What that means is that those soldiers might not get lasting medical benefits when they're out, or they might have trouble getting a job or not be eligible for veterans programs.
Mental health experts say that troops who face war trauma may have real difficulty adjusting to life when they get home from war, and Congress knows this. In 2009, it passed a law that directs the military to help soldiers who are struggling instead of pushing them out; the military has to consider whether service in the war is a factor in troops' behavior once they are home.
The NPR/CPR investigation found that nobody has checked to see if the Army is following this law until now.
“Serious allegations have been raised, and an independent investigation is needed,” Bennet said in a statement released Wednesday. “We must ensure that servicemembers suffering from mental health conditions like PTS and from TBIs receive the quality care they need both during and following their service, and a fair evaluation when being considered for discharge.”
Bennet couldn't be reached for comment directly, but his spokesman Adam Bozzi said the senator has been watching the Army closely for months now and is concerned by what our investigation found. Beyond concerns about the process, Bennet wants numbers. Last year, the senator led passage of a bill requiring the Government Accountability Office to see if troops being discharged for conduct issues also have PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and other combat-related issues -- the so-called hidden injuries of war.
Andrew Pogany, CEO/investigator with the nonprofit Uniformed Services Justice and Advocacy Group, was curious about the 22,000 troops who were pushed out. He said the government should work to find out what has happened to those troops -- to see if they've become homeless or committed suicide.
Pogany added that senators made a mistake by asking the Army to do the investigation. He's documented many, many issues over the last decade or so and he’s discouraged by the Army's past investigations into the treatment of soldiers with PTSD and brain injuries.
In short, Pogany doesn't trust the Army to investigate and would like to see a commission that's independent of the military created to investigate.
The full letter from the senators is below:
The Honorable Eric Fanning
General Mark A. Milley
Dear Honorable Fanning and General Milley:
We are troubled by recent allegations that the U.S. Army is forcefully separating for misconduct servicemembers diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) or traumatic brain injuries (TBI). We encourage you to conduct a full U.S. Army Inspector General investigation into these recent allegations that the U.S. Army is violating the intent of Section 512 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2010.
Recent media reports indicate that since January 2009, the U.S. Army has separated over 22,000 soldiers for misconduct after they returned from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan and were diagnosed with mental health problems or TBI. As a result, many of the dismissed soldiers have not received crucial retirement benefits, health care benefits, and post-service employment eligibility that soldiers receive with an honorable discharge. Soldiers who deploy are at an increased risk for mental health issues and the forceful separation of servicemembers post-deployment only further denies treatment and support at a critical moment in any soldier’s life. Additionally, fear of dismissal may discourage servicemembers from seeking the medical treatment they require.
Section 574 of the FY14 NDAA called for a GAO report to look into these kinds of dismissal cases. That report was delivered to Congress in February of this year recommending that the services develop a method to identify the number of servicemembers separated for non-disability mental conditions and take actions to ensure that servicemembers are appropriately separated for non-disability mental conditions in accordance with DoD’s separation requirements. Serious gaps in DoD policies have been identified and any investigation going forward should take this into consideration.
We are concerned that it may be easier to discharge servicemembers for minor misconduct—possibly related to mental health issues—than to evaluate them for conditions that may warrant a medical discharge. We know that the health and safety of our servicemembers and their families is your top priority and we are confident that you will investigate these recent allegations. Thank you again for your service to our country and we look forward to working with you to rectify this grave offense to the men and women that serve in our armed forces.
Christopher S. Murphy
The CPR News-NPR Investigative Series:
- Oct. 28, 2015: Army Kicked Out Thousands Of Soldiers With Brain Injuries, Mental Health Issues
- Nov. 4, 2015: Senators Demand Probe Into Army's Discharge Of Troops With Mental Problems
- Nov. 25, 2015: When The Army Pushes A Soldier Out, His Mental Health Struggles Are Left To Others
- Nov. 25, 2015: Former Fort Carson Commander: 'We Need To Help, Not Judge' Struggling Troops
- Dec. 3, 2015: Army Says It Will Review Pattern Of PTSD, Brain Injuries Discharges
- Feb. 21, 2016: Four U.S. Senators Demand The Army Stop Discharging Troubled Combat Soldiers