06.07.16

Peters, Daines, Tillis & Gillibrand Applaud Senate Passage of Amendment Ensuring Fairness for Veterans Erroneously Discharged from Military

WASHINGTON, D.C. —U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Steve Daines (R-MT), Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) applauded Senate passage of their amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to help veterans who may have been erroneously given a less than honorable discharge from the military due to negative behavior resulting from mental traumas such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The bipartisan amendment codifies the principles of the Hagel memo, ensuring Discharge Review Boards (DRBs) give liberal consideration to petitions for changes in discharge status to honorable if the servicemember has 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.

“I am pleased that the Senate passed this amendment to support brave men and women who are suffering from mental health trauma experienced during their military service,” said Senator Peters, a former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve. “This amendment will help ensure veterans are treated fairly when petitioning their discharge status, and in turn, upholds America’s commitment to our men and women in uniform, who answered the call of duty in defense of our nation.”

“By continuing to overlook these cases, the Department of Defense is only amplifying the invisible wounds of war afflicting many veterans,” Senator Daines stated.  “I’m proud that this bill allows veterans to have their discharges reviewed, taking their PTSD, Military Sexual Assault or Traumatic Brain Injury into account. We've known there were many of our veterans who had been discharged without proper consideration. It’s a wrong we need to right.”

“So many of our servicemembers have developed PTSD and brain injuries while on active duty, many of whom were undiagnosed until long after their service was completed,” said Senator Tillis. “I am happy the Senate passed this amendment to provide a fair opportunity for these brave men and women to regain the benefits they lost as a result of conditions we now know were caused by the effects of the trauma they sustained during their service to our nation.”

"Our selfless and brave veterans should never lose out on the benefits they earned because of a health condition like PTSD or MST,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I’m pleased the Senate has passed our bipartisan amendment to help ensure that the VA is taking care of all of our veterans, no matter what their condition is when they leave the military.”

A less than honorable discharge, or bad paper discharge, is often given for minor misconduct such as being late to formation and missing appointments - behavior often seen in those suffering from PTSD, TBI, and other trauma related conditions. A less than honorable discharge means servicemembers are ineligible for certain benefits, including G.I. benefits and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) home loans. This amendment would codify and build upon the policy guidance issued by former Defense Secretary Hagel in 2014 and apply it to the Discharge Review Boards (DRBs). The “Hagel memo” instructed liberal consideration to be given when reviewing cases at the Military Department Boards for Correction of Military/Naval Records (BCM/NR) where there is any evidence to indicate that PTSD might have contributed to misconduct that led to a less than honorable discharge.

According to an investigation by the National Journal, 13% of Post-9/11 veterans – roughly 318,000 – have left the service with a less than honorable discharge. This status denies most of them of VA educational, economic and other benefits. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, between 11-20% who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF) have PTSD in a given year.

The legislation has broad support from major veteran groups, including the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, the Military Officers Association of America, the American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans of America, United Soldiers and Sailors of America, Vietnam Veterans of America, and Swords to Plowshares.

“Too often, we see our men and women in uniform erroneously receiving administrative discharges as a result of mental health concerns that need treatment, not punishment. And while there have been efforts to correct these wrongful discharges, the Fairness for Veterans Act is needed to continue addressing this issue,” said Tom Porter, Legislative Director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.  “IAVA believes that all veterans deserve the timely and efficient access to benefits and services and therefore, we are proud to offer our support for this meaningful legislation.”

“Less than honorable discharges deprive veterans who suffer from service-related mental health injuries the care and support services they need, making recovery nearly impossible,” said Veterans of Foreign Wars Legislative Director, Raymond Kelley. “Veterans with service-related mental health injuries must be provided an equitable system of due process, this amendmentwould accomplish that goal.”

"DAV is pleased to offer our support for the intent of this legislation that would provide wounded, ill and injured former service members with less than honorable discharges a more humane process toward discharge reviews,” said Disabled American Veterans (DAV) National Commander, Ron Hope. “This legislation would afford them a better opportunity to correct any administrative determinations in instances when PTSD and TBI may have contributed to a less than honorable discharge from active military service.”

“We believe this legislation will provide former servicemembers the best chance at obtaining fair and equitable results when applying for discharge upgrades. Too many of our former members are struggling to receive benefits and care for in-service injuries, yet face barriers due to receiving less than honorable discharges following incidents related to manifestations of TBI and PTSD,” said Lieutenant General Dana Atkins – U.S. Air Force, Ret., President of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). “Adoption of this modified language will help bring these former members one step closer to obtaining the care and benefits they require.”

“Since 2009 approximately 22,000 veterans suffering from mental health conditions were discharged from military service for misconduct,” said American Legion National Commander, Dale Barnett. “Veterans who receive less than honorable discharges are often disqualified from receiving health care services from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This bill would ensure combat veterans, whose condition should have been considered prior to their discharge, receive due consideration in their discharge appeals process.”

“The Fairness for Veterans Act is a vitally important piece of legislation, which the United Soldiers and Sailors of America strongly supports,” said John P. Yori, President of United Soldiers and Sailors of America. “We thank Senators Peters, Daines, Gillibrand, and Tillis for their hard work to ensure that this bill is passed to assist our brave servicemembers once they return home.”

“Veterans with less than honorable discharges are more likely to be homeless, suffer from drug or alcohol dependency, to become incarcerated, to suffer from untreated physical and mental wounds of war, and ultimately, die by suicide,” said John Rowan, President and CEO of Vietnam Veterans of America. “VVA commends Senators Peters, Daines, Gillibrand, and Tillis for their leadership on this legislation and for their dedication to ensuring that veterans impacted by PTSD, TBI and MST are afforded an opportunity to experience a more fair and just discharge review process.”

“Swords to Plowshares strongly supports the proposed amendment incorporating of the ‘liberal consideration’ standard for discharge upgrades into law,” said Michael Blecker, Executive Director of Swords to Plowshares. “The policy changes enacted under Secretary Hagel have provided invaluable relief to veterans who deserve fair treatment from the Department of Defense and better access to services from the VA.  The military branches have been discharging service members for misconduct at a higher rate than at any point in our nation’s history.  Misconduct discharges are 11 times more likely after a PTSD diagnosis, and 35% more likely after reporting military sexual trauma.  This demonstrates a shameful failure of the military administrative discharge process that must be remedied.  Until that happens, and for veterans who are already discharged, the Department of Defense must fix these injustices through its records corrections boards.  Congress should take this opportunity to adopt the ‘liberal consideration’ standard as law, ensuring that veterans receive the fair treatment that they are owed for their service.”