Thanks to a provision in this year's National Defense Authorization Act, soldiers who were forced to leave the Army due to discipline issues following sexual assault or harassment are now able to request honorable discharges if they can provide medical proof.

In much the same way the Army has been allowing soldiers as far back as Vietnam to have their post-traumatic stress recognized in their records, former soldiers can bring medical documentation from the VA or a civilian doctor to the Board for Correction of Military Records if they received a less than honorable discharge and believe their trauma contributed to their dismissal.

The law also expands the definition of sexual harassment, outlines training for retaliation investigations and requires more detailed reporting of sexual assaults.

Language in the NDAA requires that the board review cases with "liberal consideration" when a former service member alleges that their lesser characterization of service is due to post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury as a result of combat or sexual trauma.

"[The Defense Department] encourages all veterans who believe they have experienced an error or injustice to request relief from their service's Board for Correction of Military/Naval Records or Discharge Review Board," according to a Monday release from the Army.

Soldiers who have left the Army in the past 15 years can complete a DD Form 293 and send it to the Army Review Boards Agency.

While the Army has set 15 years as its rule, there have been cases where a court required the Army to overlook its time limits. 

For instance, in December, a solider who separated in 1973 with signs of PTSD was able to get the Army to re-hear his case after challenging a time-limit rule in court.

Harassment and retaliation

The NDAA also made changes to the way the Defense Department handles sexual misconduct and issues relating to it.

From now on, all sexual harassment claims between active-duty members will trigger a command investigation. Before, an investigation was only required if the harassment went on at work.

"The definition of sexual harassment that triggers a command investigation will no longer be limited to 'the work environment,' the release said. "It will simply be 'the environment,' meaning it could take place anywhere and at any time."

Soldiers can be held accountable for harassment off-post or during off-duty hours as well, according to the release.

In cases where a service member alleges that their fellow soldiers or leadership retaliated against them for making a sexual misconduct complaint, personnel form the Criminal Investigation Command, inspector general officers and certain command appointees will be trained to handle investigations of retaliation claims.

And starting this year, the services will add much more detail to their retaliation reports. That includes descriptions of the complaints, demographic information on both the complainant and the retaliator, along with results of the investigations.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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