Four U.S. Senators are calling on the Army to stop kicking out soldiers who served in Iraq or Afghanistan and have been diagnosed with mental health problems or traumatic brain injuries, effective immediately. The Senators say they’re motivated by an investigation by NPR and Colorado Public Radio that revealed the Army has continued to discharge troubled troops for misconduct, even though the Army’s then-Acting Secretary Eric Fanning promised late last year to investigate whether the practice is unfair.
Since 2009, the Army has kicked out more than 22,000 mentally wounded combat troops on the grounds of misconduct, and taken away their benefits, instead of helping them. As a result of that report, 12 Senate Democrats sent a letter demanding an investigation to Fanning and the general who, working together, run the Army. Developments since then raise questions about the Army’s investigation. For instance, Fanning appointed Debra Wada, the Army’s assistant secretary in charge of Manpower and Reserve Affairs, to lead the review.
Two weeks after she was named, Wada signed a document ordering commanders to dismiss Larry Morrison, a highly decorated combat soldier who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He was one of the soldiers profiled in the original report by NPR and CPR. “It’s puzzling and troubling,” says David Sonenshine, a former military prosecutor who now works with the National Veterans Legal Services Program. He says that because “the person who’s in charge of the investigation is also the same person who ultimately reviews some of these administrative separations, [it] creates the picture that there’s just something unfair or unobjective about the process.” Morrison’s Army records suggest he’s the kind of soldier whom senators say the Army should help, not punish. He’s a 20-year veteran. He fought four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the Army awarded him a Bronze Star. After Morrison came home to Fort Carson, in Colorado, he was diagnosed with chronic PTSD. He pleaded guilty to drunken and reckless driving. Commanders at Fort Carson also alleged he belonged to a “criminal” motorcycle gang, something Morrison denies. They asked top Army officials for clearance to kick him out for misconduct.
Now that Wada has signed the order, Morrison won’t be able to receive a combat soldier’s usual benefits, including free health care. “If something is concerning enough to investigate, common sense says that you wait until the results of that investigation, before you take further action,” Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore) told NPR. “I’ve given them all of my youthful years; I’m 42 years old,” Morrison says.” And now they want to put me out with no benefits. They want to give me an ‘other than honorable’ discharge, so I can’t get a job, I can’t go to school, and [they’re going to] take my 20-year retirement away. So they want to put me on the streets with nothing.”
Military review boards were created by Congress after World War II to correction wartime steps, which has rarely happened in recent years. The Army Board for Correction of Military Records, the final authority in the Army’s review agency, ruled against veterans in about 96% of PTSD-related cases. Observers say the boards are overwhelmed. The staff at the Army Review Boards Agency has steadily decreased. According to an agency briefing, it had 135 employees to process 22,500 cases in 2014. A group of veterans is pushing for a bill in Congress that would overhaul the system by mandating that the military require boards to decide cases starting from the presumption that PTSD materially contributed to the discharges.
If you believe your Veteran’s Benefits may have been wrongly denied it is important to get legal advice.