Over 100,000 troops left the military over the past decade with what is known as "bad paper," or a status of "dishonorable discharge." Having a dishonorable discharge on your record is bad news. You receive none of the benefits associated with being a veteran and, in some cases, you may not even be recognized as a veteran. Gone then is the disability compensation, VA assistance, employment assistance, and GI Bill that one can usually depend on upon leaving the service.
It's one thing if the dishonorable discharge is assigned due to the service member doing something wrong. It is a deserved assignment if the service member was violent or convicted of committing a crime, violent or otherwise. It's another thing entirely, however, if a service member's life is essentially ruined because he became addicted to painkillers that he took to treat an injury that he sustained during the service.
Many service members went to war, saw combat, and were even given medals before they were branded with a dishonorable discharge status. A service member may be offered information by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on how to appeal his status, and the VA can then perform its own investigation to determinate whether the individual is to be rejected or accepted. Says Phil Carter, an Iraq veteran, having bad paper can be a worse situation than having never served in the military at all.
However, the problem is that for many veterans, the reason they earned their bad paper in the first place is because they were suffering from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – conditions they developed while in the military. They take drugs to treat these conditions, develop addictions to those drugs, get into trouble because of said addictions, and unfortunately earn bad paper as a result, which essentially ruins their entire futures.
Some veterans have reported developing depression and violent or suicidal thoughts as a result of the drugs they were prescribed to treat their mental conditions. This alone would be enough to screw up one's status, though others have admitted to developing a drinking problem in an attempt to combat the bad thoughts…which they developed from the drugs…which they needed to combat the horrors of war…which only ended up earning them bad paper.
Unfortunately, says retired General, and former vice chief of the Army, Peter Chiarelli, there is no perfect way to diagnose someone with PTSD or TBI. The concern is that it is difficult to determine at the moment whether someone is suffering from a trauma of war, or whether he is simply not doing the job that is expected of him. Chiarelli also said that commanders do not give out dishonorable discharges lightly, that it is "an extremely difficult decision to make."
Chiarelli believes that "99.9 percent of commanders" take the soldier's side, but it's when individuals begin to abuse the system that the facts of the situation get murky. Carter hit the nail on the head in saying that "[This country has] long had a social contract with its troops that says we will send you to war, and when you come home we will care for you. [However,] there's been this gap; this population that's gone to war and earned the benefits of that social contract, but for whatever reason had these benefits taken away."