ce denied

           eligibility to each and every such veteran who

           applied—a denial rate of 100%—while the Boston

           Regional Office denied eligibility to 69%.

  • The VA’s policies cause enormous and unjustified

          differences depending on branch of service.

          Marine Corps veterans are nearly 10 times more

          likely to be ineligible for VA services than Air Force

          veterans.

While the report does conclude with recommendations as to how to rectify these problems, the recommendations may be viewed as reactive rather than pro-active or preventative.  The Uniformed Services Justice & Advocacy Group (USJAG) provides just such a preventative response:  USJAG effectively intervenes between the soldier and the military to prevent improper separation in the first place.

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