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Peters, Daines, Tillis & Gillibrand Fairness for Veterans Provision to Be Signed into Law

Provision Included in Final National Defense Authorization Act

WASHINGTON, DC — U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Steve Daines (R-MT), Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) today applauded Senate passage of their bipartisan provision 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 Fairness for Veterans amendment was included in the final National Defense Authorization Act conference report, which passed the House of Representatives last week with widespread bipartisan support and now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law. Congressman Mike Coffman (R-CO) introduced similar legislation and led the effort to pass the provision in the House of Representatives.

“Servicemembers suffering from the invisible wounds of war should not lose access to benefits they’ve earned through their service,” said Senator Peters, a former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve. “I am thrilled that my Fairness for Veterans amendment will be signed into law so that veterans are given the consideration they deserve when petitioning for an upgraded discharge status. This provision will help keep America’s promise to our veterans and ensure they have the support needed as they transition to civilian life.”

“The men and women who served our nation in uniform and suffer from the invisible wounds of war should not be penalized with a loss of benefits they’ve earned,” Senator Daines stated. “With today’s vote, veterans who were erroneously discharged due to a side effect related to mental traumas will have the ability to petition to receive their benefits."

“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 pleased this bipartisan provision is included in the NDAA so we can provide a fair opportunity for 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.”

“Too many service members have lost access to their VA benefits because of mental health injuries that were not recognized when they left the military,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee Personnel Subcommittee. “This provision will ensure that veterans who have PTSD or have experienced Military Sexual Trauma can more easily have their discharges upgraded more easily so that they can get the care they need and the benefits they earned. I was proud to fight for this provision, I’m very pleased that it passed the Senate with bipartisan support, and I look forward to seeing it signed by the President into law as soon as possible.”

“As a retired Marine and a combat veteran myself, I know how stressful combat deployments are and the impact they can often have years after returning to civilian life,” Rep. Coffman said. “Many of our soldiers develop PTSD while deployed in a combat zone and then get kicked out of the military for minor behavioral problems directly linked to their combat-related PTSD. Today’s vote on NDAA is a critical step in ensuring that we take care of those who have served our nation and now need our nation to help them.”

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.

The provision included in the final NDAA conference report codifies the principles of the 2014 Hagel memo 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.

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.

“To see the most important provision of the Fairness for Veterans Act become law as part of this year’s NDAA is incredibly gratifying” said Kristofer Goldsmith, Assistant Director for Policy & Government Affairs of Vietnam Veterans of America and founder of High Ground Veterans Advocacy. “Senator Peters has shown the value of electing veterans to Congress – and with this law he’s ensured that all future generations of veterans will have PTSD and related illnesses recognized by Discharge Review Boards. Fairness for Vets’ isn’t just a bill—it’s a movement. We’re going to keep working with Senator Peters to ensure that we do everything we can to get every veteran with PTSD the care that they deserve.”

"The VFW commend Senator Peters and Rep Coffman on their commitment to get final passage of the bipartisan Fairness For Veterans provision that was included in the Fiscal Year 2017 NDAA,” said Bob Wallace, Adjutant General of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “Veterans who honorably served but struggled with their behavior due to conditions caused by their time in service, shouldn’t be excluded from receiving VA health care. This provision will ensure these veterans have a second chance at receiving the care they need.”

“The Fairness for Veterans provision is an important step towards ensuring our men and women in uniform with a less than honorable discharge as a result of mental health concerns have timely and efficient access to benefits and services,” said Tom Porter, Legislative Director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “The IAVA applauds Senators Peters, Daines, Tillis and Gillibrand for their efforts and commitment to addressing this critical issue.”

“Thank you Senators Peters, Daines, Tillis and Gillibrand for your leadership and persistence in pursuing justice for servicemembers facing these very real and difficult challenges. Your dedication to America’s servicemembers and veterans will make a difference in the lives of those who have struggled to obtain the recognition and resources they need and deserve,” said Lieutenant General Dana Atkins – U.S. Air Force, Ret., President of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA).

“United Soldiers and Sailors of America is very proud to have been a part of a larger coalition of veteran service organization that advocated for the passage of the Fairness for Veterans Act,” said John P. Yori III, President of the United Soldiers and Sailors of America. “This piece of legislation reflects the ever growing sense of awareness and overwhelming commitment that the American people have to ensuring that our veterans, ALL veterans are treated as our greatest national treasures. I applaud and thank the many other VSO's and Senators Peters, Daines, Tillis and Gillibrand who have remained steadfast in support of the dignity and just rights of all veterans who have served our great nation.”