September 04, 2014

Tester, Gillibrand, Walsh, Blumenthal Applaud PTSD Change at DOD

Senators Will Keep Pushing Their Legislation To Ensure A Mental Health Professional On Discharge Review Board

Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), John Walsh (D-Mont.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today released the following statements after the Defense Department announced that it will more fully consider service-related PTSD when considering a veteran’s petition to upgrade his or her discharge status.  The Senators recently introduced a bill that requires the panel that reviews military discharges to have at least one mental health professional on its board if a mental health diagnosis has been made:

“Invisible wounds of war can be some of the most traumatic legacies of battle,” Tester said.  “I appreciate the Defense Department making this change, but will continue fighting to place a mental health professional on discharge review boards across the military.  A wrongful discharge can stay with a veteran for a long time, affecting their future benefits and employment.  We need make sure our military men and women have every opportunity to succeed.”

“We must ensure that the men and women of our military who risk their lives to protect our county  receive the care and benefits they earned and deserve,” said Senator Gillibrand.  “Too many of our service members have been discharged as a result of an undiagnosed or improperly diagnosed mental health condition. I am pleased to see the Department of Defense taking on this issue and beginning to eliminate the barriers to redress.  I will continue to work with my colleagues to  make sure that there are professionals who can properly assess mental health on all review boards, ensuring that our veterans receive a correct diagnosis and treatment for mental health injuries like PTSD, TBI and MST.”

“We have an obligation to fully acknowledge the true effects of the battles our men and women in uniform fight, and part of that is recognizing that service members often return home with unseen wounds,” Walsh said.  “The Defense Department’s new policy that service-connected mental health be considered by discharge review boards is an important step in honoring the bravery our service members and veterans have shown in service to our nation.”

“This initiative helps to correct a tragic injustice – an unmerited black mark on records of thousands of brave and honorable veterans suffering from invisible wounds of post-traumatic stress and wounded again by less than-honorable discharges,” Blumenthal said.  “The initiative will restore honor and respect to Vietnam veterans who received other than-honorable discharges and were subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress but were unjustly denied medical treatment, support services and benefits. The black mark on their records has been an enduring source of suffering and neglect, as well as personal grief.  This injustice will be corrected for their sake and for our nation's honor.”

Service members who receive a less than Honorable discharge can be denied access to many of the services, care and benefits to which they could be entitled, including G.I. Bill benefits, and can encounter various obstacles when looking for work or housing.

The Defense Department’s complete, updated guidance is available online HERE.  The Senators’ bill, the Military Mental Health Review Board Improvement Act, is available online HERE.