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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Shocking New Report on VA Benefits Makes National News, But Part of the Story is Missing

The New York Times has finally caught on to something we have known here in the Carolinas for quite some time - veterans are being denied benefits by the VA at an all-time high rate. This is a serious issue that is impacting a lot of young men and women from both North and South Carolina who bravely answered the call of duty after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

A Common Story

The Times article tells the story of Joshua Bunn, who was a rifleman in Afghanistan, but like so many recent vets, is being denied benefits by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Bunn, who the Times reports was suffering from suicidal thoughts and nightmares, went AWOL and after he was caught, agreed to take an other-than-honorable discharge from the Marine Corps because he was told he would be better off taking an other-than-honorable discharge than waiting years for a medical discharge to go through.

Unfortunately, because his discharge was not honorable, the VA does not consider him a veteran, and is denying him benefits.

Shocking New Statistics About Benefits Being Denied

As the Times has apparently just discovered, this sort of story is all too common. The recent report from the pro-veterans group Swords to Plowshares that apparently inspired the Times article found that, “Current era service members are excluded at higher rates than other eras-- more than twice the rate for Vietnam Era veterans and nearly four times the rate for World War II Era veterans.”

The report also found that:

  • Marines are nearly ten times more likely to be excluded from VA services than their counterparts in the Air Force
  • Mental health and combat have little effect on eligibility
  • 3 out of 4 veterans with bad-paper discharges who served in combat and who have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are denied eligibility by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals

These statistics are simply unacceptable.

What the New York Times Failed to Mention

Kudos should go to the Times and Swords to Plowshares for shedding some light on this serious problem, and suggesting some policy changes that the VA and Congress could make to remedy it. However, the report and news article could both have provided a bit more information about what veterans can do if they are facing the sort of situation they are reporting on.

They should have mentioned that denials of benefits are appealable, even when a veteran received an other-than-honorable discharge. Very few veterans realize that if the VA denies them benefits they can appeal that decision, and can even get an attorney to help them navigate the appeals process.

One of the specific practice areas of Monk Law Firm is veterans' benefits, so we are uniquely prepared to help veterans determine whether they qualify for VA benefits, how to apply for such benefits, and how to fight for them by appealing if their benefits are denied. Because we are a VA-accredited law firm, we have no conflict of interests in handling such cases.

It is critical that we all work to get the word out there about the availability of appeals, and the fact that there are attorneys that specialize in this area, because the many of the people getting denials are the very sort of people that the VA benefits programs were designed to help in the first place. We can and should be doing better for these American heroes.


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