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Vets With ‘Bad Paper’ Discharges Get Good News In New DoD Guidance
New guidance from the Pentagon offers some veterans with “bad paper” discharges more direction on their eligibility for a record review and upgrade.
The Defense Department announced late on Aug. 28 that it will direct each service’s review board to consider new “liberal” criteria to give vets “a reasonable opportunity to establish the extenuating circumstances of their discharge” — particularly if the vet received a less-than-honorable discharge while suffering from the effects of traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder from military operations, sexual assault, or sexual harassment.
"Liberal consideration, in our view, is the right balance to ensure we are making fact-based decisions while also giving appropriate leeway to the challenges posed by these invisible wounds," Air Force Lt. Col. Reggie Yager, the acting director of legal policy in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, said in a DoD news release.
For years, many vets with less-than-honorable discharges have complained that they were drummed out of the service with no consideration for their “invisible wounds,” depriving them of the help they need — particularly treatment in the VA system — as a result. A General Accountability Office report released in May found that of nearly 92,000 service members discharged for misconduct between 2011 and 2015, more than 57,000 — nearly two-thirds — “were diagnosed with PTSD, TBI or other conditions such as adjustment, anxiety, bipolar or substance abuse disorders within two years before leaving the service,” Military.com reported. The GAO study also said military services were inconsistent in considering whether service-connected medical issues may have contributed to a service member’s misconduct.
The problems are not new; Vietnam-era veterans in particular were discharged in large numbers for misconduct while many of their mental-health issues went undiagnosed. But as more Iraq and Afghanistan veterans return to civilian life, the problems have grown more acute — and so has a movement to restore benefits to the worst-off bad-paper dischargees, led by Kristofer Goldsmith, founder of High Ground Veterans Advocacy. A former soldier who was given a general discharge after an Iraq deployment and a suicide attempt, Goldsmith says the DoD’s new guidance is “what we've been asking for from the Pentagon for years.”
Finally, he added, “veterans suffering the compounded effects of bad-paper and PTSD, TBI, or MST will have a better idea about what to expect when they file a discharge appeal."
That’s a hope that first took flight in 2014, when a lawsuit brought by Vietnam Veterans of America and Yale Law School pressured then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to issue Pentagon guidelines requiring that military review boards take “liberal considerations” into account when deciding whether a veteran’s discharge level was fairly determined. But those considerations were vague and applied haphazardly by the various services’ review boards.
"Words matter, and for a long time, veterans and the military review board agencies have been unsure of what 'liberal consideration' actually means," said John Rowan, president of Vietnam Veterans of America.
The bad-paper issue again came to the fore last March, when Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin announced that bad-paper dischargees who showed up at a VA emergency room with suicidal tendencies would be treated by the facility and given up to 90 days’ mental-health treatment.
But this week’s updated guidance for military discharge reviews is the first time the Pentagon has clarified exactly how review boards should approach bad-paper discharges.
“Veterans seeking a discharge upgrade need to give the board evidence of a diagnosis, or establish examples of evidence to establish the mental health condition, or show evidence that they experienced an event such as sexual assault or sexual harassment that affected their behavior in a significant way,” DoD’s news release states.
Once a vet’s discharge appeal is up for consideration, the reviewing authorities now will need to ask four questions, under the new DoD guidance:
- Whether the veteran had a condition or experience that may excuse or mitigate the discharge;
- If the condition existed or experience occurred during military service;
- If the condition or experience excuses or mitigates the discharge; and
- If the condition or experience outweighs the discharge.
Yager, however, warned vets that “not every discharge warrants an upgrade.” And the wait to time have an appeal heard is still about a year.
Goldsmith’s own discharge appeal has been waiting in the wings for more than a year now. Despite that, he’s heartened by the Pentagon’s new guidance.
“This memo is filled with signals that there may yet be hope for the thousands of veterans who have been unfairly suffering the effects of bad paper," he said. "I'm hoping that under President Donald J. Trump we see more proactive changes for veterans with bad paper.”
For more information on the DoD’s new guidance and how to file for a discharge upgrade or correction of military records, visit the Pentagon’s website here.
NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO — A Navy SEAL sniper on Wednesday contradicted earlier testimony of fellow SEALs who claimed he had fired warning shots to scare away civilian non-combatants before Chief Eddie Gallagher shot them during their 2017 deployment to Mosul, and said he would not want to deploy again with one of the prosecution's star witnesses.
Special Operator 1st Class Joshua Graffam originally invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege before Navy Judge Capt. Aaron Rugh gave him immunity in order to compel his testimony.
Graffam testified that Gallagher was essentially justified in the shooting of a man he is accused of unlawfully targeting, stating that "based off everything i had seen so far ... in my opinion, they were two shitheads moving from one side of the road to the other."
Spotting for Gallagher in the tower that day, Graffam said, he called out the target to him and he fired. He said the man was hit in the upper torso and ran away.
Graffam, who joined the Navy in 2010 and has been assigned to SEAL Team 7's Alpha Platoon since September 2015, deployed alongside Gallagher to Mosul in 2017, occasionally acting as a spotter for Gallagher when the SEALs were tasked with providing sniper support for Iraqi forces from two towers east of the Tigris River.
Another SEAL, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Dalton Tolbert, had previously testified under direct examination by prosecutors that, while stationed in the south tower of a bombed-out building in June 2017, he had observed Gallagher shoot and kill an elderly civilian.
"He ran north to south across the road," Tolbert testified on Friday. "That's when I saw the red mark on his back and I saw him fall for the first time. Blood started to pool and I knew it was a square hit in the back." Over the radio, he said he heard Gallagher tell the other snipers, "you guys missed him but I got him."
Former SO1 Dylan Dille, who was also in the south tower that day, testified last week that he watched an old man die from a sniper shot on Father's Day. He said the date stuck out in his mind because he thought the man was probably a father.
Later that day, after the mission, Graffam said he spoke with Dille about the shooting and they disagreed about the circumstances. Dille, he said, believed the man was a noncombatant.
"I, on the other hand, was confident that the right shot was taken," Graffam said, although he said later under cross-examination that the man was unarmed. Dille previously testified that the SEALs were authorized to shoot unarmed personnel if they first received signals intelligence or other targeting information.
Graffam described the man as a male between 40 and 50 years old wearing black clothing, giving him the impression of an ISIS fighter who was moving in a "tactical" manner. He testified that he did not see anything like Dille had described.
Graffam further testified that he didn't see Gallagher take any shots that he shouldn't have on that day or any other.
Although Graffam said he did not hear of allegations that Gallagher had stabbed a wounded ISIS fighter on deployment, he testified that he started to hear rumblings in early 2018. Chief Craig Miller, he said, asked him at one point whether he would "cooperate" with others in reporting him.
When asked whether he would like to serve with Miller again in a SEAL platoon, Graffam said, "I don't feel as confident about it." A member of the jury later asked him why he'd feel uncomfortable deploying with Miller and he responded, "I just wouldn't."
Graffam said he would serve with Gallagher again if given the chance.
Under cross examination by prosecutors, Graffam said he couldn't say whether there were warning shots fired that day, though Dille and Tolbert both said happened. "There were multiple shots throughout the day," Graffam said.
Prosecutors also asked him about his previous statements to NCIS, in which Graffam said of Miller that "he has good character" and was "a good guy." Graffam confirmed he said just that.
Defense attorney Tim Parlatore, however, said those statements were back in January and "a lot had happened since then." Parlatore said Graffam had also said at the time that Gallagher was a good leader.
"That part remains unchanged, correct?" Parlatore asked.
"Yes," Graffam said.
The defense is expected to call more witnesses in the case, which continues on Thursday.
US troops are using dating apps more and condoms less as sexually transmitted infections surge within the ranks
The U.S. military is seeing an increase in sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis in part due to dating apps, according to the Military Health System.
"There appears to be an increase in high-risk behaviors among service members; that is, having sex without a condom or having more than one sexual partner," Air Force physician Maj. Dianne Frankel said in a news release.
Three Marines killed in a December plane crash are finally coming home.
Five Marines aboard a KC-130J Hercules and one Marine on an F/A-18 Hornet were killed when both planes went down about 200 miles off the Japanese coast.
A recent salvage operation of the KC-130J crash site recovered the remains of three of the Marines, who were later identified, Corps officials said.
The Air Force is investigating an airman after he posted a video on YouTube rife with homophobic slurs and insults.
A man in an Air Force uniform, identified only by the YouTube username "Baptist Dave 1611" ranted in a recent video, calling gay people "sodomites," "vermin scum," and "roaches" among other slurs, according to Air Force Times, which first reported the story Wednesday.
"The specifics of the situation are being reviewed by the airman's command team," said service spokesman Maj Nick Mercurio, confirming the incident. Mercurio did not provide any identifying details about the airman.
Two U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday, defense officials have announced.
Operation Resolute Support issued a terse news release announcing the latest casualties that did not include any information about the circumstances of their deaths.