Underserved

Swords to Plowshares, in conjunction with National Veterans Legal Services Program and the Veterans Legal Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School have published Underserved: How the VA Wrongfully Excludes Veterans with Bad Paper.

Not all who have served are “veterans” in the eyes of the Department of Veterans Affairs. If the veteran has less than a General discharge, the VA creates obstacles to getting health care, benefits, homeless resources and other services. Most of these veterans are simply turned away. Congress never meant for eligibility to be so exclusive, it intended that only veterans who served dishonorably be denied access. The VA’s own discretionary policies unnecessarily deny hundreds of thousands veterans benefits, who are often those most in need of the VA’s support. These former service members are more likely to have mental health disabilities and twice as likely to commit suicide. They are more likely to be homeless and to be involved with the criminal justice system.

Key findings from the report

  • Marines are nearly ten times more likely to be excluded from VA services than their counterparts in the Air Force
  • Current era service members are excluded at higher rates than other eras– more than twice the rate for Vietnam Era veterans and nearly four times the rate for World War II Era veterans
  • Mental health and combat have little effect on eligibility
  • 3 out of 4 veterans with bad-paper discharges who served in combat and who have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are denied eligibility by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals

We ask the VA to revise its regulations to more accurately reflect congressional intent that only those who served “dishonorably” be excluded. It should require consideration of positive and mitigating factors and not disqualify veterans for minor misconduct. We also believe the VA can and should grant access to basic healthcare while it makes eligibility determinations so that veterans can receive prompt treatment for service-related injuries. Access to this healthcare can mean the difference between maintaining stability and entering a spiral of homelessness, addiction, and suicide.

This report is a follow up to the Rulemaking Petition that Swords, with National Veterans Legal Services Program, Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, and Latham and Watkins LLP, submitted to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary McDonald in December 2015. In it, we and our partners lay out the history and analysis and request simple amendments to the VA’s regulations which would open up access the care and benefits that we owe to them. We encourage you to read the report, understand how the VA determines a veteran’s status, and reach out to your Congressmember.


A copy of Underserved can be downloaded here. The Rulemaking Petition can be viewed here.