The Campaign for a Presidential Pardon: Justice for Veterans with Bad Paper and Mental Illness

Justice for Veterans with Bad Paper and Mental Illness

On November 30, 2016, President of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) John Rowan penned an open letter to President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump to urge the issuance of a Presidential Pardon for thousands of post-9/11 veterans who unjustly received other-than-honorable discharges after being separated from the military without the due process of a court-martial.
These discharges, also known as bad paper, generally bar veterans from receiving vital federal benefits, including those related to disability, health care, education, housing, employment, and burial rights. Without these benefits, these veterans become more likely to experience homelessness and prolonged unemployment, all while suffering from the psychological effects of their trauma and the profound stigma of their discharge status. Nearly a third of these veterans erroneously received bad paper discharges as a result of undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions exacerbated by combat or military sexual trauma. (For more information about the clinic’s work supporting veterans with bad paper and PTSD, see our PTSD Discharge Upgrades page).
In recognition of the military’s pattern of wrongful separation, VVA called on the current and incoming Administrations to pardon those with other-than-honorable discharges to grant these veterans the discharge upgrades, benefits, and dignity their service earned. In anticipation of this letter, members of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic examined the legal precedent for this presidential pardon in a legal memorandum issued in November. Since Mr. Rowan’s call to the President, VVA’s campaign to request a pardon has garnered significant attention from national media outlets. 

Media and Coverage

John Rowan, “A Less Than Honorable Policy,” The New York Times (Dec. 30, 2016) 

Liz Fields, “Honorable Discharge,” VICE News (Dec. 7, 2016) 

Leo Shane, “Advocates want Obama, Trump to pardon 'bad paper' dismissals,” Military Times (Nov. 30, 2016) 

Rebecca Kheel, “Veterans urge Obama, Trump to pardon thousands,” The Hill (Nov. 30, 2016)

Resources and Links 

VVA Letter to President Obama  

VLSC Legal Memorandum Evaluating Presidential Pardons  

For resources on discharge upgrades and PTSD, see https://www.law.yale.edu/studying-law-yale/clinical-and-experiential-learning/our-clinics/veterans-legal-services-clinic/vva-ptsd-discharge-upgrades