The Army will consider upgrading the other-than-honorable discharges of 73 soldiers diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury after a servicewide review found they may not have undergone a required medical examination.
Army Secretary Eric Fanning outlined the results of the review in an Aug. 25 letter to Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., which Murphy's office posted online Thursday. The review came after a Nov. 4 letter from Murphy and 11 other Democratic senators to senior Army leaders citing a National Public Radio investigation that reported more than 20,000 soldiers with PTSD or TBI diagnoses had been separated for misconduct since 2009.
Fanning's letter offered discharge figures from January 2009 through July 2015:
- The Army separated 469,294 soldiers, 67,697 of whom "had a behavioral health diagnosis in their record and were separated for misconduct."
- Of those, 3,327 soldiers had deployed within 24 months of separation and had a PTSD or TBI diagnosis, meaning they should have undergone a pre-separation medical exam to evaluate that diagnosis.
- The vast majority of those soldiers received honorable discharges. Of the 394 who didn't, 221 received "appropriate behavioral health evaluations" that were available to their commanders when their discharge status was determined.
However, the remaining 73 cases had "insufficient documentation" and will be sent to the Army Review Boards Agency "to determine if the Soldier's discharge should be upgraded based on evidence of record," Fanning wrote.
"The Army remains confident in the administrative processes that define misconduct separation procedures," he added.
Fanning also pointed to a recent All-Army Activities message that requires officials to record the reception and review of the required exams.
Murphy praised the Army's response in a news release that accompanied the letter.
"I'm grateful the Army took our concerns seriously and has made internal improvements to ensure that returning soldiers with brain injuries or PTSD receive the health care, benefits and respect they deserve," he said. "I will continue to work to make sure that all veterans are treated fairly and honorably by our government."
Eight other senators wrote to Defense Secretary Ash Carter last week asking him to consider a militarywide policy that would require a review before the issuance of an involuntary other-than-honorable discharge to determine whether the misconduct stemmed from physical or mental trauma, such as TBI or sexual assault.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus added a layer to his department's involuntary separation process June 1, requiring a review similar to what the eight senators proposed. Sailors and Marines facing separation who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition can be referred to the service's Disability Evaluation System, and any other-than-honorable cases must be reviewed by a flag or general officer.
Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.