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“Bad Paper” Discharges and Mental Health Challenges for Veterans

For Mental Health Awareness Month Bergmann & Moore would like to encourage everyone to start a conversation about mental health and how people perceive it.

Mental Health Illnesses and Veterans

Many veterans suffer from mental health illnesses. In fact, rates of American veterans suffering are disproportionately high, especially among veterans that served in recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Veterans can suffer from a number of mental health disorders including PTSD, anxiety disorders and depression. Less than 50% of returning veterans in need receive any mental health treatment and approximately 22 veterans commit suicide every day.

In addition to the impact of military service on the veteran, each has their own circle of friends and family that are also affected. Family members and close friends often struggle with being able to communicate with veterans with mental illnesses.

Understanding “Bad Paper” Discharges

A “bad paper” discharge is when a service member does not receive an honorable discharge when exiting the military. These types of discharges are often the result of a minor disciplinary problem related to mental health issues that began during service.

Veterans with “bad paper” discharges are often excluded from VA services, healthcare and community resources. Unfortunately, these veterans are usually most at risk. They are far more likely to have mental health conditions and become homeless. They are also twice as likely to commit suicide as veterans with honorable discharges.

Many Veterans With “Bad Paper” Discharges Suffer From PTSD and TBI

Last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report that found that high number of veterans being discharged for disciplinary action or misconduct are actually suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or a TBI (traumatic brain injury). These discharges are often referred to as “bad papers” because their discharge characterization is other than honorable or dishonorable, meaning they may not qualify for VA benefits.

The report shows that from 2011 to 2015, 62 percent of veterans who were discharged for misconduct had received a PTSD, TBI, or mental health diagnosis within the two years prior to their discharge. Out of those 62 percent, 23 percent (13,283 service members) had received an “other than honorable” discharge. Once officially discharged, only about 1700 of those 13,283 veterans filed a claim for VA benefits.

The GAO has made “recommendations for executive action” that include training service members as well as officers about the symptoms of PTSD or TBI, training service members and officers in how to spot mild TBI symptoms while on deployment, and making sure service members are counseled about applying for VA benefits during separation for misconduct.

More information about the report can be found at https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-17-260.

Review Process for “Bad Paper” Discharges

In December 2014, a bill was passed and signed into law opening a review process for all veterans who were discharged under less than honorable conditions who believe they might be suffering from PTSD. However, this change is not automatic and veterans must navigate through a complicated appeals process which can be both daunting and re-traumatizing.

At Bergmann & Moore we understand the complex challenges that veterans with mental health issues face. We believe that every veteran deserves to receive the care they need. We work directly with veterans and their families to successfully navigate the VA’s complicated claims process. Please contact us for more information.

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