When most people think of mental illness in veterans, the first image that comes to mind is that of a battle-weary soldier. However, new research is telling us that the risk of suicide is JUST as high in veterans who have never been deployed to combat as it is in those exposed to battle.
We’ve seen a large rise in suicides, both in active duty personnel, as well as veterans. Currently, the suicide rate is calculated at around 18 veterans in every 100,000 persons per year, and the difference between those who were deployed and those who were not is very small. However, those with multiple deployments have an increased rate at about 20 in 100,000. Most interesting is the rate of suicide by members who had been discharged early. These veterans had a much higher rate at 26 per 100,000.
What could account for this increase? Perhaps those with mental illness are more likely to be discharged than those without? Those with mental illnesses such as depression or PTSD are often labelled by command and military doctors as “malingerers,” lazy, or turn to drugs and alcohol for self medication. This could lead to a “bad conduct” or dishonorable discharge, which would affect a veteran’s eligibility to VA healthcare and benefits. Imagine that you broke your back during your military service, but didn’t receive the proper care. Your command labels you a malingerer, or lazy, and you are recommended for a dishonorable discharge. You are then unable to work, unable to apply for disability, and unable to receive medical treatment. Mental illness can be JUST as devastating, JUST as painful, and JUST as disabling as physical injuries, but the symptoms are much easier to miss (or deliberately overlook.)
We can see that mental illness can be just as severe in non-combat veterans as it is in those who were deployed. It can also be just as deadly. How many veterans are ineligible for VA health care or benefits due to a dishonorable discharge that was a direct result of their mental illness?
What can you do if you’ve received a discharge that makes you ineligible for VA benefits? Hill & Ponton attorney Shannon Brewer has touched on this before. It can be a much more difficult fight, but it can be done. These veterans know that the fight is an important one, as many are fighting (again) for their very lives.