Veterans Advocates Join “Talk Justice” Podcast to Discuss Impact of Bad Paper Discharges

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WASHINGTON—Veterans advocates discussed how unfavorable discharges, known as “bad paper,” prevent veterans from accessing the basic benefits and services they need on the latest episode of “Talk Justice,” the Legal Services Corporation’s (LSC) podcast. Bad paper discharges disproportionately impact specific veterans populations including people of color, women, transgender and gender diverse veterans, LGBTQ+ veterans, and veterans who have experienced military sexual trauma, traumatic brain injuries, or other behavioral health conditions.  

LSC’s Vice President for Legal Affairs and General Counsel Will Gunn, former general counsel for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and a retired Air Force colonel, hosted the discussion with Lindsay Church, executive director of Minority Veterans of America; Carolyn Colley, a VA attorney who focuses on suicide prevention; Michael Wishnie, clinical professor at Yale Law School and director of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic; and Margaret Kuzma, an attorney in the Veterans Legal Clinic at Harvard Law School. 

Their conversation detailed the roadblocks many service members encounter which prevent them from using their military benefits to access education, housing, or physical and mental health care. The system where a less-than-honorable discharge leads to loss of benefits often means that the veterans most in need of support services are the least able to access them. 

Kuzma, the lead author of the Military Discharge Upgrade Legal Practice Manual released by the American Bar Association this year, explained some of the troubling patterns seen in these veteran populations.    

“Veterans with bad paper have higher rates of mental health conditions, suicide, homelessness, and unemployment,” she said. “Many have disabilities related to their service—which may have, in fact, led to their discharge with bad paper—and many were discharged with bad paper under past discriminatory practices that targeted veterans because of their sexual orientation or sexual identity.”

Wishnie noted that bad paper discharges are currently happening at a much higher rate than any time in history. “There is an enormous set of unmet legal and human needs for veterans with bad paper,” said Wishnie. “There are also enormous opportunities for lawyers and other advocates to help people here.”    

Legal aid providers and other advocates can support veterans through the appeals process to upgrade their discharge and gain access to vital services. Veterans may not know that they are eligible to upgrade their discharge, and others may find the arduous process inaccessible without considerable support.    

Talk Justice episodes are available on LSC's website and on Spotify, Stitcher, Apple and other popular podcast apps. The podcast is sponsored by LSC’s Leaders Council.    

Future episodes of Talk Justice will explore how geospatial data can improve civil legal aid services and how the digital divide hinders self-represented litigants.  

Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974 to provide financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. The Corporation currently provides funding to 132 independent nonprofit legal aid programs in every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.

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