Around one in four veterans receive discharges that bar them from receiving many state and federal services. They become known as “bad paper veterans.” Discharges that result in a loss of services include “Other than Honorable” or “Bad Conduct” dismissals and, all-too-often, these OTH discharges are for unfair reasons, such as service-related mental health issues, traumatic brain injuries, sexual assault, or as a result of their sexual or gender orientation. 

Let’s look at some of the numbers behind the populations impacted by bad papers. According to a 2020 report from Harvard Law School, more than 100,000 service members were expelled from the military between World War II and the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In 2018 alone, 20,500 service members were sexually assaulted or raped. A third of the victims are discharged within seven months of making a report.

(Read Jera’s post on healing from abuse in the military.)

On the mental health front, bad paper veterans are often “ deployed to a war zone, experienced hardships or trauma during service, and acquired physical and mental injuries that persist to this day,” according to a report filed by the federal Subcommittee on Disability Assistance & Memorial Affairs. 

Bad paper veterans are more likely to face homelessness, be involved in the criminal justice program, face ongoing mental health issues, and are twice as likely to commit suicide.

This year, Illinois State Rep. Joyce Mason (D-Gurnee) introduced a bill, House Bill 1290, which would allow former military members who received an OTH discharge for one of the reasons mentioned above to change the status of their discharge to honorable. This change in status would give veterans access to state veteran’s services.

“It’s unethical to deny critical services to veterans because they’ve experienced service-related trauma, mental illness or because they belong to the LGBTQ community,” Representative Mason said in a press release. “All veterans who served our country with honor deserve to be able to access benefits they’re rightfully owed.”

The bill passed through the House, as well as the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and now awaits a vote on the Senate floor. 

Senator Tom Cullerton (D-Villa Park), chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, is the Senate sponsor for the bill.

“Despite the repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy a decade ago, LGBTQ+ veterans are still unnecessarily facing the struggles of being denied benefits,”  Senator Cullerton said in a press release. “This measure will be a step toward undoing the discrimination the LGBTQ+ community has historically faced in the military.”

Featured photo by Matt Radick.

Jera writes about sexuality, spirituality, and social justice. They are the author of Just the Tip, a queer-friendly, sex-positive, relationship advice column and the editor of Sacred and Subversive,...