“To care for him who shall have bourne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.” Abraham Lincoln’s promise to heal the nation is now the motto of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. But tens of thousands of Americans who served are legally barred from most of that care. They bore the battle, but left the military with bad discharges, some for misdemeanors, some for serious misconduct, and often related to trauma from war. Especially for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, an unfavorable discharge can result in no treatment for the wound that caused the bad conduct. Most veterans programs around the U.S. -- jobs, home loans, even special courts for troubled vets -- are restricted to veterans with an honorable discharge.
Veterans correspondent Quil Lawrence examines what happens to veterans who receive a discharge that is less than honorable, in a five-part series airing the week of December 9 on NPR’s Morning Edition (weekdays 5:00-9:00 a.m.).
Other Than Honorable Series Story Descriptions:
Other Than Honorable Overview - Monday, December 9
Since 2001, more than one hundred thousand troops have left the military with an “Other than Honorable” discharge. The “bad paper” puts benefits and medical care out of reach, even for those who served in combat. What does America owe those who serve? And does that obligation end if a vet commits an offense while still in the service? NPR’s Quil Lawrence examines the social contract between America and its vets.
A Veteran Turned Aside - Tuesday, December 10
NPR's Quil Lawrence profiles former soldier Reed Holway, who served in Iraq where he developed post-traumatic stress disorder. When he was assigned to a base back in the U.S., his symptoms got worse, and he was court martialed for assault. Now he’s stuck with a bad discharge Catch-22: Holway can’t get medical care from the VA for the disorder that caused his discharge from the Army.
Veterans Courts - Wednesday, December 11
A national movement for veterans’ treatment courts is addressing the large number of veterans coming into the criminal justice system. But these Veterans Courts only help those who break the law after receiving an honorable discharge from the military. For vets who commit a crime before they’re discharged, the consequences are severe and can even bar them from court services. NPR’s Quil Lawrence reports.
A Vet’s Redemption - Thursday, December 12
NPR’s Quil Lawrence profiles a Marine whose life was ruined by the mistakes he made while in the service. Mike Hartnett joined the Marines because he wanted to be a tough guy. But deployments to the first Gulf War and Somalia left him haunted by nightmares. He turned to alcohol and after a bad conduct discharge, he fell into drugs for more than a decade. Three years ago he convinced a military board to upgrade his discharge. That change in status gave him the chance he needed. Now he’s studying to be a social worker with the goal of helping other vets.
Filling The Gaps - Friday, December 13
NPR’s Quil Lawrence looks at efforts to help vets who’ve left the military with bad discharges. Community and charity organizations are scrambling to pick up the slack where the Veterans Administration is failing these veterans. And many of these groups already have plenty of experience with the problem; they say tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans faced the same problem.