Army probing alleged wrongful discharges

By:  Rebecca Kheel
The Hill

The Army is investigating allegations it discharged thousands of soldiers for misconduct after they were diagnosed with mental health issues.

The investigation comes after 12 Democratic senators called for a probe in a letter to Army officials last month.

“We strive to have a process that is fair, objective and deliberate, and that ensures due process and the maintenance of good order and discipline within the ranks,” acting Army Secretary Eric Fanning wrote in a letter to Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Thursday.

“Nevertheless, I appreciate the concerns you raised in your letter and take them very seriously.”
Fanning has directed the assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs to lead a review of the allegations. The review team will also include the inspector general of the Army and the auditor general of the Army and will work closely with the Government Accountability Office, Fanning wrote.

“We will follow up with you upon conclusion of this review,” he added.

The issue was first raised in an NPR and Colorado Public Radio report in October. The Army allegedly discharged more than 22,000 soldiers since 2009 for "misconduct" after they returned from Afghanistan or Iraq and were diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

After the NPR story, Murphy led a group of 11 other senators in asking Fanning and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley for an investigation.

“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,” the senators wrote in November.

In his response, Fanning said the Army already has a process in place for addressing those who were discharged for misconduct and also diagnosed with PTSD or TBI. Those who want a change in the characterization of their discharge because of their diagnosis go before the Army Discharge Review Board, which includes a physician as required by law.

Fanning also sought to reassure the senators by outlining steps the Army has taken in recent years to improve care for those with PTSD or TBI. Those changes include setting up 58 new behavioral health clinics, creating an immediate appeals process for soldiers to get a second opinion in their discharge process and publishing new policies on diagnosing and treating PTSD.

In a statement, Murphy said he was relieved to hear the Army would look into the allegations.

“I was especially troubled to learn of reports that the U.S. Army discharged servicemembers with PTSD or brain injuries for misconduct instead of evaluating them for conditions that may have warranted an honorable or medical discharge,” Murphy said. “I’m relieved that the U.S. Army is conducting a thorough investigation into what may have gone wrong and remain optimistic that they will fix their mistakes.”

The other lawmakers who asked for the investigation were Democratic Sens. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Chris Murphy (Conn.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.).