That's what happened to Marine Corps veteran Josh Christmon, the subject of Brave New Films' newest video, "Bad Paper":
Josh earned a Purple Heart for his service in Iraq, where a close encounter with a roadside explosion nearly killed him. He suffered back problems and leg injuries, but maybe worse than all that were the nightmares, the depression, and the disconnection from his family -- classic signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Josh's bad dreams followed him back home. Alcohol seemed as good a way to forget as any, so one night he went out for drinks. He was also offered a joint. Josh took two puffs. A week later he failed a random drug test at work. Days after that he was less than honorably discharged from the Marine Corps, losing all his veterans benefits, including his medical care.
This kind of zero-tolerance policy has invaded every corner of American society. We see it in our schools, where kids are arrested for behavior that used to send them to the principal's office. We see it in our harsh response to our nation's broken immigration system, labeling those who seek jobs and opportunities as hardened criminals. The worst of all zero-tolerance policies, our nation's long-running "war on drugs," hasn't made a dent in our drug-addiction rates but has sent our incarceration rates soaring past every other nation on Earth.
We're so interested in the most severe penalties that we are blind to context. In this case, zero tolerance threw away a brave Marine. As Josh puts it in the video, his Purple Heart "didn't mean shit."
When you hear his story, you can't help but wonder if the military is looking for any excuse to withhold benefits. After all, marijuana use may be illegal, but it's also probably a good treatment for PTSD. And you'd think the military would have a vested interest in treating the disorder by any means necessary, considering its possibly deadly effects on veterans and on others.
Like Vietnam veterans before him, Josh is being denied care for PTSD because he was kicked out of the military for behavior stemming from his PTSD. When you place Josh's story against the backdrop of a military-industrial complex intent on spending billions of dollars on an F-35 that doesn't work, and on contractors who have often ripped them off in the past, the situation seems even more egregious.
Fortunately for Josh and other veterans, there are organizations like Swords to Plowshares that are fighting to restore their lost benefits. But it shouldn't be this way in the first place. A one-size-fits-all policy that doesn't take into consideration what a veteran has sacrificed is simply unfair.
Congress can stop this madness by using its oversight power to change the way the military handles its discharges. Tell them to stop giving bad paper to vets like Josh.