November 04, 2015

Kaine Joins 11 Colleagues In Calling For Investigation Into Wrongful Discharge Of Servicemembers With Mental Health Disorders

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined 11 of his colleagues in calling on the Department of Defense to conduct a full investigation into recent allegations that the U.S. Army has, since 2009, wrongfully dismissed more than 22,000 soldiers for misconduct after they returned from deployment and were diagnosed with mental health disorders. In a letter addressed to Acting Under Secretary of the Army, Eric Fanning and Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, General Mark A. Milley, the senators expressed serious concern that the dismissed soldiers will not receive the critical retirement, health care and employment benefits that those with an honorable discharge would receive. The Senators also emphasized that the forceful separation of soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) or traumatic brain injuries (TBI) further denies these men and women of much-needed treatments and may even discourage other servicemembers from seeking the medical treatment they require. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report required by the National Defense Authorization Act for 2014, released earlier this year, exposed deficiencies in tracking and separating servicemembers who fall into this category.

“We are troubled by recent allegations that the U.S. Army is forcefully separating for misconduct servicemembers diagnosed with PTSD or TBI. We are concerned that it may be easier to discharge servicemembers for minor misconduct—possibly related to mental health issues—than to evaluate them for conditions that may warrant a medical discharge. As a result, many of the dismissed soldiers have not received crucial retirement benefits, health care benefits, and post-service employment eligibility that soldiers receive with an honorable discharge,” the Senators wrote. “We encourage you to conduct a full U.S. Army Inspector General investigation into these allegations. Thank you for your service to our country and we look forward to working with you to rectify this grave offense to the men and women that serve in our armed forces.”

A joint investigation by National Public Radio and Colorado Public Radio revealed that the U.S. Army has kicked out tens of thousands of servicemembers diagnosed with mental health disorders or TBI.

Joining Kaine in calling for an investigation by the U.S. Army Inspector General are U.S. Senators Chris Murphy, Tammy Baldwin, Michael Bennet, Richard Blumenthal, Barbara Boxer, Sherrod Brown, Amy Klobuchar, Ed Markey, Gary Peters, Jon Tester and Ron Wyden.

The full text of the letter is available online and below:

The Honorable Eric Fanning
Acting Under Secretary of the Army
1000 Army Pentagon
Washington, DC 20305-1000                                                            

General Mark A. Milley
Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army
1500 Army Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310-1500

Dear Honorable Fanning and General Milley:

We are troubled by recent allegations that the U.S. Army is forcefully separating for misconduct servicemembers diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) or traumatic brain injuries (TBI). We encourage you to conduct a full U.S. Army Inspector General investigation into these recent allegations that the U.S. Army is violating the intent of Section 512 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2010.

Recent media reports indicate that since January 2009, the U.S. Army has separated over 22,000 soldiers for misconduct after they returned from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan and were diagnosed with mental health problems or TBI. As a result, many of the dismissed soldiers have not received crucial retirement benefits, health care benefits, and post-service employment eligibility that soldiers receive with an honorable discharge. Soldiers who deploy are at an increased risk for mental health issues and the forceful separation of servicemembers post-deployment only further denies treatment and support at a critical moment in any soldier’s life.  Additionally, fear of dismissal may discourage servicemembers from seeking the medical treatment they require.

Section 574 of the FY14 NDAA called for a GAO report to look into these kinds of dismissal cases. That report was delivered to Congress in February of this year recommending that the services develop a method to identify the number of servicemembers separated for non-disability mental conditions and take actions to ensure that servicemembers are appropriately separated for non-disability mental conditions in accordance with DoD’s separation requirements.  Serious gaps in DoD policies have been identified and any investigation going forward should take this into consideration.

We are concerned that it may be easier to discharge servicemembers for minor misconduct—possibly related to mental health issues—than to evaluate them for conditions that may warrant a medical discharge. We know that the health and safety of our servicemembers and their families is your top priority and we are confident that you will investigate these recent allegations.  Thank you again for your service to our country and we look forward to working with you to rectify this grave offense to the men and women that serve in our armed forces.

Sincerely,

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