Long Island’s congressional delegation is urging passage of legislation that would make it easier for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injuries to appeal their discharge status.
The proposed Fairness for Veterans Act is in doubt because it was included in a Senate version of a defense appropriation bill, but not in a House version.
“Through this bipartisan legislation, more veterans could have access to important aspects of VA health care, educational and employment services, allowing these individuals to further their post military lives,” said Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).
The two branches of Congress are currently negotiating the provisions of a unified bill, which it would send for final approval to President Barack Obama.
The effort to make it easier for veterans to appeal their military discharge status won support from Long Island’s delegation in March, when Iraq War veteran Kristofer Goldsmith, who was kicked out of the Army with a general discharge, asked them to introduce the legislation.
“I’m going to continue working to get this bipartisan legislation passed and signed into law so that veterans with PTSD and TBI can finally access the health care and benefits they’ve earned and the opportunities and support they need as they transition to civilian life,” said Rep. Kathleen Rice, (D-Garden City), whose district includes Goldsmith’s Bellmore hometown.
Rep. Steve Israel, (D-Huntington), said he is pressing for the legislation “because our veterans should never be denied the benefits they deserve to cover mental health care needed after their service.”
Advocates say revisions are needed because tens of thousands of veterans have received other than honorable discharges due to behaviors linked to brain injuries or service related traumatic stress, such as alcohol use, irritability or chronic lateness.
Veterans with “bad paper” discharges may be denied access to federally funded veterans benefits such as tuition aid and medical services that might help them address the problems that led to their dismissal. Goldsmith’s general discharge made him ineligible for education benefits granted by the post-9/11 GI Bill.
Goldsmith, who was since diagnosed with PTSD, was dismissed from the Army after an involuntary extension of his enlistment led to a suicide attempt on the eve of a planned second combat deployment to Iraq.
Currently, veterans who feel their discharge status was unfairly punitive may appeal to discharge-review boards administered by the respective military branches. But the approval rate varies sharply among the branches.
The proposed legislation would force the review boards considering appeals from veterans diagnosed with PTSD or a brain injury to presume that their medical condition contributed to the behaviors that led to their less than honorable discharge.