Veterans Are Not Applying For Discharge Status Upgrades, Pentagon Blamed

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Very few veterans take advantage of a Pentagon policy designed to make it easier for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to upgrade their discharge status and become eligible to apply for veterans’ benefits, according to a Yale Law Clinic report.

At a news conference Monday, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., veterans, and Yale law students, blamed the Department of Defense for not adequately publicizing the policy to veterans with less than honorable discharges. Since new guidelines were announced last year, just 201 of tens of thousands of eligible veterans applied for a PTSD-related service upgrade, according to the report. Blumenthal called the statistic “a staggering, outrageous fact.”

“Veterans on the streets of New Haven or Connecticut or the rest of the country have no idea about this,” Blumenthal said. “It takes a vigorous and rigorous effort, which the DOD committed to and they have failed,” he added.

Sundiata Sidibe, a student in the law school’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic, called the number of applicants “miniscule.” In previous years, an average of 39 veterans applied annually for status upgrades in connection with PTSD, the report states.

Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had asked the Pentagon to give the committee a progress report by August 2015 on its efforts to inform veterans about the policy. A report was never submitted, he said.

A Defense Department spokesman said the agency has made “extensive efforts” to inform veterans in a variety of ways including press releases, announcements at news briefings, direct outreach to homeless veterans via the Department of Veterans Affairs, updates on the department website, and contact with veterans’ organizations and bar associations.

“There’s a lot of unfinished business here,” said Garry Monk, a founder of the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress.

Blumenthal said that former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel gave a “firm commitment” that applicants with PTSD who sought service discharge upgrades “would be reviewed with liberal consideration. That means nothing if there are no applications.”

Sundiata Sidibe, a law student in the Veterans Legal Services Clinic.

Peggy McCarthy Photo.

Sundiata Sidibe, a law student in the Veterans Legal Services Clinic.

Since September 2014, when Hagel announced the new policy, the Army granted 12 times more requests for discharge upgrades than it had in the previous two decades, according to the Yale report. The Army processed 164 status upgrade applications based on PTSD claims and approved 74 of them, the report states.

The Air Force and the Navy, which handles Marines applications, didn’t provide their numbers in violation of a Federal court order in a Freedom of Information lawsuit brought by the Yale clinic on behalf of veterans’ groups.

Vietnam veterans, particularly, have complained about receiving less than honorable discharges for behaviors they later identified as being caused by PTSD. It was recognized as a medical condition in 1980, five years after the end of the Vietnam War.

The Army denied 54 applications based on a lack of a credible PTSD diagnosis, a situation Blumenthal called “a classic Catch-22.” He said since many of these veterans aren’t eligible for medical benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, they may not be able to afford to get the required medical examination and diagnosis.

The report recommends that the service branches’ review boards, which handle the applications, refer veterans without a formal PTSD diagnosis for medical evaluation so that those without access to health care can apply. “These veterans face a major barrier to upgrading their discharges and receiving the benefits required for employment, education, housing and health care,” the report states.

At 67 percent, Vietnam veterans comprised most of the PTSD-related upgrade applications to the Army and 57 percent of those were approved, the report found. This compared to 45 percent approval for other veterans. Some 23 percent of applications from veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were approved.

The report differed with the Army’s findings that soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan would have been diagnosed by the military if they had PTSD. “This reasoning is potentially problematic as the full extent of PTSD’s effects on behavior has only recently become better understood, delayed-onset PTSD may not manifest during service, and while improved, the Army’s procedures for identifying soldiers with PTSD remain imperfect,” it concludes.

The report also called for mental health professionals to serve on the application review boards to help assess veterans’ claims of PTSD, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and other service-related mental health conditions. “Without significant reform within these boards, veterans with TBIs and psychological disorders will be unsuccessful in acquiring discharge upgrades and the attending benefits they deserve,” the report said.

10 thoughts on “Veterans Are Not Applying For Discharge Status Upgrades, Pentagon Blamed

  1. The VARO in DesMoines IOWA sent DHS AGENTS to “ARREST” me on a trumped up charge that was dismissed only after the damages were done. My kids were terrorized and wife was vomiting in distress. Google: Kenneth Tennant (Domestic Terrorism: USA vs Veterans and the First Amendment) & You Tube: AMERICAN VETERAN: Discarded and Forgotten, by Gary Null. Read: Top Heavy Salaries and Dead Weight Administrators, Chip Tatum. The BVA has had my appeal for over three (3) years. On June 20, 2012 a BVA judge saw my evidence/service records demonstrating the nexus in support of seven years retro-active disability compensation and stated: “I think you made your case.” and yet, I continue to wait. It took decades to get this far. NO CONFIDENCE IN THIS REGIME. Gov’t Sponsored Attacks against me and my wife & children continue. Go to: (Maria Roldan, Priscilla & Greg Tennant) NO OVERSIGHT ANYWHERE. “Authorities” are toothless. They sweep all complaints under carpet.

  2. Every time I’ve applied I’ve been denied, I have been suffering from PTSD FOR 45 years alcoholism then drug addiction, constantly getting into fights because of my anger. I denied even being a Vietnam Veteran for 25 years because of the way we were treated.

  3. I Got A Undisireable Discharge In 1970 Because I Was Picked Up By The F.B.I. While Awol And Served In Vietnam From September 1968 Till September 1969 . I Had A Alcohol Problem But Never Said Anything About It & Now Have Twenty Eight Years Of Sobriety Thru God & A.A. !!…Is There Anyway To Get My Discharge Upgraded To A General Under Honorable Conditions ???……Very Truly Yours, Lawrence J. Penna…In Vietnam I Served As The Company Clerk In The First Calvary Division , Bravo Company, 227th Aviation.

  4. I am a Vietnam Veteran and after my return from Vietnam I became a homeless drunk. I managed to get back in the army after the birth of my daughter. I served another 13 years and got stressed out and was convicted of a civil criminal act (felony). I was given an other than honorable discharge and never informed of any chance of upgrade in my discharge until I became a Veteran Service Officer in 2012. Since then I have attempted, to no avail. I am blessed that my first enlistment was terminated with an Honorable Discharge and have VA benefits due to that. I will continue to try to get an upgrade . I am not a quitter. I no longer drink, but still have memories that keep me awake. I will remember all my fellow veterans and continue to do whatever I can to help them.

  5. My name is Larry Young. The last time I was wounded was in 1969. When I got out of the hospital I was assigned to Fort Carson in Colorado. My pregnant wife and my son were both sick. I was on a work detail and I asked permission to take them to the doctor. I was told to go ahead. I went home and took them to the doctor and even got a slip from the doctor to prove I took them. When I went to the post the next day I was reported as AWOL. I was confined to base and reduced in rank. My sick wife and child couldn’t stay by themselves so I sent them back to Ohio. While I was confined to base my wife called me and told me that my stepfather had tried to rape her on several occasions. I asked for leave multiple times so I could go and help my wife but was denied every time I asked for leave. My head was all screwed up from the war and when I didn’t get any help I went AWOL and came to Ohio and got my pregnant wife and child and took them to Florida to my sisters where they would be safe. I didn’t have any money to give my wife so I had to work in the fields picking tomatoes so she could have money. Years later I confronted my step father with what he had done but he managed to pull a revolver on me and got away. Since then I have learned he died and I can’t say that I am sorry for his passing. I intended to go back to the Army but before I could the FBI arrested me and put me in jail. I was only gone for 81 days total. They gave me an undesirable discharge and sent me home. I have been diagnosed with extreme PTSD and when I went AWOL I was all screw up and not knowing any other way to help my wife I went AWOL. If my superiors had just granted me leave to help my wife none of this would have happened. I was drafted into the Army and while serving in Germany I re-enlisted and requested Viet Nam. While I was in Viet Nam I did a lot of things and saw a lot of things that even now wakes me up at night in cold sweats. I have nightmares of the children that had their throats cut by the Viet Cong. This never leaves me. I have to take a lot of pain medication [ Percocet and OxyContin] because of the wounds I suffered. I also have to take lorazepam for anxiety and other drugs for depression. I have violent mood swings and have to sleep in a room of my own away from everyone else for fear I will hurt them. I also never received my purple hearts for the times I was wounded. I have one honorable discharge and one undesirable discharge but because my undesirable discharge was on my Viet Nam enlistment I am denied all benefits. Can someone tell me where I can send to try to get my discharge upgraded because of being diagnosed with PTSD?? I have been trying to get help since 1969 but no one will help me. Thank You, Larry Young.

  6. I am a marine veterans who served in Vietnam in the early 70’s I was given a less than honorable discharge I have since been diagnosed with severe PTSD and have been treated at the VA center in Philadelphia, still I am being told that I am not eligible for benefits, even through the appeal process, can someone please help me?

  7. I am in California, also a veteran, and am currently working with a service officer to advocate for a Veteran in a similar situation as yours. I cannot promise a successful outcome, but I may be able to share possible options to help your claim. If you can provide your contact information, I can reach out as soon as I get solid information.

  8. U.S.N. I WAS GIVEN A B.C.D. FOR GOING U.A.FROM THE psychiatrist office hey called it escape from the brig I wasn’t given proper council they didn’t bring it up that I had a child 5 months earlier and I had no way of supporting him once I was in the service so I was in bad shape psychologically and financially

  9. I live in California Los Angeles and don’t know who to turn to I’ve been disabled psychologically since I got out of the service please let me know if there’s somebody that can help me