Stephen Norko served 17 years in the Navy and at age 55 he was homeless, unemployed, and ill. Despite honorable discharges from multiple tours and commendations, the VA denied him medical care stating his last discharge, characterized as Other Than Honorable, disqualified him. He had given up, but a VA healthcare worker met him at the homeless shelter and convinced him to fight. After a long battle, the VA relented and granted him health care benefits with other than honorable discharge on his record. Just that single benefit can help contribute to ending a veteran’s homelessness.
Many veterans who are denied VA benefits because of an Other Than Honorable discharge give up. “It is a big myth out there that an other than honorable discharge is automatically ineligible,” says Michael Taub, a Philadelphia Homeless Advocacy Project worker. Appeals like Norko’s are few and far between. Most veterans who are denied medical care walk away thinking that they are powerless.
Norko’s Other Than Honorable discharge was based on a positive drug test. After citing his years of reliable and honorable service, he argued that the positive drug test did not amount to “dishonorable conditions” or “willful and persistent misconduct.” He won.
Most veterans are denied medical care because they exceed income limits, served less than 24 months of active duty, or do not have qualifying active duty or received a less than Honorable discharge. Margaret Middleton, the executive director of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, said that an other than honorable discharge issue is “a place where advocates getting involved is going to make a difference.”
Many people admit that navigating the arcane rules and maintaining a fighting spirit in the face of a tireless system of bureaucratic push-back is difficult. Linda Schwartz, Connecticut Department of Veteran Affairs commissioner, said “I can tell you, I have a doctorate from Yale, and I had [a representative] who handled my claim.”
If you or your loved one has encountered difficulties filing a VA disability claim with Other Than Honorable discharge or if you are seeking assistance with the VA disability claim appeal, place your trust in our firm’s proven veterans disability advocates. Call Veterans Help Group at (855) 855-8992 or complete our free veterans benefits case evaluation form.