WASHINGTON —In a Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee hearing today, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) questioned Department of Veterans Affairs officials on what steps the department is taking to restore benefits to soldiers improperly discharged by the Army. Last November, Murphy led 11 of his Senate colleagues in demanding an investigation into the more than 22,000 soldiers discharged for misconduct after they returned from deployment and were diagnosed with mental health disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). In December of 2015, the Army responded to Murphy’s letter and vowed to conduct a thorough, multidisciplinary investigation on the issue.
“Mr. Chairman, I just want to underscore this since Senator Tester has been a great leader on this. There are 22,000 veterans out there today – just since 2009 – who have been discharged for misconduct who, prior to that discharge, had a diagnosis of TBI or PTSD,” Murphy said to VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. David J. Shulkin and Acting Under Secretary for Benefits Danny G. I. Pummill. “There is an ongoing investigation as to the circumstances of those discharges. We as a committee have to grapple with the fact that you have – and this is just what we know about, right? – 20,000 brave men and women who were potentially wrongfully discharged for misconduct who cannot access VA services who are going to be out on the streets. I would love to follow up with you on this topic to think about ways that, while this review is happening. I have asked for a moratorium on discharges for misconduct with respect to individuals who have been diagnosed with PTSD or TBI during this period of review. The Army has not looked favorably upon that request, so the numbers are just going to continue to mount.”
The November 2015 letter, addressed to Acting Secretary Fanning and Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army General Mark A. Milley, 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 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. He was joined by U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.)