Is the U.S. military in the dark ages when it comes to the treatment of mental health illnesses among its veterans? Some critics would say yes based on its recent discharge rates of veterans suffering from mental health disorders for alleged “misconduct”.
Since 2009 the U.S. military has discharged over 22,000 soldiers for misconduct when in fact, they may have only been displaying expected symptoms caused by their military service and injury.
These dismissals come despite a law passed in 2009 requiring that the military consider carefully whether the misconduct leading to discipline was a manifestation of a service related injury such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Further, this is happening despite the devastating impact which this kind of dismissal has on veterans. Dismissal for misconduct results in the loss of health and retirement benefits and can make it very difficult for these veterans to find future employment.
The irony is that these are the very soldiers who are most in need of these benefits. Instead of giving them the care and support they need in the wake of their service and injury, the military is abandoning them according to an NPR story titled Missed Treatment and released in October of 2015. The NPR piece examined the military’s treatment of veterans suffering from mental health conditions and found that despite the 2009 law, dismissals of these veterans for “misconduct” are still widespread.
Earlier this month a group of 12 U.S. senators sent a letter to top Army officials seeking an investigation of this issue. Senator Christopher Murphy (D-CT) leads the group; he says that while the military should not be keeping soldiers who have committed misconduct in active service, in cases where the misconduct is a manifestation of service related disability, veterans should be medically discharged so they can continue to the receive benefits and help that they need.
The group of senators note that, "we are concerned that it may be easier to discharge service members for minor misconduct — possibly related to mental health issues — than to evaluate them for conditions that may warrant a medical discharge." This is a serious charge, and so far, the military has yet to respond.
Veterans suffering from mental illness like PTSD and TBI relating to their service deserve steadfast support and care, not dismissal and abandonment from the country they served.