September 15, 2016

In response to Wyden, Murphy letter, U.S. Army Updates Regulations for Soldiers Discharged for Misconduct While Suffering From PTSD & TBI

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., on Thursday applauded the U.S. Army’s decision to reform its policies, regulations and documentation practices in the wake of a multidisciplinary review of misconduct separations of soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

In a written response to a request from Wyden, Murphy and 10 other senators, the Secretary of the Army Eric K. Fanning conceded the Army did not have proper documentation for 73 discharged soldiers who were recently diagnosed with PTSD or TBIs and referred those soldiers to an Army Review Board to determine if a higher discharge is warranted.

Last year, Wyden and his Senate colleagues called for an investigation after reports that thousands of previously deployed soldiers had been wrongfully dismissed, barring them from receiving the critical retirement, health care, and employment benefits they were entitled to. The issue gained national attention following 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.

“The good news here is the Army is correcting the record for some of the soldiers who were wrongfully discharged for misconduct because of service-related mental health disorders and will change course going forward,” Wyden said. “There are still thousands of other soldiers who may have been affected, and I will be working with my colleagues to make sure the Army gets this right for all soldiers who suffer from mental health disorders.”

In addition to reviewing past discharges, the Army committed to changing related procedures and practices going forward. According to a new letter to Wyden from Secretary Fanning: “To ensure full compliance in the future, the Army published an All Army Activities message on April 4, 2016, requiring separation authorities to document, in writing, that the results of the Soldier’s medical examinations were reviewed pursuant to 10 USC § 1177. In addition, the Army will update applicable policies and regulations to specify the documents included in separation packets and the requirements for the transfer of those documents into the interactive Personnel Electronic Records Management System.”

Army investigators discovered 73 previously deployed soldiers diagnosed with PTSD or TBI who received “other than honorable” discharges despite insufficient documentation. The cases were referred to the Army Review Boards Agency. U.S. Senators Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Gary Peters, D-Mich., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Tim Kaine, D-Va. joined Wyden and Murphy in calling for the investigation.

In a November 2015 letter addressed to Acting Secretary Fanning and Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army General Mark A. Milley, the senators expressed serious concern that the dismissed soldiers would 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 PTSD or TBI further denies these men and women much-needed treatments, and may even discourage other servicemembers from seeking medical treatment. Upon receiving the letter, the Army pledged to conduct a thorough, multidisciplinary investigation into allegations that the Army wrongfully dismissed thousands of soldiers for misconduct after they returned from deployment and were diagnosed with mental health disorders.

The full text of the U.S. Army’s response is available online here.