New York lawmakers are calling for legislation that would help some discharged veterans obtain benefits as they transition back to civilian life.
There are five types of military discharge, but only an honorable discharge provides a veteran with benefits. Some are calling for a "fairness for veterans" bill that would allow those with who got "general" or "other-than-honorable" discharges to appeal the decision.
Veteran advocates estimate there are currently 100,000 veterans without access to all of their benefits because they were unfavorably discharged due to conduct-related post traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.
Kristofer Goldsmith, of Bellmore, says he felt like there was no way out as he struggled with PTSD after serving overseas. "It was my job to watch people dig bodies out of the ground and then take pictures of their faces," he says.
In 2007, he had already served one tour of duty in Iraq and was about to be deployed on a second. "I just couldn't manage my symptoms of PTSD and suicide felt like that only answer," Goldsmith says.
But he says the military didn't respond well. "They interpreted my suicide attempt instead of as a cry for help, as an act of misconduct," he says. "And they saw fit to kick me out of the military with a general discharge, which cost me my GI benefits."
A bill to let veterans appeal discharge decisions is pending in the Senate. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) is working to get a companion bill introduced in the House.
"For us to be able to diagnose and treat the mental wounds of war, is something that would provide a much-needed and well-deserved service for our vets to ensure that they are taken care of for the rest of their lives," Zeldin says.
The need is urgent, Goldsmith says. "Folks who get kicked out of the military are more likely to be homeless, they're more likely to suffer from substance abuse problem, and ultimately, they're more likely to die of suicide," he says.
The proposed legislation also has the support of Rep. Peter King, Rep. Kathleen Rice and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.