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VA Advocates Plead for Congress to Address Bad-paper Discharges that Keep Veterans From Critical Benefits

Last week, Army veteran and advocate Kris Goldsmith told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that that failure of the VA to help veterans with bad-paper discharges is “deadly serious.”

Bad-paper discharges refers to veterans who received less-than-honorable discharges and have as a result been denied access to critical benefits. Currently, there are nearly 500,000 veterans with bad-paper discharges, 125,000 of which, from the post-9/11 era. Out of these veterans, only 35,000 have applied for the VA to review their discharge status. Only 3,500 of these veterans, 0.07 percent, have been deemed eligible.

Kris Goldsmith is one of these post-9/11 veterans that states “ the experience of being discharged with a less-than-fully-honorable status and the resulting denial of VA benefits has shaped my entire life.”

Goldsmith turned to binge drinking to cope with the horrors he witnessed on deployment as a 19-year-old solider. During his service he struggled to get mental health treatment from the Army, and ultimately gave up. The night before he was scheduled to be deployed back to Iraq, he attempted suicide. He was subsequently removed from the Army with a “general” discharge. He was suddenly back home with no job and resorting to heavy drinking to cope.

Goldsmith was rejected from attending local posts for veteran service organizations and he could not collect unemployment as the economy collapsed in 2008. Being branded with a bad-paper discharge left him not just unemployed but “unemployable” according to Goldsmith.

Studies have shown that veterans with bad-paper are more likely to suffer from substance abuse, homelessness, unemployment, and suicidal ideations than those with honorable discharges.

Fortunately, Goldsmith was eventually approved for a disability claim and immediately diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. “That access to VA care is the only reason I’m alive to testify before you today,” Goldsmith told lawmakers in a Congressional testimony on bad-paper discharges. He’s become the face of bad-paper discharges and has been a leading advocate for years.

12 years after his original discharge, Goldsmith’s discharge was upgraded to fully honorable. He did not know about it for a half a year because it was sent to his childhood home. Goldsmith is committed to making sure more veterans don’t have to go through what he went through.

“Through all of this frustration I’ve spent this time learning that I’m not alone, and that there are major systemic flaws that allow patriots like me to serve and sacrifice for this country, only to be discarded like trash,” he said. “Since I learned about this country’s abandonment of veterans with bad paper, it’s been my primary focus in life to see that things are made right.” 

David Shulkin, former VA Secretary under the Obama Administration, told congress that he planned to provide VA emergency treatment to veterans affected by bad-paper discharges. His successor, Robert Wilkie, has not continued to pursue these plans.

Last week, Goldsmith recommended the creation a new procedure for filing for benefits for veterans with a less-than-honorable-discharge. This way, veterans don’t have to be discouraged from filing as so many are. There will be a specific procedure for them.

Goldsmith and veterans advocate groups will continue to wait in frustration for Congress to take action.

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