SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The effort to get tens of thousands of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans with less than honorable discharges medical and mental health services from the VA is going national.
This week, Vietnam Veterans of America sent letters to President Obama and President-elect Trump calling for all of the vets to be pardoned.
“The founding principles of Vietnam Veterans of America is that never again will one generation of veterans leave behind another,” says Kristofer Goldsmith, who is an Iraq veteran who now works for Vietnam Veterans of America. “These Vietnam vets came together and formed this organization not just for themselves but for my generation.”
The letter makes a powerful appeal to President Obama to help those who those who served in war despite how they may have separated from the military. It says that “over the last 15 years of continuous warfare, our country has failed to respond to reports of veterans being inappropriately discharged.” Vietnam Veterans of America is asking people to watch the online documentary Charlie Foxtrot which documents the problems of some who have the less than honorable discharges.
Michael Coleman has what’s known as a “bad paper discharge” and that he served in Iraq in 2003. He says about a year later, he began having symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“Once the military diagnosed me with PTSD they pretty much whisked me out, like really quickly got me out of the military,” Coleman said.
Coleman said despite having symptoms and in need of mental health services he’s been denied by the VA because of his discharge.
“There are veterans from the Vietnam era who have been denied healthcare for a period of half a century. The fact any of them are still alive is amazing,” Goldsmith said.
Goldsmith said while it would be the right thing to do to pardon many Vietnam vets with these less than honorable discharges, the letter hasn’t asked for that. The letter is asking for the pardon of post 9-11 veterans.
“So that every veteran who’s ever set foot in combat who could be reasonably expected to have suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder should at the very least be able to get the care to heal the wounds of war,” Goldsmith said.
The letter says there is a precedent for leaders to act, that in 1977 President Jimmy Carter pardoned what was then referred to as “draft dodgers” who had left the country rather than serve in Veitnam. Goldsmith says the country should at least treat those who were actually willing to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan the same way.
“Vietnam Veterans of America expects the president, our current commander in chief and President Elect Trump to seriously consider what we’re asking for and don’t leave these veterans behind,” Goldsmith said.
Goldsmith also believes most Americans are unaware of this issue.
“We can’t let the fact that we have an all volunteer force today be a reason that American forgets its veterans and fails to fulfill the promises that are made to veterans when they were enlisting. Ignorance is no excuse for leaving behind these vets. Americans have a responsibility to learn about the sacrifices that veterans have made through their service and they have a responsibility to ensure that those who are the guardians of freedom are protected from being forgotten. It’s time we all stand together, forget the partisan arguments and support our veterans.”