On the Hill: American Soldiers, Mental Health, and Less Than Honorable Discharges

Photo by Miro9966 Photo by Miro9966

In an increasingly partisan political era, one of the few issues that still has bi-partisan support is addressing the plight of military veterans. It’s in this spirit of unity that an event was held last night in the US Capitol to discuss veteran’s affairs and the cases of members of the armed services who’ve fought for the United States but aren’t considered veterans because of their actions, which were in turn the result of mental health issues that developed during combat.

The event, “Mission Charlie Foxtrot: A Conversation about Veterans’ Mental Health” was an attempt by members of Congress and veterans’ advocates to fix holes in the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) system. As noted in a video played at the event, since the 9/11 attacks over 300,000 service members have left the military through a less than honorable discharge, many for medical reasons or for suicide attempts.

Receiving a less than honorable discharge prevents former members of the military from being designated as veterans or from receiving the benefits they were promised when they signed up for service. This means that service members who developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of their service overseas and who attempted suicide as a result (and subsequently received a less than honorable discharge for the attempt), are unable to receive counseling or therapy at their local VA medical center. Service members who wish to challenge their discharge status must do so on their own dime, often while still suffering from the mental illnesses they so desperately need help with.

The result of this system is that members of the US military are unable to receive assistance from the very institution that caused them to develop the ailments that plague them. When their service and sacrifice are marginalized by the government, this in turn can worsen their depression.

At last night’s event, veteran’s advocates and members of Congress promoted the Fairness for Veterans Act, which would require discharge review boards to consider:

medical evidence of the Department of Veterans Affairs or a civilian health care provider presented by the former member, and review the case with a rebuttable presumption in favor of the former member that post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury materially contributed to the circumstances resulting in the discharge of a lesser characterization.

Allowing those who were kicked out of the military because of mental health issues to receive assistance and therapy paid for by the government would go a long way to restoring the dignity of the men and women of the US military who have been treated poorly by that same government.

Whether or not this legislation will pass before the end of this Congress or in the new Congress headed by a Trump administration (which has consistently claimed to want to reform the VA system) remains to be seen. In the meantime, former service members from all branches of the military will continue to suffer extreme mental anguish.

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