Military Law Allowing Commanders to Discharge Thousands of Sick and Wounded Troops Without Proper Mental Health Care, Access to VA Benefits

Jarrid Starks, 26, fought for the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning a Bronze Star Medal for valor. At home he was diagnosed with PTSD and other injuries from duty in Afghanistan. But when Starks smoked pot and missed work, he was fired — discharged without medical benefits or access to VA benefits. Starks is not alone, tens of thousands of injured troops have been swept out from the military for minor misconduct, saving the DoD billions in future medical costs. Starks now wears a special ball cap as a warning to others of his condition and his anger. (Seattle Times)

Troubled Veterans Left Without Health-Care Benefits

Since 2009, at least 20,000 sick and wounded troops were swept out of the military with other-than-honorable discharges, restricting their access to VA health-care and disability benefits. Critics say current legal rules allow military commanders to rid their units of injured or sick personnel without having to pay costs of future medical care, leaving some veterans disillusioned, angry and at high risk for homelessness, substance abuse, violence and suicide.

by Hal Bernton
Seattle Times, Aug.11, 2012

A few weeks after Jarrid Starks ended his Army service in May, he went to an office in Albany, Ore., to enroll for veterans health-care benefits.

Starks brought medical records that detailed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a twisted vertebra and a possible brain injury from concussions.

Other records documented his tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, where his bravery fighting the Taliban was recognized with a Bronze Star for Valor.

None of that was enough to qualify him for health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

That’s because Starks left the military this year with an other-than-honorable discharge — his final year of service scarred by pot smoking and taking absences without leave (AWOL).

He was told to fill out a form, then wait — possibly a year or more — while officials review his military record to determine whether he is eligible for health care.

“I was absolutely livid,” Starks, 26, recalls. “This just isn’t right.”

Starks is among the more than 20,000 men and women who exited the Army and Marines during the past four years with other-than-honorable discharges that hamstring their access to VA health care and may strip them of disability benefits.

I would go so far to say that, when we speak of Army values, leaving no soldier behind, there is almost a moral obligation. We are creating a class of people who need help the most, and may not be able to get it. And, when you do that, there are whole families torn apart, and higher levels of crime. It’s a public-health and public-safety issue — Army Major Evan Seamone, chief of Military Justice at Fort Benning, Ga., who in 2011 published a Military Law Review article critiquing the Army legal system

Some were booted out of the military before they deployed.

Others served in combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, then struggled upon their return with drug abuse, unauthorized leaves and other misconduct that placed them among the most troubled members of the generation of veterans who fought in the long wars launched after 9/11.

Starks ended his military career this spring with a weeklong stay at Madigan Army Medical Center under psychiatric care. Then, he was escorted to the front gate of Joint Base Lewis-McChord carrying a brown paper bag packed with a 90-day supply for six prescription drugs that included antipsychotics, antidepressants, pain pills and beta-blockers.

As he left the Army to re-enter the civilian world, Starks opted to wear a cap with a peculiar patch: “Warning, This Vet Is Medicated For Your Protection.”

Clayton Lawson, an Iraq War veteran with an other-than-honorable discharge, earlier this summer lived in this tent in a park in Lakewood, Wash. Lawson had served at Fort Lewis-McChord, where he spent his final year in the Army in a destructive cycle of drug and alcohol abuse. Without access to medical care or VA benefits, many veterans give up and become drug-addicted or caught up in criminal behaviors. Others give up all together and take their own lives. The VA says at least 18 veterans — among just those enrolled in their programs — die from suicide every day. Only 52 percent of veterans are enrolled in the VA. (Seattle Times)

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2 Responses

  1. We are sharing this on Battling BARE’s Facebook page. Would love to partner with you all to get the word spread as far as we possibly can. Email me if you are interested:

    • So glad you found your way here. I will add you to list of blog friends. Feel free to use any information here to help educate readers and allow non-military people (and some uninformed military people) understand the depth of human disaster taking place in military families worldwide. Thank you for your work and friendship here.

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