When I joined the Army, I took a creed to “never leave a fallen comrade.” Now it appears that the military community to which I belong is failing to honor that creed.
I was disheartened but unsurprised to read the newly released Government Accountability Office report finding that 62% of servicemembers who received less than honorable discharges suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injuries, or other mental-health illnesses. Misconduct based discharges, or “bad papers,” bar more than 57,000 veterans from receiving many benefits, including treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Among its findings, the report stated that individual service branches only inconsistently adhered to Department of Defense policy on misconduct separations, or did not adhere to their own policies they set to ensure that servicemembers with mental health issues didn’t fall through the cracks.
Though the report is extensive, it is ultimately incomplete because it doesn’t address the cultural norms in the military from which this injustice stems. Until we do that, we will continue to leave behind those who swore to protect and defend us.
At its core, the military is a violent organization with violent objectives—to fight and win wars. No matter what an individual Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine’s occupational specialty may be, everything he or she does is in service to that objective. It’s only natural then that the warrior ethos of the combat arms dominate military culture. After all, how often do top admirals and generals come from support branches? In such a culture, leaders are conditioned to weed out anyone who might be unfit to fight.