Trenton – Senator Joe Cryan, the newly-selected chair of the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, said that he will follow through on issues discussed at a forum on the health care needs of veterans who are being denied treatment because they left the service with “other than honorable” discharges.
After participating in the “Veterans Zoom Roundtable,” sponsored by the New Jersey Reentry Corporation, Senator Cryan said he wants to fix a system that prevents veterans from access to care because of conduct resulting from service-related trauma, such as PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Military Sexual Trauma. He has already started to work on a legislative remedy.
“These were heart-wrenching accounts of veterans who served, sacrificed and suffered on behalf of our country,” said Senator Cryan, referring to the former soldiers and surviving family members who gave accounts of their experience. “It’s a cruel irony that former soldiers are being denied treatment and benefits because of so-called ‘bad paper’ discharges for conduct caused by their military experience. This is an injustice that needs to be fixed.”
An other than honorable (OTH) discharge occurs when the veteran’s service records show some misconduct, but they have not been involved with a court-martial. The OTH status often inhibits them from accessing federal and state services and benefits, including health care. Veterans with “bad paper” discharges are at greater risk of involvement with the criminal justice system, homelessness, drug addiction and suicide.
Senator Joe Vitale, chair of the Senate Health Committee, also participated in the forum and will work with Senator Cryan on the legislation.
“These are men and women returning home with the wounds of war, including wounds that aren’t visible,” said Senator Vitale. “The current policy cuts them off from vital services, including addiction treatment, mental health services and other behavioral treatment they need to recover. This is treatments that can save lives.”
There are an estimated 8,000 New Jersey veterans with less than honorable discharges that impact their health benefits, the forum was told.
Former Governor Jim McGreevey, the Reentry Corporation’s chair, moderated the discussion.
“This is a matter of basic decency for the men and women who have worn the uniform of America’s armed services,” said McGreevey. “They should be provided with the care they deserve and have earned to treat the trauma-caused conditions they endured in service to others.”
Senator Cryan said that he has already started working on legislation to “fix the system” and that he will collaborate with Senator Vitale, the Reentry Corporation, veterans groups and others. He will also examine progress made in other states.