GAO report finds 16 percent of troops who were booted for misconduct...

GAO report finds 16 percent of troops who were booted for misconduct had brain injuries or PTSD

By Loree Lewis   
Marines assault an enemy force during a casualty evacuation training exercise at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia on April 22. Marines conducted the deployment for training to perfect basic infantry skills for their upcoming deployment as a crisis response force. (Pfc. Abrey D. Liggins/U.S. Marine Corps)

WASHINGTON – Sixteen percent of the U.S. service members who were kicked out of the military from 2011 through 2015 for misconduct had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the previous two years, according to a report published this week by the Congressional watchdog.

Of those diagnosed with PTSD or TBI and dismissed from the military because of misconduct, 23 percent received an “other than honorable” characterization of service. This means that they face the potential loss of Department of Veterans Affairs benefits, including health care.

Including troops dismissed with a PTSD or TBI diagnosis, service members diagnosed with adjustment disorders, alcohol-related disorders, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, depressive disorders, personality disorders and substance-related disorders accounted for a total of 62 percent (57,141 of 91,764) of misconduct dismissals.

The Defense Department considers PTSD and TBI “signature wounds” of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, where adversaries hid among the civilian population and the threat of improvised explosive devices ran high. The GAO report states that while the Defense Department and each military service have policies in place to address service member separations for misconduct that involve PTSD or TBI, service members are still discharged for misconduct without adequate treatment or consideration of resulting behavioral symptoms.

In March, however, VA Secretary David Shulkin said that veterans with other-than-honorable discharges will on a case-by-case basis still be permitted to receive mental heath treatment at VA facilities.

The GAO report found that the Navy and Air Force policies on discharge screening and screening procedures in the field related to PTSD and TBI are not in line with that of the Defense Department. It found that the Army and Marine Corps may not follow their own policies related to PTSD and TBI.

The report found that the Defense Department does not routinely monitor the service branches’ adherence to policies for screening service members for PTSD and TBI prior to separating them for misconduct. It also found the Defense Department doesn’t routinely monitor service branch officer training on how to identify symptoms of TBI in the field, nor monitor how services counsel troops on eligibility for VA benefits and services.

The GAO recommended that the Air Force and Navy address inconsistencies with Defense Department policy, and that the department ensure that the services adhere to military policy.

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