During our July 2016 GBVC summit, the tenth since our inception in January 2015, we discussed the interplay of issues related to bad conduct discharges and justice-involved veterans. Our affinity group discussions encouraged group members to reflect on their organizations’ policies, challenges and solutions to these issues. With the exception of some organizations navigating grant compliance requirements, the policy of most organizations involved was to serve veterans regardless of discharge status, with the exception of some with grant compliance requirements and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Our higher education group identified two challenges: outreach and support. Outreach involves the capacity to bring people out of the shadows, speaking to a level of stigma and complexity to these cases. Support reflects a need for funding to help assist those with greater need. Our group noted that institutions have to have a reputation for competency and trust, largely borne by word of mouth. They highlighted a national resource directory available on ebenefits, which enumerates scholarships and their distinct criteria.
Our employment group reflected on the adverse impact bad paper or a criminal history can have on securing gainful employment. They discussed the need to develop an understanding of employers and vocations that might be more accepting of these types of issues. They also explored incentive options for employers to work with veterans experiencing these challenges, including special insurance coverage and/or social impact bonds.
Our community group discussed in large part its member experiences related to this issue. For example, a representative from Maine’s Bureau of Veterans Services noted that a court had found hours spent taking part in Team RWB events satisfied required community service hours. Team Rubicon has recently accepted its first Clay Hunt Fellow with an other than honorable discharge status. The group discussed ways that more light could be shed on what the discharge statuses really mean and how they can affect veterans’ ability to access programs and services.
ADVOCACY/HEALTH AND WELLNESS
Our advocacy and health and wellness groups combined for this discussion, with a strong showing from the Department of Veterans Affairs and legal service providers, including the Veterans Legal Clinic of Harvard Law School and Veterans Legal Services. They identified a need to provide assistance with discharge upgrades to veterans who need it in order to increase their access to healthcare and benefits. This group, similar to the education affinity group, noted that the stigma of bad paper keeps many veterans silent. The group discussed the need for state Veteran Service Officers to travel to prisons to offer assistance and/or to identify funding opportunities to cover certification costs for officials at prisons to function as VSOs. For veterans who lack access to VA health care, the group discussed alternative options. Veterans who served after 9/11/2001 can be seen regardless of their discharge status through the Home Base Program. For veterans who served before 9/11/2001, referrals can be made to MassHealth to ensure access to health services. The Policy and Advocacy affinity group also determined that there is a clear need to launch a Legal Services Working Group within the collaborative to handle referrals within the network and raise awareness about the issues and legal-specific advocacy efforts with the group.
UPDATE — 16 AUGUST
After some research on the problem of VSO access to prisons, Joy Cumming learned the following (copied from the #justice slack channel):
Great news on the cost to be come an accredited VA claims person and an accredited Chapter 115 claims person. Free!! The VA is called a claims agent (when not associated with a VSO organization or State agency), it requires time, testing, referrals and a background check. The Chapter 115 would require the town the prison is in to call the prison employee a VSO and then the State will train them for free. There may be lodging costs. The contact info for the VA info is Nathan Portony 202–461–0256 and Chapter 115 is Evan M. 617–210–5482, they are both GREAT resources to keep on hand.
For a quick rundown of the types of discharge statuses, please see: https://www.army.mil/article/73343/. According to aDecember 2015 U.S. News piece, “The Department of Defense said of nearly 207,000 people who left the military [in 2014], just 9 percent received what’s referred to as ‘bad paper.’ Still, that’s more than 18,000 people last year and more than 352,000 since 2000, Defense Department data shows.”
In February 2016, The New York Times ran a story highlighting the impact bad paper can have on a veterans’ ability to access programs and services, specifically highlighting bad discharges that arise from PTSD.
Our conversation did not delve into a discussion of veteran treatment courts, institutions that are structured to offer rehabilitative programs and services designed to best serve the veteran community. For more information, visithttp://justiceforvets.org/.