Hearing on Resolution Supporting the Fairness for Veterans Act

Hearing on Resolution Supporting the Fairness for Veterans Act

We drafted and proposed this resolution in May in support of the bill that originated with our member, Kristofer Goldsmith and his DC-based nonprofit, High Ground Veterans Advocacy. It was introduced by Councilman Andy King earlier this month. The resolution urges Congress to pass, and the President to sign into law, the Fairness for Veterans Act of 2016, which would mandate a fair review process for veterans discharged administratively under less-than-honorable conditions, often for circumstances stemming from PTSD, traumatic brain injury, or sexual assault. Watch highlights of the hearing here: 

 

This hearing consisted of approximately two hours' worth of the most important discussion on veteran suicide, the broken discharge upgrade process, and our most vulnerable veterans we've heard in recent memory. Please take the time to watch some of the following clips, and please continue the discussion with veterans, advocates, and policy makers you know:

Opening Remarks by Chairman Eric Ulrich:


Testimony by Rob Cuthbert, Discharge Upgrade Clinic, Veteran Advocacy Project:


Remarks by Councilman Andy King:


Testimony by Jeremy Butler, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America:


Testimony by Kristen Rouse, NYC Veterans Alliance:


Discussion on Military Discharges and At-Risk Veterans:


Testimony by John Rowan, Vietnam Veterans of America:


Testimony by Joseph Graham, VVA Chapter 126:


Testimony by Kristofer Goldsmith, High Ground Veterans Advocacy and Vietnam Veterans of America:


Discussion on Discharges Post-Vietnam and Beyond:


Testimony of Adam Hudson, NYC Veterans Alliance:


Here is a short list of reasons why we support Fairness for Veterans:

Since 2001, more than 300,000 troops, representing approximately 13 percent of the total force, have been discharged from the military with less-than-honorable discharges,[1] rendering them ineligible for many, if not all, veterans benefits and services, including VA healthcare [2]

According to a recent study by Swords to Plowshares and National Veterans Legal Services Program, the VA has excluded 125,000 post-9/11 veterans without ever reviewing their service, including approximately 33,000 who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, amounting to 6.5% of all post-9/11 service members[3]

Since 2009, at least 22,000 combat veterans diagnosed with mental health disabilities or traumatic brain injury (TBI) were discharged for alleged misconduct, and despite congressionally mandated reforms intended to halt the administrative separations of veterans suffering from service-related conditions[4]

If veterans want to fight their discharge status, the burden of proof is on them to give evidence that their behavior was related to PTSD, traumatic brain injury, or military sexual trauma, which is often impossible to document[5]

The end result has been that three out of four veterans with bad paper discharges who served in combat and have post-traumatic stress disorder are denied eligibility by the VA[6]

According to a 2012 report published by the Military Law Review, the military, through its discharge process, is creating huge handicaps to readjustment and reintegration into society by limiting the possibility of care and failing to at the least stabilize troops prior to their discharge[7]

Veterans with less-than-honorable discharges[8] are more likely to suffer from substance abuse issues,[9] become homeless,[10] become incarcerated,[11] and go for years without treatment for the physical and mental wounds of war[12]

Veterans with less-than-honorable discharges are three times more likely to die by suicide,[13] and preliminary evidence collected by VA suggests that there are decreased rates of suicide among veterans receiving VA health care as opposed to veterans who do not[14]

What the Fairness for Veterans Act of 2016 (H.R. 4683 / S. 1567) would do:

Fairness for Veterans would create a presumption in favor of the combat veteran during the post-discharge appeals process, meaning that if a veteran was deployed to a combat zone and diagnosed by a mental healthcare professional as experiencing PTSD or TBI as a result of their deployment, the military’s Discharge Review Boards (DRB) must consider this diagnosis with a rebuttable presumption in favor of the veteran[16]

Fairness for Veterans would address medical evidence reviews in the case of: (1) a former member of the Armed Forces who was deployed in a contingency operation and subsequently diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury as a consequence of such deployment, or (2) a former member whose application for relief from the terms of his or her military discharge is based in whole or in part on matters relating to post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury related to combat or military sexual trauma

Fairness for Veterans would mandate the review of medical evidence of the Department of Veterans Affairs or a civilian health care provider presented by the former member, and review the case with a rebuttable presumption in favor of the former member that post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury materially contributed to the circumstances resulting in the discharge of a lesser characterization

This bipartisan legislation would allow the most vulnerable veterans to receive a fair assessment of circumstances related to their discharge

 


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