Report: Majority of dismissed veterans suffer from PTSD or mental health conditions

Posted at 9:27 PM, May 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-17 00:25:11-04

DENVER -- A majority of veterans released from military service with less-than-honorable-discharges suffered from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, or some kind of alcohol or adjustment disorder, according to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The report found that between 2011 and 2015, 62 percent of those dismissed due to some kind of misconduct suffered from one of those four mental health conditions. That's roughly 57,000 people. 

Retired Staff Sergeant Jennifer Burch served in the U.S. Air Force for six years. She still suffers from PTSD. 

"I still wake up every night. I still have nightmares," she said. "I saw the worst of war."

The report didn't surprise Burch. 

"The reason they have this PTSD and TBI is because of deployments. They come home and fall apart and deal with these demons—end up getting in trouble for misconduct. Yes, they're still responsible for their actions. It's like a snowball effect so it keeps getting worse and worse and worse," she said.

One of the main problems pointed out by the report and by Burch is the threat that a less-than-honorable discharge has on VA benefits. In some cases, vets simply aren't eligible for any VA benefits if they were discharged under certain conditions.

That's why a bill, originally proposed by Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., was recently signed into law to get vets with PTSD their benefits regardless of discharge. But there's still a problem.

"There's long wait lists and priorities of who gets in too, so it's still a challenge," Burch said.

And it's just one fix to the larger and well-documented problems with the VA system, which serves 9 million people.

"They can't immediately now get help. They still have to wait," Burch said.

So what can be done? Advocacy. A local documentary is trying to publicize the issues facing the veteran community when it comes to PTSD. It's called "Acronym: The Cross-Generational Battle with PTSD," and profiles several veterans of various U.S.-involved conflicts and the issues they now face. Retired Staff Sergeant Burch was part of that documentary. 

"We talk about our deployment and how it started when we come home and fall apart. And then, at the end, how life has gotten so much better," she said.

To learn more about "Acronym," click here.