Discharges & Benefits: Vets Get Shafted
The Tonkin Gulf, August 4, 1964. That is when our most recent involvement in Indochina 'legally' began. Since then, 6.7 million men and women have spent time in the military during what is known at the Vietnam Era; nearly 3 million of those in Indochina. And now that these men and women are back in civilian life, they are finding that the government does not have much more regard for them than it had for the people of Indochina. Inadequate education opportunities and medical benefits, bad discharges and no jobs are problems that face millions of Vietnam-era veterans today.
EDUCATION - The Veterans Administration (VA) gave single veterans of World War II $75 a month in living allowances and paid up to $500 in tuition and fees directly to the school or college. That covered all the costs at 89% of the private schools in the country at that time. Today's veteran received a lump sum of $220 a month with which to cover living expenses and tuition for nine months.
Tuition at Harvard in 1948, for example, was $525 for an academic year, just $25 over the GI Bill allowances. Today, the tuition at Harvard is $3,200, which is $1,220 over the current GI Bill allowances, not to mention the increased living expenses. There is even a problem at public colleges, where the average total cost is $1,765. This leaves the Vietnam-era vet with $215 to feed and house him- or herself for nine months!
MEDICAL CARE - The VA runs the largest health care program in the country, with 170 hospitals and a medical budget of more than $3 billion a year. While the VA does have a few model hospitals, they are generally understaffed and indifferent to the special needs of Vietnam-era veterans. A recent Ralph Nader report concluded that the VA was "utterly incapable" of delivering services to the Vietnam-era veteran because the VA is geared primarily to provide custodial care of chronically ill old men. (The Nader Report is available in the form of a book, The Discarded Army, Veterans After Vietnam, from: Charterhouse Book, 145 East 49th St., New York, Ny 10017; $3.95 paperback.)
The VA doesn't know how to respond to the problems of Vietnam-era vets, such as drug addiction or psychological problems, nor do they care. Psychological problems resulting from being in Vietnam (known at PVS) are not considered by the VA to be "service-connected disabilities" and therefore do not qualify the veteran for treatment. The care of veterans with drug problems is equally atrocious. The common treatment involves moving the vet from one drug to another. Many vets reject the cold and ineffective treatment of the VA, as indicated by the findings of the Nader group: "High dropout rates plague VA programs, though many clinics obscure the problem by retaining patients on their roles long after they have ceased making visits. On the average, VA drug programs seem to list about twice as many patients as they really have" (The Discarded Army). Vets with drug-related bad discharges, who would have the greatest need for treatment, are not even eligible, since they have a bad discharge.
NO JOBS - Vietnam veterans, especially non-white veterans, have a much higher unemployment rate than the general labor force. Very few vets returned with a "marketable skill" even those that did, or were able to acquire a skill later, are still faced with the same meager employment situation that other workers are faced with. For those with a bad discharge or an unfavorable SPN number, the struggle is even greater.
BAD DISCHARGES - The military uses five classifications of discharge: Honorable, General undesirable, Bad Conduct and dishonorable. The first three are all given administratively; there is no trial or hearing. The last two require a court martial (trial). The use of this multiple discharge system has compounded all of the other problems facing veterans, especially since the VA can use its own discretion in granting benefits. In most cases the VA will rule against granting benefits. There are no clear statutory guidelines, no definitions and no opportunity to appeal the VA ruling to the courts, thereby leaving the veteran at the mercy of the VA.
A Bad discharge is a brand for life which only a small percentage of vets will ever be able to change on their own. The only solution is to eliminate the old multiple discharge system and establish a single-type discharge for all vets.
This disgraceful and discriminatory treatment of veterans is why we are going to Washington this summer. We hope you will join us in the fight for a single-type discharge and decent benefits for all vets.