27-year old Joshua Bunn is a part-time dishwasher in Jonesboro, Arkansas. He has a young daughter. He’s been in and out of jail and he’s tried to commit suicide before. Perhaps it seems these are the things that define him now.
At another time in his life — what may now seem like a lifetime ago “Afghanistan happened,” and he was a completely different man.
Bunn was a rifleman with an infantry unit “so far out in Taliban country we rarely got resupply.” His unit killed hundreds of enemy fighters and lost “more comrades than any other battalion in the Marine Corps in 2009,” according to the NY Times.
When returning home from deployment, Bunn slashed his wrists and became the target of abuse in his platoon. Nobody helped and he ran away from his base in California. When he was caught in 2010, military officials suggested he was better off taking an “other-than-honorable” discharge because “a medical discharge would take years.”
The Dept. of Veterans Affairs has denied Bunn permanent health care, disability pay and job training because the agency doesn’t technically consider him a veteran.
A new report by the veterans advocacy group, Swords to Plowshares, found that more than 125,000 Iraq and Afghanistan vets have what are known as “bad paper” discharges, which prevent them from receiving care.
The report also found that vets who served after 2001 were nearly twice as likely as those who served during Vietnam to be barred from benefits, and four times as likely as those who served during World War II. Bunn’s generation is being refused benefits at the highest rate since the system was created at the end of the Second World War.
About 6.5 percent of all Iraq and Afghanistan troops have bad paper discharges, with the highest rate found in the Marine Corps, where one in ten is ineligible for benefits, the report said.
Coco Culhane, a lawyer who works with veterans in New York, says: “We separate people for misconduct that is actually a symptom of the very reason they need health care.”
The GI Bill, created in 1944, stated that those with dishonorable discharges, as well as spies and deserters would not be eligible for veterans benefits. By law, the VA was to care for vets if their service was “other than dishonorable” and the agency interpreted that as excluding “other than honorable.”
However, Congress left open the door to benefits for a “spectrum of discharges” between honorable and dishonorable, including “undesirable” and “other than honorable.” The idea was to allow some leeway for less serious misconduct that might result from combat — the Times reported.
Bradford Adams, one of the authors of the report said: “It has gotten worse with every generation, and it appears to hit the veterans Congress intended to protect… they knew these folks had been through combat and wanted to make sure they had help. The V.A. doesn’t seem to be doing that.”
Research shows that vets with “bad paper” discharges may be more likely to commit suicide. Bunn says his five years of health care — given to all combat veterans — is set to run out this year. “I really don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said.
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