Lawmakers could take action this session to expand benefits to veterans who leave with less than an honorable discharge because of mental health or behavioral issues.
The Veterans Affairs Committee is expected to hold a public hearing on legislation that would change state laws regarding medical and other benefits, granting access to veterans with so-called “bad papers.”
The committee agreed to raise the bill last week, just days after a veterans group released a report, commissioned by Yale University, urging the legislation.
The Connecticut chapter of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America says the legislation is needed to help veterans who are kicked out of the military for behavior problems after suffering post traumatic stress disorder, a traumatic brain injury, or sexual trauma.
Discharges of this kind, also known as “other than honorable,” don’t require due process, said Steve Kennedy, team leader for the state chapter of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Kennedy said commanders can use infractions, like substance abuse or a short absence without leave, to dismiss personnel who display behavioral or mental health problems.
“It’s kind of a matter of expediency — a commander's main priority is to maintain unit readiness,” he said.
According to the Yale study, the “other than honorable” distinction accounts for roughly 20,000 discharges, or 15 percent, from the U.S. military each year.
The distinction cuts off veterans from benefits, including healthcare, transitional services, and financial aid for education. Connecticut’s definition for veterans, codified in state law and the determination for eligibility, requires an honorable discharge.
Kennedy said his group isn’t looking to change the definition, but wants lawmakers to consider allowing more veterans access to medical and other benefits.
Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, a vice chair of the legislature’s Veterans Affairs Committee, and Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, both have expressed support.
“... there’s a lot of people (on the committee) who are also interested in this bill,” Linehan said.
Suzio sent a letter to the committee’s three chairs and ranking House Republican Feb. 9 asking them to raise the bill.
You can hear more from Kennedy on the Morning Record, the Record-Journal’s daily news podcast, at http://bit.ly/2GuvaZR