A Step-By-Step Guide To Screwing Over A Hero

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It's no surprise that for a country that professes our love and appreciation for veterans at every turn, we actually don't do a great job of treating them well when they return from war. But I had no idea how ridiculous some of the problems they face are.

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Joshua: There's not a day or an hour that goes by that you don't think or have a small glimpse of what had had happened, or everything that you've seen, you can't get rid of it. It's not gonna go away. We were about mid-way through a three-mile convoy, and we were comin' up to an intersection, and just before we get up over this, this little hill to hit this intersection, uh, we had detonated an I.E.D. Smoke, dust, and dirt was everywhere. And you do a service, you go fight for your country, do what they ask you to do. You know, 24/7, that's what you do. You come back, you make one small mistake and they hold you to that tiny mistake.

Teresa: We're seeing that there is an absolute epidemic of veterans being discharged with bad paper. They don't have an honorable or general discharge.

Michael: If you have a less than honorable discharge you're no longer eligible for benefits, you can't go to school, you can't go to the V.A. medical center for medical care, so it's a big deal.

Teresa: The overwhelming majority of them are combat veterans and then upon return, no diagnosis, no treatments, perhaps some self-medication, and then because of that, being kicked out. Many veterans who have psychiatric disabilities or medical conditions where the symptoms of the condition may be mistaken for some type of misconduct or acting out, those veterans are the very veterans who need those V.A. benefits the most.

Joshua: They ordered me to stay in bed for six weeks to let them, to let everything heal. The pain was just, I mean, it was intense. I broke my right ankle and my knees were shot, and my lower back is shot from the explosion. I remember, uh, crawlin' out of the truck, and a corpsman coming up to me and saying, 'You were dead just a few minutes ago. I checked your pulse, we moved onto another person.'

They gave me a purple heart, you don't see too many people who have 'em. It was definitely a proud moment. Something I could pass down through my family. So when it was time to, uh, rotate to back to the States, they basically force you to sign a piece of paper saying that, uh, you're mentally stable, you're fine, everything is okay. If you don't sign the paper, they're gonna hold you on an Eval there to see if you can even come home. Nobody put down any mental illness, anything that's bothering them, any bad dreams or anything like that. Everybody just said, we're fine. So when you get back home, there's no help. It took a few months for it to really sink in. Your mind starts to get a little twisted and a little messed up, so you do feel depressed and you do have bad dreams, and maybe a terrible attitude over it all. Um, but there's no one there to fix it.

Cynthia: When he came back, they never counseled us. They never asked us anything. I think he was just trying to find an outlet to erase some of the images and the thoughts of his head, and it's so hard. People don't understand, they, um, even it's hard for me to understand sometimes how broken he is from being in the Marine Corps and from being at war. I just didn't wanna lose him. I didn't wanna lose my husband.

Joshua: Shortly after I returned, my brother-in-law came down to visit us. We were drinking and everything, and he handed me a joint, so I figured, you know what, I'm gonna just try and really escape everything I'm thinking about. I took two pulls off of this joint and that was it, I couldn't hold no more. A week later, I had a random piss test at my shop at my work. My company officer called me into his office and had explained to me that I had failed the piss test. He gave me an ultimatum. He said you can either fight this and as a consequence if you lose, you get a dishonorable discharge and you get kicked out immediately, out of the Marine Corps. Or you can plead guilty to, to doing it, and we're gonna give you an other than honorable discharge. It started me out real shitty, you know, for I guess life. I didn't have a job 'cuz of the discharge, I couldn't collect unemployment.

Cynthia: I was stressing out. We have kids, we don't have enough money. It was a lot to take.

Joshua: My pain continued from then on but, uh, there was no benefits to be had. Your purple heart didn't mean shit. I tried to seek out someone for some help, an organization of some sort for two years before I found, uh, Swords to Plowshares. So I called and talked to Teresa, and she told me that they didn't have a real reason to kick you out.

Teresa: Josh Christmon's case is the perfect example of what can happen to combat veterans when they don't receive the proper medical care needed. The unjust discharge that they can receive and then the incredible amount of work it is to undo the mess. So let me actually get Josh's file. You need two hands to pull this out. What I have in here is a collection of all of Josh's military medical records and a lot of correspondence back and forth between Swords to Plowshares and the V.A. They found, okay, Josh does have P.T.S.D. Josh also has tendinitis. He has a traumatic brain injury. We basically explained the circumstances to the V.A. and the V.A. can make a determination that this veteran served honorably. And therefore, is entitled to all V.A. benefits.

Joshua: Teresa set me up all my compensation and pension exams, she's done all of this, you know, for me. I was super stoked 'cuz I knew I had benefits now.

Cynthia: It's changed our lives. Without them I don't think we'd be where we are today.

Teresa: I know that if I didn't have any legal training and I needed to review all of this, there's no way I would be able to go through hundreds and hundreds of pages.

Michael: This is still a problem, uh, a great problem of veterans not being unjustly separated from the military. You know, the military is just not just going to a job, it's, you know, you're putting yourself at grave risk and your health at grave risk. The unfairness of that, of being injured when you really surrendered your youth, and, and you really make that kind of sacrifice just seems to unjust, so unfair, so un-American.

Teresa: Congress needs to do a much better job of providing oversight to these military discharge review boards and corrections boards.

Joshua: It's ridiculous when you have to wait so long for something you deserve and that's, that's yours. In order to change it, well, I guess we all just need to stand up together, you know, and fight for this. Let's just get it done.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

I found this story through Brave New Films. To do something about this problem, check out the organization that helped Josh, Swords to Plowshares, and sign the MoveOn.org petition to protect vets from losing care due to bad papers.

Jul 03, 2014

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