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.”
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Filed under: Resources | Tagged: antipsychotics antidepressants opioids, Army Major Evan Seamone, Clayton Lawson, Jarrid Starks, Joint Base Lewis-McChord JBLM, Madigan Army Medical Center, Military Law Review, other-than-honorable discharge OTH, PTSD, Suicide prevention |