Bradford Adams and Dana Montalto, With Malice Toward None: Revisiting the Historical and Legal Basis for Excluding Veterans from “Veteran” Services, 122 Penn. State L. Rev. 69 (2017).
Abstract: In enacting the G.I. Bill of Rights in 1944, Congress made available an unprecedented slate of benefits to nearly all returning servicemembers, establishing a broad eligibility standard that excluded only those whose conduct in service was “dishonorable.” This move revoked from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) its authority to choose the standards for receiving benefits but preserved agency authority to evaluate the facts of each case. Yet today, former servicemembers whose conduct was not “dishonorable” are nevertheless excluded from receiving basic services at the VA because agency regulations have drifted from the statutory standard. At the same time, military discharge practices have changed in ways that exacerbate the gap between statutory intent and regulatory outcomes. These changes have led to a historically unprecedented rate of exclusion from basic veteran services and a failure to enact the statutory standard Congress prescribed. This article uncovers the history of the VA’s “other than dishonorable conditions” eligibility standard and uses traditional tools of statutory interpretation to rediscover its true meaning and argue for revisions to the VA’s present implementing regulations and policies. Restoring the clarity and purpose of this law would re-establish the proper balance between Congress and the VA, and better fulfill our nation’s promise to care for those who have served our country in uniform.