VA has illegally denied health care to thousands of veterans


A veteran with a fever and hacking cough that suggest a possible coronavirus infection tries to make a doctor’s appointment, only to be turned away by a receptionist who personally decides the would-be patient can’t see a physician.

A former service member and sexual assault survivor at risk of suicide is denied access to mental health services by a bureaucratic gatekeeper stationed at the therapist’s front desk.

These are two of thousands of examples of veterans seeking the Veterans Affairs health care they’re legally entitled to — and being wrongly refused it. This is due to a pervasive misunderstanding, and misapplication, of the rules regarding other-than-honorable discharges.

Among veterans this refusal is based on what is known as having “bad paper.” The “bad paper” designation can be based on minor misconduct, such as being late to morning formation, showing disrespect to a superior or one-time drug use.

Dana Montalto

Being turned away is an institutional shortcoming that can be easily remedied — not by an act of Congress, or time-consuming changes to federal rules, but instead through administrative corrective steps that can be taken at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

An estimated 400,000 former service members are at risk of wrongly being denied VA health care and other benefits, according to a 2020 study by OutVets, a group of LGBTQ+ military veterans. It showed that gay and lesbian veterans and victims of military sexual assault are disproportionately at risk. So are veterans who served in the Navy or Marines, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those with post-traumatic stress disorder.

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