WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Thursday applauded the U.S. Army for committing to reforming its policies, regulations and documentation practices in the wake of its 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 Murphy, 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, Murphy led 11 senators in expressing concern over 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.
In addition to reviewing past discharges, the Army committed to changing related procedures and practices going forward. According to a new letter to Murphy 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.”
“I took up this fight because I can’t stand the idea of a brave soldier risking her or his life for this country, suffering the wounds of battle, and then being kicked to the curb as a result of those very same wounds. We found out that it happened all too often, and worked to put an end to it,” said Murphy. “I’m grateful the Army took our concerns seriously and has made internal improvements to ensure that returning soldiers with brain injuries or PTSD receive the health care, benefits and respect they deserve. I will continue to work to make sure that all veterans are treated fairly and honorably by our government.”
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.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), 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 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. Murphy highlighted the urgency of resolving the issue in a March 2016 hearing when questioning Department of Veterans Affairs officials in a Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriates Subcommittee hearing.
The full text of the U.S. Army’s response is available online here.
Murphy is a member of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and is the co-author of the Mental Health Reform Act – America’s first comprehensive bipartisan effort to strengthen our nation’s mental health care delivery system in years.