A new initiative by several Connecticut veterans’ programs directly encourages and provides resources to veterans with less than honorable discharges to gain a higher discharge classification.
The initiative, which is the first of its kind nationally, is a joint effort by the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs, Vietnam Veterans of America, the VVA Connecticut State Council and the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School.
Detailed notices were sent to more than 1,000 Connecticut veterans informing them of new opportunities to seek discharge upgrades and connecting them with service providers to assist them in the process.
In the past, discharge review applications from veterans with post-traumatic stress were often denied. This changed two years ago when then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel directed discharge upgrade boards to consider the evidence of post-traumatic stress that led to veterans’ bad paper discharges.
“Since 2014, some of the boards have granted roughly half of applications, an increase from approximately four percent and a really promising change for veterans,” said Olivia Horton, a law student at Yale. “But the Department of Defense has refused to identify and contact veterans who could benefit from the new policy, which has left tens of thousands of disabled veterans unaware of this critical opportunity.”
Horton, who is an intern with the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale, is one member of the programs trying to change that.
At the University of Connecticut, student veterans who are receiving benefits have honorable discharges.
“I have had a couple people reach out to me relating to how they could get their discharge reviewed or changed,” Veterans Affairs and Military Programs at UConn Director Alyssa Kelleher said. “They usually aren’t current students, but may be interested in enrolling in a university. In those cases I usually direct them to the military programs that help veterans with less honorable discharges.”
Kelleher and Rob Passmore, Veterans Benefits Coordinator of the Veterans Affairs and Military Programs said it is very rare that a student veteran approaches them to receive educational benefits and is unable to because of his or her dishonorable discharge.
“It maybe happens once a year, or even less,” Kelleher said. “In those cases we again inform them of the programs that may review the veteran’s discharge.”
The initiative is a preliminary one, but a necessary step to help veterans receive their benefits.
“Bad paper discharges have a terrible impact on veterans’ lives,” Dr. Tom Berger of VVA said. “Without upgrades, veterans are barred from the federal benefits they earned through their service, including disability compensation, health care and education, and face barriers to private employment and a lifetime stigma due to their military record.”
Update 12:31 p.m. December 2, 2016
A previous version of this story was incorrectly titled using the word "dishonorable" instead of "other-than-honorable" in regards to discharges. This has been corrected.
Claire Galvin is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.