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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.
Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher will retire as a chief petty officer now that President Donald Trump has restored his rank.
"Before the prosecution of Special Warfare Operator First Class Edward Gallagher, he had been selected for promotion to Senior Chief, awarded a Bronze Star with a "V" for valor, and assigned to an important position in the Navy as an instructor," a White House statement said.
"Though ultimately acquitted on all of the most serious charges, he was stripped of these honors as he awaited his trial and its outcome. Given his service to our Nation, a promotion back to the rank and pay grade of Chief Petty Officer is justified."
The announcement that Gallagher is once again an E-7 effectively nullifies the Navy's entire effort to prosecute Gallagher for allegedly committing war crimes. It is also the culmination of Trump's support for the SEAL throughout the legal process.
On July 2, military jurors found Gallagher not guilty of premeditated murder and attempted murder for allegedly stabbing a wounded ISIS fighter to death and opening fire at an old man and a young girl on separate occasions during his 2017 deployment to Iraq.
Trump orders dismissal of murder charge against former Green Beret accused of killing a suspected Taliban bomb maker
President Donald Trump has ended the decade-long saga of Maj. Matthew Golsteyn by ordering a murder charge against the former Green Beret dismissed with a full pardon.
The Army charged Golsteyn with murder in December 2018 after he repeatedly acknowledged that he killed an unarmed Afghan man in 2010. Golsteyn's charge sheet identifies the man as "Rasoul."
President Donald Trump has signed a full pardon for former 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who had been convicted of murder for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed Afghan men, two of whom were killed.
Lorance will now be released from the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he had been serving a 19-year sentence.
"He has served more than six years of a 19-year sentence he received. Many Americans have sought executive clemency for Lorance, including 124,000 people who have signed a petition to the White House, as well as several members of Congress," said a White House statement released Friday.
"The President, as Commander-in-Chief, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted. For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country. These actions are in keeping with this long history. As the President has stated, 'when our soldiers have to fight for our country, I want to give them the confidence to fight.'"
Additionally, Trump pardoned Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who was to go on trial for murder charges next year, and restored the rank of Navy SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher, who was found not guilty of murdering a wounded ISIS prisoner but convicted of taking an unauthorized photo with the corpse.
Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth first announced on Nov. 4 that the president was expected to intervene in the Lorance case was well as exonerate Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who has been charged with murder after he admitted to killing an unarmed Afghan man whom he believed was a Taliban bomb maker, and restore Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher's rank to E-7.
For the past week, members of Lorance's family and his legal team have been holding a constant vigil in Kansas anticipating his release, said Lorance's attorney Don Brown.
Now that he has been exonerated of committing a war crime, Lorance wants to return to active duty, Brown told Task & Purpose on Wednesday.
"He loves the Army," Brown said prior to the president's announcement. "He doesn't have any animosity. He's hoping that his case – and even his time at Leavenworth – can be used for good to deal with some issues regarding rules of engagement on a permanent basis so that our warfighters are better protected, so that we have stronger presumptions favoring warfighters and they aren't treated like criminals on the South Side of Chicago."
In the Starz documentary "Leavenworth," Lorance's platoon members discuss the series of events that took place on July 2, 2012, when the two Afghan men were killed during a patrol in Kandahar province.They claim that Lorance ordered one of his soldiers to fire at three Afghan men riding a motorcycle. The three men got off their motorcycle and started walking toward Afghan troops, who ordered them to return to their motorcycle.
At that point, Lorance ordered the turret gunner on a nearby Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle to shoot the three men, according to the documentary. That order was initially ignored, but the turret gunner eventually opened fire with his M-240, killing two of the men.
But Lorance told the documentary makers that his former soldiers' account of what happened was "ill-informed."
"From my experience of what actually went down, when my guy fired at it, and it kept coming, that signified hostile intent, because he didn't stop immediately," Lorance said in the documentary's second episode.
Brown argues that not only is Lorance innocent of murder, he should never have been prosecuted in the first case.
"He made a call and when you look at the evidence itself, the call was made within a matter of seconds," Brown said "He would make that call again."
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