When Michael Hartnett was getting kicked out of the U.S. Marine Corps, he was too deep into post-traumatic stress disorder, drugs and alcohol to care as his battalion commander explained to the young man that his career was ending, and ending badly.
"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."
Veterans with bad discharges stand apart, as troops returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan enjoy an outpouring of public goodwill and unprecedented spending at the VA. Even for veterans who get in trouble with the law, there is a harsh divide. Vets who make their mistakes after getting out of the military with an honorable discharge have access to relief, like the special veterans' courts that are springing up around the country. They allow vets supervised treatment instead of jail time. If the same crime is committed by an active duty soldier, the consequences are different, says Tom White, an Iraq veteran and who taught law at West Point
"It may be a month before they get out [of the military]. The command come down on you like a ton of bricks. Justice is typically served cold and hard," he says.
White directs the veterans' legal clinic at John Marshall Law School in Chicago. He and other advocates across the country see a wave of young vets having brushes with the law.
"We see it coming and we see a deluge," says Sharon Schlerf, who runs Beacon Institute Military Support in Virginia. She likens the problems of some young vets with troubled veterans of the Vietnam generation, neglected for years, increasing the cost to the veterans and to society.
"From the incarceration to homelessness, all of the issues ... if you don't capture them now, get them stabilized, then all we are doing is doubling those numbers," says Schlerf.
When the veterans can't get VA help, it's groups like Beacon that pick up the slack, which doesn't make economic sense, according to Phil Carter, an Iraq veteran at the Center for a New American Security.
"In many of these cases there's a very good justification for giving bad paper," he says. "But at a strategic level the government has to take the long view and ask whether they want to deprive these people of support for their lifetime, and shift the burden of care from the immense and very capable resources of the VA to communities and nonprofits across the country who don't have those resources. There's a very, very large cost to society by giving bad paper."
Veterans with bad paper have a few paths toward help, but myths and misconceptions surround the process. The most commonly held misconception is that an "other than honorable" discharge automatically upgrades after a few months or years. It does not.
Getting a discharge upgrade is possible with several categories of discharge. That's what Michael Hartnett did. After more than 15 years of PTSD-fueled drug abuse — through jail, psychiatric wards and homelessness — a discharge review board granted clemency. The board concluded that evidence of PTSD should have been considered at his court martial in 1993.
"I was forgiven. It was the Marines saying, 'You've had enough, Michael. Go live your life. Do something with it.' I'd like to write them up and say, 'Look, with the chance that you've given me, this is what I've done with it,' " he says. Hartnett now gets education benefits and he's using them to get a degree in social work, with the aim of helping other vets.
A discharge upgrade like his is uncommon, requires a lawyer, and can take years, but there are remedies open to veterans with bad paper, who can appeal at the VA for a character of service evaluation.
"We encourage veterans who have bad discharges ... to file a claim. We'll then review it, and there's a possibility always that we'll find in favor," says Brad Flohr, a senior adviser at the VA.
Getting a veteran status with the VA is the goal for many community organizations. Johanna Buwalda, a Chicago-based therapist with The Soldiers Project, says she finds herself helping veterans complete the VA paperwork — no small feat.
"It's not easy to do," she says. "The problem is, if you have no job, you have severe PTSD, you don't trust anybody. There's these piles of paperwork, your own story you need to put together, telling why you believe this discharge happened — which is re-traumatizing."
Buwalda says it takes impressive resolve to make it through the VA appeal. If a veteran can make it through all that paperwork without rage or despair — it's a sign that veteran might be on the way to recovery.
Here's a remarkable fact: For the past two decades, 10 percent of all the electricity consumed in the United States has come from Russian nuclear warheads.
It was all part of a deal struck at the end of the Cold War. That deal wraps up today, when the final shipment of fuel arrives at a U.S. facility.
The origins of the plan lie in the early 1990s. At the time, Philip Sewell was working for the U.S. Department of Energy. The Soviet Union had just disintegrated, and Sewell's job was to find ways to collaborate with the former adversaries.
In practice, this involved driving out into the Russian countryside, to military facilities that weren't even on the map. When Sewell got there, what he saw wasn't pretty.
"Windows were broken, gates were not locked, and there were very few people around," Sewell says.
But inside these crumbling buildings, the Russian government stored the uranium from thousands of decommissioned nuclear weapons. It seemed like practically anyone could walk off with stuff for a bomb.
Sewell and his colleagues wanted to get rid of this uranium. So they decided to try to persuade the Russians to sell their surplus to the U.S. After all, the stuff was just lying around.
Initially, the Russians refused. "It was a matter of pride, principle and patriotism," Sewell says. "Even though they didn't need that excess material, [and] they didn't have the money to protect it, they didn't want to let go of it."
But in the end they did let go. For one reason: money.
"Russia's nuclear industry badly needed the funding," says Anton Khlopkov, the director of the Center for Energy and Security Studies outside Moscow. He says Russia's nuclear complex had nearly a million workers who weren't getting paid a living wage.
So, in 1993 the deal was struck: The Russians would turn about 500 tons of bomb-grade uranium into nuclear fuel. The U.S. would buy it and sell it to commercial power plants here.
Khlopkov says it was a win-win. "This is the only time in history when disarmament was actually profitable," he says.
Very profitable. The Russians made around $17 billion. Sewell's government office was spun off into a private company — the United States Enrichment Corporation — and made money from the deal too. And the U.S. power plants got the uranium at a good price.
But all good things must come to an end, says Matthew Bunn at Harvard University.
"Russia is a totally different place today than it was twenty years ago," Bunn says. "As the Russian government is fond of saying, they're 'no longer on their knees.' "
Still Bunn says this deal will go down in history as one of the greatest diplomatic achievements ever.
"I mean, think about it - 20,000 bombs' worth of nuclear material, destroyed forever," he says. "[Bombs that] will never threaten anybody ever again."
The last shipment arrives today at a US storage facility. It will be sold off to utilities in coming years. So when you turn on the lights, feel good. Your bulb may be powered by what was once a bomb.
Jim Hall was a guitar god, but not in the sense that he could blaze through a zillion notes a minute. He was worshipped by guitarists around the world, but you'd never know it from talking to him.
"I don't really have all that much technique anyway, so I try to the best with what I have you know," he said to me earlier this year.
The best he had influenced half a century of jazz musicians, earned him the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master honor and widely designated him as one of the greatest jazz guitarists of all time. It was also enough to be named one of the 25 guitarists "who shook the world," along with Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen, according to Guitar Player magazine in 1992.
Jim Hall died in his sleep early Tuesday morning, according to an announcement from his daughter, Devra Hall Levy. His death came less than a week after celebrating his 83rd birthday.
Hall didn't start with much. He and his brother were raised by a single mother in public housing in Cleveland. Yet he told WHYY's Fresh Air in 1989 that she managed to buy him a guitar when he was 9.
"We sort of paid it off a dollar and a quarter or something a week to this music store in Cleveland and I took lessons," Hall said. "I think the lessons were seventy-five cents and the rest went to the guitar. So it took about a year to actually pay it off."
Jim Hall went on to study composition and theory at the Cleveland Institute of Music — there was no guitar program there in the early 1950s. But he wanted to be a guitarist, so he took off for Los Angeles, where he made his name in the late drummer Chico Hamilton's adventurous group in 1955. Two years later, Hall was leading his own group.
When the guitarist moved to New York, his talents caught the attention of the man known as "the saxophone colossus," Sonny Rollins.
"He was able to be a dominant player, a very forceful player but he was also sensitive," Rollins said. "You know, that was remarkable. So he was ideal as far as I was concerned for the band that we had together."
Hall's playing with Rollins cemented the guitarist's reputation as a musician who knew when to play hard and when to leave spaces between the notes. That approach influenced guitarist John Scofield.
"It was just [a] very elegant, elegant thing that he did that affected all of, just about all of the guitar players after him I think," Scofield said.
Guitarists like 25-year old Julian Lage, who first met — and was encouraged by Hall — when Lage was an 11-year old phenom. The two became friends and played together at this past summer's Newport Jazz Festival.
"For someone who has had such an impact on just the aesthetic of improvised music and guitar, as a total guitar hero, there was such a degree of humility that — it wasn't that he downplayed what he did — he had this sense that it was part of something way bigger," Lage said. "There are players who music is a separate thing and you have to go there. And with Jim it's he's always that."
And in typical fashion, Jim Hall always thought he could be better. He always tried new sounds and new groups.
"The past is a nice place to visit but I would not want to live there," he said. "I like to go straight ahead."
Thankfully, he took a lot of us along for the ride.
The Grammy nominations are in, and the talk now is of what actors will be chosen for the Academy Awards, but not once have I heard anyone suggest that any of the singers or actors may not be nominated because of some character deficiency.
Likewise, when it comes to awards in theater or television or dance or literature, I don't ever recall any candidate losing out because of a personal flaw.
Only sports applies that peripheral off-the-field standard. Most recently, of course, this has come up with respect to Jameis Winston, the star quarterback of the top-ranked Florida State team.
Click on the audio link above to hear Deford's take on this issue.
A music video made in Venezuela this year calls attention to a special kind of crime: corruption by Venezuelan police.
Two rappers who go by the names Apache and Canserbero show themselves driving a beat-up Lincoln, maybe from the 1970s. They're pulled over at a checkpoint by cops who want cash.
The video, "Stop," has been played 1.6 million times on YouTube. It strikes a chord in a country suffering from severe crime and corruption. Morning Edition heard about the video as it was released this spring, and sat down with both men in the eighth-floor office where they work.
They're low budget. They share space with an industrial design company that makes giant posters and signs. It was in this cluttered space that they planned a video on a subject Canserbero says is obvious to Venezuelans: "You just have to live in the country, and it's gonna be enough [to understand the video]."
Of course, it's not unusual for rap lyrics to question authority, but "Stop" is notable for its light touch. The video shows the rappers trying to turn the car around while police shine flashlights in the window. Something about the spinning car, and the increasingly annoyed officers, almost makes you laugh out loud.
In real life, both men say they've been stopped and shaken down by police, especially Apache, who's darker-skinned and tattooed. The week before he sat down and spoke to us, he said, it happened four times — in one day.
The rappers, ages 25 and 30, say police search for contraband such as drugs, and then demand money to overlook it. Apache says he was once asked for the equivalent of $50 and his iPod, but plea-bargained to keep the iPod. The men say they have also given officers their own music. Some even liked it.
"Stop" portrays the police as crooks, but also as human. Graffiti artists disrupt the police shakedown by spray-painting the cops' van and then torching it. One of the frustrated officers shrugs — and then lightens a lousy day with a breakdance.