Friday, April 3, 2015

Bad Discharges Not Honorable To Far Too Many

Ex-troops with highest suicide risk often don't qualify for mental care 
LA Times
April 1, 2015
Many vets with 'bad' discharges are cast off to local mental health services, charities despite suicide risk

Of those suicides, 403 were among ex-service members whose discharges were "not honorable" — for a wide range of misconduct, from repeatedly disrespecting officers to felony convictions. An additional 380 occurred among veterans with "uncharacterized" discharges, the designation used for troops who leave in fewer than 180 days for a variety of nondisciplinary reasons.

The largest study to date of recent military and veteran suicides has identified two high-risk groups of former troops who are generally ineligible for the psychiatric care afforded to all others who served: those forced out of the military for misconduct and those who enlisted but were quickly discharged for other problems.

In each of those groups, an average of 46 of every 100,000 former service members committed suicide each year — more than double the rate for veterans with honorable discharges.

The findings are likely to spur debate over whether efforts to stem veteran suicides are targeting the right people and to strengthen calls to expand access to benefits and care — especially for those who blame post-traumatic stress disorder or other war-related problems for their misconduct and subsequent dismissals from the military.

"The problem is much bigger than the veterans we choose to help," said Phillip Carter, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Center for a New American Security who has followed the issue.
Since World War II, the VA has been responsible for determining who is eligible for healthcare and benefits. Ex-service members who were enlisted for less than two years qualify only if they have disabilities related to their service.

Those with dishonorable discharges are not eligible unless they can prove they were insane at the time of their crimes. Former troops with other types of less-than-honorable discharges must apply for veteran status, but fewer than 10% do.

Of those, fewer than a quarter succeed, according to a 2007 study by a congressional commission.

More than 140,000 troops have left the military since 2000 with less-than-honorable discharges, according to the Pentagon.
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