This week, NPR has been broadcasting a series of stories about veterans, including a story about veterans coping with returning to civilian life after a less-than-honorable discharge. According to NPR, Navy veteran Eric Highfill has received an Iraq campaign medal, an Afghanistan campaign medal, a good-conduct medal, and credentials in marksmanship and rifle sharpshooter. However, the 27-year-old veteran has a less-than-honorable discharge after a DUI while in service. As a result, he will receive no VA assistance, no disability compensation, and no GI Bill. According to NPR, this will also be a red flag on his job application, since most veterans service organizations won’t accept this either, and even some private-sector jobs for vets accept honorable discharge only.
Another example is that of Army veteran Reed Holway, who in 2005 served a 13-month tour in Iraq, where he was subjected to multiple mortar explosions that ultimately led to his diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Holway began having difficulty sleeping, and his mental health screenings indicated depression and violent thoughts. Holway began drinking and eventually suffered a breakdown, which led to an assault. As a result, Holway was discharged under less-than-honorable conditions.
Holway is now forced to pay for his PTSD treatment out of pocket, which can be expensive, particularly without health insurance. Considering the stigma Holway and others face as a result of their discharge, obtaining a job that provides health insurance has been difficult. Fortunately, Holway was able to work for his father, Bill Holway, a building contractor. Nevertheless, Holway is denied free VA benefits that are generously provided to others.
“I gave them a fine human being and they gave me back a damaged boy, with no concern about what they’d done. That’s what I got back, and it’s taken us years to get him back to where he is right now. I think that if you go over there and you put your life on the line, and you’re hurt, there ought to be a compensation for that.”
In an interview with NPR, Reed’s father stated, “I gave them a fine human being and they gave me back a damaged boy, with no concern about what they’d done. That’s what I got back, and it’s taken us years to get him back to where he is right now,” he says. “I think that if you go over there and you put your life on the line, and you’re hurt, there ought to be a compensation for that.”
Highfill and Holway’s stories are not unique. Shockingly, NPR reports over 100,000 other troops who left the armed services with “bad paper” over the past decade of war. Many went to war, saw combat, even earned medals before they broke the rules of military discipline or in some cases committed serious crimes.
An other-than-honorable discharge can not only prevent veterans from receiving basic health care; it can also disqualify them from VA disability benefits. In such cases, the veterans seeking such benefits must first contest their discharge conditions, which can be time consuming and expensive. Many have to contact a VA disability attorney for assistance with their case.
We’re glad to see that this story is finally being brought to the public’s attention. These men and women deserve more for their service. While everyone should be held accountable for their own actions and the choices they make, we need to recognize that there are men and women like Holway who, although they chose to serve this country, they never chose to be subjected to the traumatic events like Holway’s. That was something imposed on them, and they should be compensated, not punished.