"Do you understand what I'm saying to you, son? It's going to be six and a kick," Hartnett recalls the commander telling him.
The "six" was an expected six months of hard labor in the brig. The kick happened at Hartnett's court-martial, and finally woke him up out of the haze.
"He said 'bad conduct discharge.' When he said that, my knees buckled," says Hartnett.
In 1993, after combat tours in the Gulf War and Somalia, Hartnett joined tens of thousands of veterans with "bad paper." They served but then conducted themselves badly — anything from repeated breaches of military discipline to drugs or more serious crimes. Under current law, the Pentagon and, in most cases, the Department of Veterans Affairs wash their hands of these veterans.
They lose benefits like the GI Bill for school or a VA home loan, but they also can't get VA health care and disability compensation, even for the PTSD that may have caused the bad discharge. No jobs programs from the government or the private sector; even VA homelessness prevention is geared only toward honorably discharged vets.
"You might as well have never even enlisted," says Hartnett. "[It's] worse than being a convicted felon."
This was a very interesting listen. Give it a go: http://www.npr.org/series/250013036/veterans-and-other-than-honorable-discharges