More than 125,000 veterans who have served since 9/11 are denied access to basic services like health care by the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to a report by the Veterans Legal Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School. The report, “Underserved,” presents new findings about how the VA’s regulations exclude hundreds of thousands of veterans with “bad-paper” discharges, contrary to the text and intent of the 1944 G.I. Bill of Rights, which established the current VA eligibility standard. The clinic issued the report on behalf of two veterans advocacy organizations, Swords to Plowshares and the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP).
“Congress meant for the VA to provide basic services to nearly all the men and women who served in uniform,” said Dana Montalto, an attorney and Liman Fellow in the Veterans Legal Clinic. “Yet, the VA’s regulations have operated to exclude more and more veterans from getting the care and support that they deserve.”
The Clinic found that 6.5 percent of veterans who have served since 9/11 are excluded from the VA — twice the rate for Vietnam era veterans and nearly four times the rate for World War II era veterans. Many of those veterans have mental or physical injuries because of their service, and many served in combat or other hardship conditions, but nevertheless cannot get health care, disability compensation, or other supportive services because of the VA’s regulations.
“Since the Veterans Legal Clinic opened our doors in 2012, we have heard from scores of veterans who wrongfully or unjustly received less-than-honorable discharges,” said Clinical Professor Dan Nagin, who directs the Veterans Legal Clinic. “There exists a dearth of legal resources for these veterans, and our students have represented many in correcting their discharges and gaining access to the basic services that they deserve.”
Students in the clinic have represented an Iraq War veteran who was less-than-honorably discharged for one-time drug use on the night that he attempted to commit suicide, a post-9/11 veteran who was wrongfully discharged on the basis of an incorrect diagnosis of personality disorder, and a veteran discharged for his sexual orientation under the now-repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
The clinic has been able to continue to expand its work in this area since the arrival of fellow Dana Montalto in 2014. In addition to providing representation to more veterans, she has established the Veterans Justice Pro Bono Partnership, which trains and supports private attorneys to represent veterans in discharge-upgrade petitions. Montalto has also spearheaded systemic reform initiatives, including writing the report “Underserved”.