11.09.21

Ahead of Veterans Day, Peters Announces Bipartisan Effort to Expedite Veteran Discharge Review Process

Peters-led Provision Builds on Success of Fairness for Veterans Act Peters Authored and Passed Into Law in 2016

WASHINGTON, DC – Ahead of Veterans Day, U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, today announced that he is leading a bipartisan effort to expedite the veteran discharge review process. In 2016, Peters authored and passed into law his Fairness for Veterans Act, which requires veteran discharge review boards to give liberal consideration to petitions for honorable discharge status if the servicemember has been diagnosed with PTSD, TBI or other related conditions connected to their military service. Recent data from Department of Defense (DoD) shows that the review process for veterans has been lengthy due to systemic delays and backlog. In response, Peters is launching a bipartisan push to help remedy issues in the review process and ensure veterans receive the treatment and benefits they have earned in a timely manner.

“It is simply unacceptable that veterans are forced to wait years in some cases to treat the invisible wounds of war. It is vital that veterans can receive the care they’ve earned through their service,” said Senator Peters, former Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I passed my Fairness for Veterans legislation into law because no veteran suffering from PTSD or TBI should lose access to the benefits they’ve earned. We must ensure that the discharge review boards responsible for processing petitions do so in a timely manner. That’s why I’m proud to lead this bipartisan effort that would ensure discharge review boards notify veterans of their petition status in a timely fashion and improve overall efficiency in the system.”

A less than honorable discharge, or bad paper discharge, is often given for instances of minor misconduct such as being late to formation and missing appointments – behavior that can be seen in those suffering from PTSD, TBI, and other trauma-related conditions. A less than honorable discharge renders servicemembers ineligible for certain benefits, including Post-9/11 G.I. Bill educational benefits and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) home loans.

Peters’ Fairness for Veterans legislation that was signed into law codified principles laid out in a 2014 memo by then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to give liberal consideration to petitions for changes in discharge status to honorable if the servicemember has been diagnosed with PTSD, TBI or related conditions in connection with their military service. Additionally, the amendment extends the policy to PTSD or TBI that is related to military sexual trauma. Peters has repeatedly pressed DoD to improve implementation of his Fairness for Veterans law.

Incomplete data collection, lack of collaboration between DoD and other agencies, and inconsistency in review board processes are among the top setbacks that have caused delays in the discharge review process. In 2015, the Naval Discharge Review Board took an average of 5 months to arrive at a formal decision regarding a discharge upgrade petition. In 2018, that number had grown to 15 months, and in 2020, the process took an average of 21 months to reach a formal decision. As of the fall of 2020, more than 1,500 veterans have had their discharges upgraded since Peters’ legislation was enacted.

Peters’ Fairness for Veterans Task Force effort – which he has introduced as an amendment to the national defense bill – would expedite the process by: 

  • Creating an “Interagency Discharge Review Board Task Force”: The provision would create a task force made up of representatives from the uniformed services, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Military Health System, tasked with developing strategies to increase the efficacy and efficiency of the review board process.
  • Requiring Reported Findings: This provision would require the task force it created to submit an annual report to Congress detailing key information such as the number of discharge review requests received by each of the services and the average length of time between submittal of a discharge upgrade request and when a review board makes a final decision.
  • Setting a Time-Limit on Review Board Processes: The provision would also require a discharge review board to notify the veteran, the VA, the relevant state veterans’ agency and any legal representation for the veteran within 30 days that a discharge upgrade petition has been reviewed and received a decision from a board.

Peters has long been an advocate in Congress for Michigan’s servicemembers and veterans. In 2017, Peters was recognized as Legislator of the Year by the Vietnam Veterans of America for his efforts to get the Fairness for Veterans Act enacted into law. This past January, Peters’ bipartisan bill to strengthen transparency and communication for veterans and caregivers participating in the VA’s caregiver program was enacted into law. Also, Peters’ bipartisan legislation to expand apprenticeship opportunities for veterans and allow them to use their GI bill benefits to secure a registered apprenticeship was signed into law last year. Furthermore, Peters fought for and helped secure in last year’s national defense bill a measure to expand the Department of Veterans’ Affairs list of medical conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure to include bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism.

 

###