Veterans Who Aren’t Veterans

Phil Carter draws attention to "The Vets We Reject and Ignore."

homeless-veteran

Iraq War veteran Phil Carter takes to the op-ed pages of the NYT on this Veterans Day to bring attention to “The Vets We Reject and Ignore.”

TODAY, we honor the nation’s 22 million veterans, including more than 2.5 million who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and other fronts in the war against Al Qaeda. But we are turning our backs on hundreds of thousands of veterans who were discharged “under conditions other than honorable” and so do not qualify as veterans under federal law.

Their discharges, which include overly broad categories encompassing everything from administrative discharges for minor misconduct to dishonorable discharges following a court-martial, nevertheless make them ineligible for the health care, employment, housing and education benefits offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Because of the “bad paper” they carry in the form of their discharge certificates, many of these veterans struggle upon leaving the military. And when they falter, the burden for supporting them falls heavily on their local communities because federal agencies cannot, by law, help them.

No federal agency publishes the numbers of bad paper discharges. But historical studies suggest that at least several hundred thousand veterans fall into this category. Approximately 260,000 of the 8.7 million Vietnam-era veterans were pushed out of the service with bad paper. More recently, according to documents separately obtained by the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Army discharged 76,165 soldiers between 2006 and 2012 with bad paper. Of these recent Army discharges, only one in seven were kicked out following a criminal conviction for a serious offense. The rest were discharged for smaller breaches of military discipline like missing duty or abusing alcohol or drugs.

My initial instinct here is “Boo frickin’ hoo.” To the extent that the country owes something to those of us who have served in the armed forces, surely that obligation is limited only to those who did so honorably. Those who got thrown out for criminal action, or even those who simply couldn’t hack it and separated before meeting their commitment, don’t deserve any more assistance with housing, health care, employment, and education than any other random yahoo.

But Phil adds kicker:

For many of them, their misconduct was likely related to the stresses of war.

Instead of showing compassion for these troops who were carrying the invisible wounds of war, their commanders kicked them out. These troops’ getting pushed out under such circumstances would be enough of a blow, but these commanders compounded the injury by giving them bad paper, instead of merely administratively separating them from the service.

You don’t have to be a bleeding heart to agree see this as an egregious circumstance. To take someone psychologically injured from combat and not only throw him out of the military but forever deny them the status that comes with having served is obviously wrong.

How many is “many”? And how likely? Well, we don’t know because the government naturally doesn’t keep statistics.  My guess is that the percentage of “bad paper” cases that fall into this category is small indeed.  Still, I’m sure there are some significant number of cases—especially from the Vietnam era, when our understanding of mental health issues was much less advanced than it is today—of people being punished for conduct stemming from post-traumatic stress. And, certainly, it makes sense to have in place a system to ensure that those discharged under less-than-honorable circumstances warrant that stain on their permanent record.

Regardless, Phil argues,

We have a moral obligation to those who serve, especially those who serve us in combat. At times, the military must discharge those who can’t perform or conform. However, commanders should exercise far greater discretion and compassion in trimming the ranks. Bad discharges indelibly mark veterans as damaged goods and cost society a great deal too.

Congress should also allow the V.A. to more broadly provide mental health care, homelessness support and other forms of crisis intervention to veterans with bad paper. The V.A. has case-by-case authority to do so now, but that does not help veterans with bad paper who have acute needs. A more compassionate policy would not diminish the military’s ability to maintain discipline, nor would it cheapen the valor of those who have served honorably.

It’s not at all obvious to me why veteran status should figure into this equation at all. Whether someone is a lifetime civilian, was a dirtbag thrown out of the Army for punching his drill sergeant, or a retired sergeant major and Medal of Honor recipient, it’s bad for society to have them living on the streets in a psychotic stupor. Why not just make crisis intervention for a service we provide those unable to help themselves, regardless of the quality of the “paper” that they carry?

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Vast Variety says:

    I was put out on a general discharge (under conditions other than honorable) from the Air Force. My “crime” was that my ex-wife, who I was still married to at the time but separated from, went on a spending spree at the base exchange and wrote several checks that bounced. Even though I was separated from her the military held me accountable for it and I was discharged. They called it financial irresponsibility.

    Is it really fair that I lost my veterans benefits due to the actions of someone else?

  2. C. Clavin says:

    Why not just make crisis intervention for a service we provide those unable to help themselves, regardless of the quality of the “paper” that they carry?

    Excellent question…you should ask the people you vote for…the ones who feel historically low taxes are more important than social services.

  3. ernieyeball says:

    “This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.
    ― Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western 1929 Front

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    Still, I’m sure there are some significant number of cases—especially from the Vietnam era, when our understanding of mental health issues was much less advanced than it is today—of people being punished for conduct stemming from post-traumatic stress.

    As a Vietnam era veteran I can tell you that that war was different. There really were a number of bad apples in the Army. They were primarily looking for bodies. Convicted felons were given the choice of going to prison or going in the Army. People who already had severe mental problems were inducted. When I was in basic training one of these flipped out in hand grenade training resulting in both his death and the death of an instructor.
    To the best of my knowledge that has not been the case since Vietnam. I see no reason for @Vast Variety‘s: bad paper and I have some sympathy for that sergeant in Afghanistan that went on a killing spree after multiple tours of duty in the ME and more than one traumatic head injury. The fact that the military simply drugs them up to combat stress is also a factor.

  5. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    I admit, my favorite part of “social justice” (you know like the stuff Lenin and Stalin brought to the Russian Empire) is all the genuflecting and breast-beating I get to do especially on these patriarchal-required holidays.

    One of the most regrettable parts of human existence is the way consequences and standards intrude on what should be an “Everybody Gets a Trophy” polite society. And I don’t much like this attempt to undermine the miracle of our all-volunteer army. I mean just think of all the money our military is saving from all those closed brigs and stockades.

    I’m guessing that Mr. Carter’s organization might better be call the Center for the New Socially Just American Security.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    @Vast Variety: That’s more a squawk about the legal consequences of marriage, rather than the military. It probably was a joint checking account, I take it?

    If my husband decides to take out a second mortgage on the house and blow it all on a gambling spree in Vegas, I’m still going to get hosed. Even if we’re separated at that point…..

  7. Rafer Janders says:

    My guess is that the percentage of “bad paper” cases that fall into this category is small indeed.

    How well informed is your guess? Based on your previous history of guesses how confident should you or others be in their validity?

  8. Rafer Janders says:

    Why not just make crisis intervention for [sic] a service we provide those unable to help themselves, regardless of the quality of the “paper” that they carry?

    Because the Republican Party — the party you vote for, that is, when can be bothered to vote and aren’t busy going jogging — blocks this at every turn.

  9. Vast Variety says:

    @grumpy realist: Yes, it was a joint account.

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @11B40:

    One of the most regrettable parts of human existence is the way consequences and standards intrude

    Not that the consequences of your indifference or low standards should ever intrude on you?

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    It’s not at all obvious to me why veteran status should figure into this equation at all. Whether someone is a lifetime civilian, was a dirtbag thrown out of the Army for punching his drill sergeant, or a retired sergeant major and Medal of Honor recipient, it’s bad for society to have them living on the streets in a psychotic stupor.

    Don’t tell us James, tell your Republican compatriots.

  12. RWB says:

    Because of modern medical advances, more people with serious head trauma survived injury in Iraq and Afghanistan. Survivors of such trauma often display negative personality changes which must be treated as well as the physical wounds. Instead, these people were often sent back in to combat as soon as the physical was healed. When they punch out their Sargent, they get the less than honorable discharge . Now they are damaged with no hope of treatment. We have never kept our promises to our veterans, but with an all volunteer army , when the sacrifice of war is no longer shared by all of us, it is especially heinous.

  13. JKB says:

    @Vast Variety:

    More importantly, you were your wife’s sponsor. Her access to the exchange was solely due to you.

    Marriage has consequences. Binding two as one in many legal transactions. All the worse when the marriage is failing.

  14. JKB says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Hey, I know, we can take the money been forcibly taken to cover discretionary birth control, male maternity care, and sex change operations and spend that on providing basic mental health services to the homeless.

  15. C. Clavin says:

    Why not just make crisis intervention for a service we provide those unable to help themselves, regardless of the quality of the “paper” that they carry?

    This continues to amuse me.
    It’s of a kind with Republican ideas of preserving the best parts of Obamacare…no pre-existing conditions, no life-time caps, etc…but not the mechanisms that are needed to pay for them.
    Has James not seen Republican budget proposals that call for a 20% cut to discretionary spending? Budgets that increase Defense Spending while slashing Social Services? Was he not paying attention when Republicans tried to use the CR as a hostage to force cuts to Entitlements…preying on a vulnerable population. Did James not understand who Romney was talking about when he discussed the 47% of the Nation that are takers? Does he not realize who suffers in the Red States that have rejected Medicaid Expansion?
    Yeah…it’s funny that James is living in the same epidemiological bubble as Jenos and JKB. Frankly I expected more…but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. It would be intellectually impossible to be a Republican…if you weren’t living in that bubble.

  16. C. Clavin says:

    @JKB:
    Hey, douche-f*ck…don’t you know the difference between Private Sector Insurance and Social Services? No wonder every comment you make is retarded.

  17. JKB says:

    @RWB:

    Easy solution, already doable. For those who saw actual combat or perhaps even just those who were injured, the “less than honorable” discharge isn’t an automatic denial. That’d be a case by case decision situation.

    So how many of those with less than honorable discharges actually saw combat or were victims of enemy-orchestrated “workplace” violence?

  18. JKB says:

    @C. Clavin: don’t you know the difference between Private Sector Insurance and Social Services?

    simple flip those insurance mandates into a tax on “private sector” insurance, voila! social service spending.

  19. James Joyner says:

    @Rafer Janders: I’ve spent quite a lot of time in and around the military, so have some reasonable basis for an opinion on the matter. And the op-ed provides no attempt to quantify the problem.

    @C. Clavin: @OzarkHillbilly: This isn’t a partisan issue. Neither party is on board with doing much about these problems. And while Republicans have been parsimonious on matters of social welfare programs, Democrats led the way in making it unlawful to forcibly institutionalize people who can’t fend for themselves.

    Beyond that, my point is that, to the extent that we agree that people living in these conditions is awful and the responsibility of the federal taxpayer, I don’t see why we should treat veterans and non-veterans differently.

  20. grumpy realist says:

    @Vast Variety: Than am sorry to say–you’re running into one of the consequences of being married. You can complain to the military and try to get them to change their policy, but the policy as presently stands has a logical basis given present-day law on marriage.

    Just as if I had a credit card on a joint credit account with my husband–I’m still responsible for all of the debt that he rings up. Even if he’s done it behind my back. Even if I told him “NO, I don’t want you to purchase that speedboat!” Even if he promises to not buy the speedboat and then goes ahead and does it anyway: I’m still on the hook.

  21. Vast Variety says:

    @grumpy realist: I understand that when it comes to the financial side of it and owning up to the responsibility of dealing with her revenge spending. But it shouldn’t have resulted in my discharge from the service. It happened almost 20 years ago now but it still irks me.

  22. C. Clavin says:

    @James Joyner:

    This isn’t a partisan issue.

    Nonsense. You know better…whether you are disposed to admit it or not.

  23. rudderpedals says:

    What happened to VV shouldn’t happen to anyone. Why aren’t GIs counseled away from joint accounts?

  24. Boyd says:

    When you guys wonder what we’re talking about when we say several (or even many) of the liberal commentariat here at OTB drive away the conservative voices, please refer back to this thread.

    James is a big boy as well as the landlord here (as well as being a smart guy) so he can fend for himself, but when he agrees with you doesn’t seem to me to be the time to tell him what a mean person he is, or he’s the cause of the problem because he’s an evil Republican, and so forth.This is not the way to foster conversation.

    Of course, if you’re interested in either a monologue or an echo chamber, carry on. You’re pursuing the appropriate path for that goal.

  25. Rusty Shackleford says:

    @Boyd:
    Well put

  26. C. Clavin says:

    @Boyd:
    Generally I can see your point…even when I disagree.
    So I can see your point…but I disagree.
    Enough gentle discourse.
    This country has been thoroughly f’ed up by years of Democrats being spineless…of not calling Republicans on their bullshit. It’s given us Supply-Side Economics, Tax Cuts we can’t afford, and Iraq. It’s given us Death Panels and a 30 year War Against the Middle Class. It’s given us historically low tax rates, historically high debt, and near record inequality. It’s given us Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz and Steve King and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
    Enough kumbaya.

  27. al-Ameda says:

    @Boyd:

    When you guys wonder what we’re talking about when we say several (or even many) of the liberal commentariat here at OTB drive away the conservative voices, please refer back to this thread.

    To me, the discourse here at OTB is mild, by nearly every internet blogging feedback standard.

    As to conservative voices being driven away from OTB, all I can say is if the mild liberal commentariat here has driven conservative voices away, I’m shocked. This site has very few flame throwers. Then again, conservatives seem to prefer that style.

  28. Rusty Shackleford says:

    @al-Ameda:
    You couldn’t respond to his comment about about the comments section being more tolerant of conservatives without ending with a jab at conservatives that had nothing to do with him at all?

  29. grumpy realist says:

    @Vast Variety: I’m wondering if the military has a different policy at present. Or whether they still assume that (behavior of non-military spouse) == (behavior of military spouse.)

    I take it this was done according to some military regulation, right? (It shouldn’t have happened under state marriage law.) I bet you ran into the buzzsaw of a policy created via a whole bunch of stereotypes/assumptions:

    1) A soldier (male) will always be able to control the (financial) behavior of his (female) spouse.
    2) A marriage of a soldier will never have any problems (and if there are problems, it’s his fault.)
    3) If the spouse of a soldier misbehaves financially, the soldier could be blackmailed.
    and probably 4) Soldiers will never have any financial problems, or if they do, it’s only a very small percentage of the population and we won’t have to worry about them.

    Question: would they have had the same reaction if your wife had committed any other type of tort? Say getting drunk and obnoxious in public and taking a swing at someone? That wouldn’t have resulted in a non-honorable discharge for you, would it?

    In any case, I sympathize.

  30. Boyd says:

    @C. Clavin: Please don’t take this the wrong way, because I sure don’t mean to be insulting, but do you know what was the first thought to pass through my mind upon reading the following sentences?

    Enough gentle discourse.
    This country has been thoroughly f’ed up by years of Democrats being spineless…

    I thought, “That sounds a lot like the Republicans who say they lose elections because their candidates are insufficiently conservative.” I’m not trying to be mean or anything, but I hope you can see the similarity.

  31. C. Clavin says:

    @Boyd:
    There’s a huge difference between being extreme and calling BS when you see it.
    A Republican supporting Social Services is called a moderate…which I’m fine with.
    Today’s Republican Party considers 47% of the country “takers” and is purging moderates.
    Quiet discourse won’t fix what’s wrong with today’s GOP.
    People like Ted Cruz count on Democrats not getting up in his grill about his nonsense.
    Sarah Palin knew no one of note was ever going to call her out as a liar.
    Democrats and moderate Republicans need to…or we’ll just see even more of it.
    It’s clear to me that the comments above weren’t about Jameses support of Social Services. They were about his failure to call BS on the extremist path of his party.

  32. al-Ameda says:

    @Rusty Shackleford:

    You couldn’t respond to his comment about about the comments section being more tolerant of conservatives without ending with a jab at conservatives that had nothing to do with him at all?

    As you noticed, I merely made a general observation – my observation – about the tone or level of discourse here on OTB. Also, I didn’t point the finger at Boyd at all. He’s not a flame-thrower, he’s a person with viewpoints that he presents without drama. I certainly have no problem with that.

    As to the point that James is making on this topic – I generally agree with James and I am probably recognized on OTB as very liberal, right? The point that some others make here – that Republicans are the ones who need convincing on this issue, is in my opinion, dead on.

  33. Boyd says:

    @C. Clavin and @al-Ameda: So you drive away the people who will converse with you, consider your position and respond rationally. Conversely, you then encourage the extremists who seemingly just want to argue.

    I’m still not seeing this as a productive strategy if you want something other than an echo chamber / shouting match.

  34. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @Boyd: I’m sorry, but I cannot see your point about “driv[ing] away the people who will converse with you” and al-Ameda’s commentaries. Clavin is more a STFU guy, true, but even then, not with you or others that I would see as “keepers” within the commentariat.

    Of course, if you are thinking that telling Jenos to STFU is the problem well…

  35. Boyd says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker: While in this case it was directed at James, the reaction was typical for the OTB liberal commentariat for any non-liberal commenter: “Even though you agree with me, I can’t take ‘Yes’ for an answer. You weren’t sufficiently strident in attacking your own side on this issue.”

    I’m not saying this is inherently unfair to James, because he routinely slaps liberal commenters around over their hyper-partisan reactions. I’m just saying that it’s normal for the overwhelmingly liberal commenter cadre here at OTB to beat up anyone who doesn’t hew to the liberal extremist line. That’s not the way to engage the opposition and agree on common ground.

    For a group that routinely and continuously castigates Republicans for their extremism, it seems hypocritical to me.

  36. Grewgills says:

    @James Joyner:

    Beyond that, my point is that, to the extent that we agree that people living in these conditions is awful and the responsibility of the federal taxpayer, I don’t see why we should treat veterans and non-veterans differently.

    Our safety net is porous and in any likely budgetary future it will only get more porous. It’s a much easier sell to provide for veterans than to provide for everyone that needs it.

  37. C. Clavin says:

    @Boyd:
    There is hypocrisy here … But it lies in advocating for Social Services while carrying the water of a party that is doing everything they can to eliminate Social Services.
    Case in point… The Farm Bill … It shovels gobs of obey at Wealthy “Farmers” ….many of whom are the very Legislators writing the Bill … And slashes food stamps by billions.
    Mentions on OTB? Zero.
    Another…the effect Austerity is having on the Economy and UE? Conspicuously Ignored in every post about the economy and UE.
    So your comments seem to boil down to tactics. Let’s find common ground and sing campfire songs together.
    Maybe.
    Frankly I don’t see that changing the stripes on the Zebra.

  38. C. Clavin says:

    Gobs of money…not gobs of obey. Damn auto-spell.
    The other example I forgot was the Reinhart and Rogoff debacle…the study Republicans used to justify their Austerity in the Face of Recession program…the reason this recovery has been as slow as it has…and UE has stayed as high as it has…completely and thoroughly debunked. On OTB…crickets.
    Water weighs about 8# per gallon.

  39. JohnMcC says:

    @James Joyner: “…Democrats led the way in making it unlawful to forcibly institutionalize people who can’t fend for themselves.”

    It’s kind of hard to know specifically what you are referring to here, sir. But if you mean the repeal of the Mental Health Systems Act which provided federal support for the huge-campus state mental hospitals — well — the gentlest way to say it is: You are wrong. That repeal happened under the Reagan Administration.

    It did indeed have considerable Dem and Left-wing support. But what did NOT have Dem/Left support was the failure to fund alternative community-based mental health clinics.

    Which sort of connects to your Original Post lamenting the lack of community support for the psychologically injured military personnel who do not achieve the Honorable Discharge. And also to the rejoinders of several commenters who thought that your complaint about inadequate mental health funding by the federal gov’t was ‘interesting’ coming over your signature.

  40. Vast Variety says:

    @grumpy realist: This happened in ’94 while I was stationed at Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage. My commanding officer raked me over for the bounced checks. I was ordered to pay off the checks. I was then placed on squadron detail for 2 months, given an Article 15, and finally discharged. About a month before this occurred I had discovered my wife was cheating on me and kicked her out of our off base apartment. Before I got married, I went to tell my First Sargent that was engaged and planing to move out of the dorms and off base. He tried to talk me out of getting married and then he held up my housing allowance for living off base. I never really understood why. All in all I was only married for a total of 11 months.

    I had never thought about what would have happened if she had dome something worse so I don’t really have an answer to your question.

  41. al-Ameda says:

    @Boyd:

    So you drive away the people who will converse with you, consider your position and respond rationally. Conversely, you then encourage the extremists who seemingly just want to argue.

    Excellent, you completely misconstrued my words. Congratulations.
    Exactly what did I say to drive away people who are reasonable?

  42. Boyd says:

    @al-Ameda: Yes, my comment was primarily directed to Cliff (I’ve always assumed the C was for Cliff, my apologies if that’s incorrect), but in your case, it was in response to your general approach of “everything that’s wrong is because of the Republicans.”

    Since I’m not a Republican, I don’t feel like you’re blaming me for anything (or everything), so I’m not taking it personally, but there’s a fairly common theme among liberals here and elsewhere to absolve Democrats of any blame for anything bad. “It’s all the Republicans’ fault.”

  43. al-Ameda says:

    @Boyd:

    but in your case, it was in response to your general approach of “everything that’s wrong is because of the Republicans.”

    Ha. One thing we do know is that Republicans never blame liberals and Democrats for everything, nor do they take a general approach of “if something is wrong, it is because of Democrats.” Certainly, since Obama was inaugurated in 2009, Republicans have been reticent to blame Obama and Democrats for anything.

    Seriously though, the discussion is never on the margins on this stuff, it always goes zero-sum when it comes to current political discussions. Take Benghazi as an example – I could be persuaded that there were mistakes and errors on the part of the Administration. However, when I see that Republicans currently characterize Benghazi as a terrible foreign policy debacle and want to run show Committee Hearings that have no purpose other than to feed a Permanent Republican Investigation of the Administration, well then I’m not going to enable that.

    Some of this is very predictable kabuki.

  44. Trumwill says:

    I’m going to throw in with what Boyd is saying here. I made the decision a couple months ago (August, roughly) to stop commenting here. I’ve fallen off the wagon a few times, but it all got rather tiresome and it became apparent that my insufficiently liberal views and background are outside the contempt-free range.

  45. JohnMcC says:

    @Trumwill: In keeping my mothers admonition ‘…if you can’t say something nice….” I will overlook the ‘you won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore’ aspect and say I’ve always liked linking to your website when I ran into your comments. Bon voyage.

  46. John D'Geek says:

    @JohnMcC:

    That repeal happened under the Reagan Administration.

    And during the Regan Administration, Congress was Democrat.

  47. John D'Geek says:

    @Boyd: As a conservative Republican, I have to concurr.

    @al-Ameda: @C. Clavin: Just in case it actually matters: your two names are on the top of my “do not read” list (just below a certain well known “conservative” Troll and right above another one.)

    You are deliberately offensive; there is no point in reading what you write. And it is the reason I am so often forced to take “OTB Breaks”.

  48. al-Ameda says:

    @John D’Geek:

    @al-Ameda: @C. Clavin: Just in case it actually matters: your two names are on the top of my “do not read” list (just below a certain well known “conservative” Troll and right above another one.)
    You are deliberately offensive; there is no point in reading what you write. And it is the reason I am so often forced to take “OTB Breaks”.

    Okay, what have I posted that is “deliberately offensive (to you)?”