Fairness for Veterans Act may help many access help from the VA

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An effort to help veterans with less than honorable discharges access medical services at the VA (Veterans Administration) is getting help from national lawmakers.

Thursday, the Fairness for Veterans Act passed within a larger budget bill. But many veterans groups are still applauding the effort saying the bill, if signed into law, will assist more of those who are trying to have their discharge status changed. “The Fairness for Veterans Act would shift the burden of proof in favor of vets who appeal their discharge to the Department of Defense,” says Kristofer Goldsmith from Vietnam Veterans of America.

Monday, Goldsmith who is himself fighting his discharge status, joined dozens of veterans like himself in the nation’s capitol for a forum sponsored by WXIA 11 Alive ‘s documentary unit. The online documentary Charlie Foxtrot was shown. It documents the struggles of several men who fought in Iraq and or Afghanistan but were released from the military with what is termed “bad paper discharges.” That prevents them from accessing any kind of services, including mental health services from the VA.

Goldsmith says often soldiers with PTSD display symptoms that can lead to behavior that provokes superiors and in turn, leads to their less than honorable discharge.

That’s what Michael Coleman says happened to him in 2004 at the age of 20 after serving a year in Iraq. Michael and his mother, Jo Coleman (who is a military therapist) say he had been diagnosed with PTSD.

Coleman says he has been to the VA probably 100 times but is “always turned away because of his discharge.” He told us in September that he had attempted suicide, something Goldsmith says is often a consequence of a less than honorable discharge. He says those who get no help from the VA are more often to be homeless and more often to die by suicide.

Coleman told us Friday that he has made progress and has been contacted by those with resources to help him. That’s since our stories aired recently. He said he’s more optimistic now and says passage of the bill is one reason. “I hope that now that the bill’s passed that it turns into a law quickly and that people who deserve treatment start to get it,” he told us.

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