Veterans urge Obama, Trump to pardon thousands

Veterans urge Obama, Trump to pardon thousands
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A group of veterans is urging President Obama and President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE to pardon thousands of post-9/11 veterans who were given less-than-honorable discharges for behavior related to mental health issues.

Advocates say thousands of veterans have received “bad discharge papers” as a result of behavior associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) or military sexual assault. Such discharges haunt veterans for the rest of their lives, advocates say, denying them veterans benefits and casting a stigma that can affect aspects of civilian life, such as finding employment.

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“This period of transition between administrations offers the opportunity for you to work together to use the power of the office to bring thousands of injured veterans in from the cold and finally get them the care that they need,” Vietnam Veterans of America president John Rowan wrote in a letter to Trump and Obama on Wednesday. “Your cooperation and focus on veterans will help to bring this country together and heal some of the festering wounds of war.

More than 300,000 post-9/11 veterans have received bad discharge papers, according to Rowan’s letter.

Veterans can appeal to have their discharges upgraded, but advocates say the process is too cumbersome and rarely results in changes.

Lawmakers have been working to make the process easier, and the final version of the annual defense policy bill released Tuesday would call for the appeals process to give “liberal consideration” to mental health diagnoses.

But advocates say the problem could be fixed quickly through executive action.

“We cannot allow our country to forget the many tens of thousands of veterans who suffered physical and mental wounds yet were cast aside,” Rowan wrote. “This could be rectified if, prior to leaving office, President Obama simply upgraded them all to honorable discharges, and instructed the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to immediately grant access to PTSD and TBI screening at the VA for all veterans, regardless of discharge status.”

Obama should work with Trump, Rowan added, to ensure the process continues into the next administration.

“President Obama should start working now with President-elect Trump to ensure that this program extends as long as it takes for every applicable veteran to be properly screened and granted the appropriate pardon,” Rowan wrote.

Rowan compared pardoning less-than-honorable discharges through executive action to President Carter issuing full pardons in 1977 to Americans who had avoided the draft.

“We believe that veterans who have done their duty and served their country deserve similar consideration before President Obama leaves office,” Rowan wrote. “This action has the potential to save lives, and it is not without legal precedent. We ask that President-elect Trump support this initiative and make this pardoning program’s success a top-priority for his transition team.”