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LI-inspired measure aiding veterans with mental problems expected to pass

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, (D-NY) listens to Iraqi war

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, (D-NY) listens to Iraqi war veteran Kristofer Goldsmith of Long Beach, on Wednesday, April 16, 2014, speak about his forced discharge from the Army following a suicide attempt. He discusses how he began organizing, and eventually persuaded the Senator to propose legislation that would curb the practice of kicking soldiers out of the military because of service-related psychological problems. Goldsmith is surrounded by other Iraqi war veterans, in Garden City. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Federal legislation inspired by a Long Beach Iraq War veteran who was given a disciplinary discharge from the Army after attempting suicide in 2007 took a major step toward passage this week when sponsors inserted it in next year's Defense Department spending package.

Aides to House and Senate sponsors of the no-cost legislation say it now appears certain to become law.

The legislation would help veterans who suffer psychological problems related to their military service challenge less than full honorable discharges, which can bar them from future military service, blackball them among employers, and limit their access to veterans scholarships and medical care.

Kristofer Goldsmith, a former Army sergeant, began pressing members of Congress to support the measure after becoming a local leader of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an advocacy organization based in Washington.

"It's kind of amazing what a small team of people can do," said Goldsmith, who is also president of a veterans group at Nassau Community College. "Most people don't think one person can make a difference. We've proven they can."

Support for the legislation grew after Goldsmith and two other veterans' activists at NCC lobbied members of Congress in Washington in January.

Goldsmith said he was kicked out of the Army in 2007, just weeks after attempting suicide on the eve of a scheduled second deployment to Iraq. Goldsmith said his first deployment, during which his duties included photographing the remains of Iraqis tortured and murdered in sectarian violence, left him with symptoms of extreme anxiety, depression, rage and other symptoms that were eventually diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Goldsmith was given a general discharge that cited him for "misconduct: serious offense," according to a release by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who sponsored the Senate version of the legislation.

Goldsmith said the Army has refused repeated appeals to have his discharge status upgraded, making it hard to find work and leaving him ineligible for tuition, housing and other aid offered under the post-9/11 GI Bill.

The legislation would require panels that review military discharges to include at least one mental health professional.

Critics of the current system say the absence of mental health professionals means such panels lack the ability to fairly evaluate whether an individual's service-related psychological problems should have been taken into consideration when deciding their discharge status.

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