Michigan Senator calls for probe into wrongful discharge of 22,000 soldiers

Peters Calls for Full Investigation into Wrongful Discharge of Service members with Mental Health Disorders

Request Comes after Allegations that More Than 22,000 Soldiers Have Been Dismissed for Misconduct after Mental Health Disorder Diagnosis

U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI), a former Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, in recent weeks, joined his colleagues in calling on the Pentagon to conduct a full U.S. Army Inspector General 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.

“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,” wrote Peters and his colleagues.

“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.

Senator Peters, a member of the Post 9/11 Veterans Caucus, has been a strong voice for Michigan’s veterans and servicemembers.

Earlier this year, Peters introduced bipartisan legislation to help veterans who may have been erroneously given a less-than-honorable discharge from the military rather than an honorable discharge, due to behavior changes resulting from mental traumas such as PTSD or TBI. Peters’ bill would create a presumption in favor of the veteran when petitioning the Secretary of Defense for an upgrade in discharge status based on medical evidence certified by the VA or a private physician.

The letter was also signed by Senators Chris Murphy (CT), Barbara Boxer (CA), Ron Wyden (OR), Jon Tester (MT), Tammy Baldwin (WI), Ed Markey (MA), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Sherrod Brown (OH), Michael Bennet (CO), Amy Klobuchar (MN), and Tim Kaine (VA).

The full text of the letter:

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.

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