Senators request comes after allegations that Soldiers have been discharged for misconduct after behavioral health diagnoses
Washington, DC - Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet joined U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) and ten of their colleagues calling on the Army to conduct a full Army Inspector General investigation into recent allegations that the Army wrongfully discharged for misconduct soldiers who had been diagnosed with mental health issues after returning from deployment.
"We've heard serious allegations, and an independent investigation is needed," Bennet said. "We must ensure that servicemembers suffering from mental health conditions like PTS and from TBIs receive the quality care they need both during and following their service, and a fair evaluation when being considered for discharge."
A joint investigation by National Public Radio and Colorado Public Radio reported that the U.S. Army has discharged tens of thousands of servicemembers previously diagnosed with mental health disorders or TBI.
In December of 2014, Bennet passed a bill requiring the Government Accountability Office to study whether service members are being discharged for conduct related to Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS), Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs), or other mental health diagnoses. The report also evaluates whether protocols, training, counseling, and treatments are in place relating to recognize and address mental health issues. The bill stemmed from concerns brought to him by Colorado veterans, including some members of his Veterans Working Group, who believed some service members may be receiving Less than Honorable discharges due to behavior related to mental trauma, such as PTS.
The full text of the letter written to Acting Under Secretary of the Army, Eric Fanning, and Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, General Mark A. Milley is 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.
Christopher S. Murphy
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