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Baldwin and Bipartisan Group of Senators Urge Secretary Carter to Update Discharge Policy Across All Military Services

Policy Would Ensure that All Servicemembers - Including Sexual Assault Survivors and Those Suffering from PTSD, TBI and Mental Health Conditions - Receive Fair Treatment

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), joined a bipartisan group of eight Senate colleagues today in sending a letter to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter urging the Department of Defense (DOD) to issue a consistent policy across all military services regarding the consideration of diagnosed mental health conditions when administratively separating servicemembers.

The policy would allow mental health conditions brought on by trauma incurred during service to take precedence over misconduct when a servicemember is being involuntarily separated, and would allow for their referral for evaluation for a medical discharge.

The letter was led by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and also signed by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Susan Collins (R-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ed Markey (D-MA), Al Franken (D-MN) and Gary Peters (D-MI).   

In May 2015, the DOD Inspector General published a report that found sexual assault survivors who engage in trauma-related misconduct, such as taking unauthorized leave to flee their perpetrator, are at higher risk of being involuntarily discharged under less than honorable conditions.

"Servicemembers who are involuntarily separated have a higher rate of suicide, are more likely to become homeless, and can face employment discrimination for their adverse discharge," the Senators wrote in the letter.

Additionally, combat veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) may exhibit irregular behavior, have difficulty performing at work, or battle substance abuse. These disciplinary infractions can often be mischaracterized as misconduct rather than symptoms of a mental health condition.

The current military discharge policy for misconduct does not adequately weigh behavior that may have resulted from a mental health condition.

The Navy updated its administrative separation policy in June to require that precedence be given to the medical conditions that may have contributed to the misconduct when involuntarily separating servicemembers. This change will ensure veterans are able to receive the benefits they have earned. The letter asks Secretary Carter to extend this policy to all of the military services.

"Clear guidance will ensure that all servicemembers who are impacted by combat or military sexual assault-related trauma receive fair consideration of their medical conditions prior to their separation from the military and will ensure that fair, consistent and transparent standards are applied across the services," the Senators wrote.

Senator Baldwin has long advocated for the Services to improve their handling of trauma-related discharges and care for those servicemembers suffering from trauma. For example, last year, after pressure from Baldwin, the U.S. Army announced that they would conduct a thorough, multidisciplinary investigation into allegations that the Army had wrongfully dismissed soldiers for misconduct after they returned from deployment and were diagnosed with mental health disorders.

A copy of the letter the senators sent to Secretary Carter is available here