Senator: Investigate 22,000 Army discharges linking PTSD to misconduct

by Barrie Barber
Dayton Daily News, Ohio

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown wants an investigation into reports the Army discharged more than 22,000 soldiers who had post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury for alleged "misconduct" after they returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

What's more, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, will bring the concern up to Acting Undersecretary of the Army Eric K. Fanning when the senator meets with him Thursday, according to a Portman spokeswoman. President Barack Obama has nominated Fanning to become the next secretary of the Army, the highest civilian post in the service branch. The current secretary is due to retire this month.

"I have long argued that the military needs to do a better job treating the invisible wounds of war, such as PTSD/TBI," Portman said in an email. "I believe that punishing servicemembers for misconduct without taking into account the mental health context that may have contributed to this behavior ignores the problem and could have long-term implications for the servicemembers' care and treatment."

Brown, D-Ohio, was among a dozen Democratic senators who sent a letter Wednesday to Fanning and Gen. Mark A. Milley, Army chief of staff, about concerns the soldiers allegedly were "forcibly separated for misconduct," losing key health care, employment and retirement benefits.

The senators urged the two military leaders to conduct an Army inspector general investigation.

Army spokeswoman Cynthia O. Smith said in an email Wednesday the service branch "is committed to a culture where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, including those soldiers who may be separating from the service. Commanders take their responsibilities for separating soldiers from the Army very seriously, and carefully weigh all of the facts, to include the medical condition of each individual. The Army's process assesses each soldier individually and considers their medical needs while ensuring standards of discipline and accountability are maintained. Army leaders strive to ensure that all soldiers receive the best support and care they deserve."

The senators' letter noted allegations in media reports that the Army had discharged over 22,000 soldiers since 2009 "for misconduct after they returned from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan and were diagnosed with mental health problems or TBI," the senators wrote.

"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 said.

Brown, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and the others referred to a Government Accountability Office report in February that urged the military to identify the number of servicemembers separated for nondisability mental conditions and take action to ensure they are removed from the military under Defense Department requirements.

"Serious gaps in (Department of Defense) policies have been identified and any investigation going forward should take this into consideration," they wrote. "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."

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