A group of lawmakers wants the Army to stop discharging soldiers who have been diagnosed with mental health problems because of their service in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The move comes one month after the Army announced it would conduct a "thorough, multidisciplinary" review in response to a call from 12 senators to investigate reports that the service discharged for misconduct as many as 22,000 combat veterans who had been diagnosed with mental health problems.

"It doesn't make sense to continue these discharges while the practice is in the midst of multiple reviews," Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said in a statement. "Soldiers prevented from serving due to post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury should be treated like we treat those with physical injuries, not be discharged, cast aside and ignored. They fought for their country and have earned the benefit of the doubt."

Murphy was one of the 12 senators to initially call on the Army to investigate the reports regarding the 22,000 soldiers. The issue was first reported by National Public Radio.

Eric Fanning, who was then the acting Army secretary, directed the Army review.

In a Nov. 30 letter to Murphy, Fanning wrote that the Army strives to have a process that is "fair, objective and deliberate, and that ensures due process and the maintenance of good order and discipline within the ranks."

"The decision to separate a soldier from the Army for any reason is not an easy one, which is why we require a thorough review of the facts in each and every case," Fanning wrote.

Since then, however, the Army has reportedly moved to separate at least one highly decorated combat soldier who was diagnosed with PTSD, according to a new NPR report.

The news report was part of the reason the senators called for a moratorium on further discharges.

"I appreciate Acting Army Secretary Fanning's responsiveness to my earlier letter, and I know his desire for a fair process is sincere," Murphy said. "But after speaking to the Army today, I am convinced there should be a moratorium on discharges until the inspector general's report is completed."

Other lawmakers who have called for a moratorium include Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., according to the NPR report.

Army officials, citing the ongoing review, said they could not provide further information.

"The Army is deeply committed to treating all soldiers with the dignity and respect earned through their selfless service," Tatjana Christian, an Army spokeswoman, said in a statement. "Accordingly, the Army has developed clear guidelines governing behavioral health and medical assessments and administrative separations based on law and Army policy. The merits of each case are considered and weighed individually."

NPR in October reported that the Army, since 2009, has separated 22,000 soldiers for misconduct after they returned from Iraq or Afghanistan and had been diagnosed with mental health problems such as PTSD and TBI.

Murphy and 11 other senators called for an investigation in a Nov. 4 letter to senior Army leaders.

"We are concerned that it may be easier to discharge service members for minor misconduct — possibly related to mental health issues — than to evaluate them for conditions that may warrant a medical discharge," the letter states.

As a result, they said, many of these soldiers will not receive "crucial" retirement, health care and other benefits. These actions also may discourage other service members from seeking the medical help they need, the lawmakers said.

Michelle Tan is the editor of Army Times and Air Force Times. She has covered the military for Military Times since 2005, and has embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Haiti, Gabon and the Horn of Africa.

In Other News
Load More