Tester, Walsh requiring mental health professional on military review board
Senators introduce legislation to ensure service members with PTSD get ‘fair shake’
(U.S. SENATE) – Senators Jon Tester and John Walsh are introducing legislation that requires the panel that reviews military discharges to have at least one mental health professional on its board.
Nearly one million current or former service members were diagnosed with a mental health condition between 2001 and 2011, including at least 30,000 who were diagnosed with “Personality Disorder” or “Adjustment Disorder.” It was later found that many of these men and women, who were discharged from the military without access to care or benefits, were improperly diagnosed and unjustly denied access to the services, care and benefits they had earned.
A Discharge Review Board is a military panel with the legal authority to review military discharges.
Tester and Walsh say having a mental health professional on military Discharge Review Boards will ensure these service members’ appeals are expertly reviewed – and that the records of service members who were improperly discharged for an incorrect reason, or with a less than honorable rating, can be corrected.
“A wrongful discharge can stick with someone for a long time, affecting their future benefits and employment options,” said Tester, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “This bill gives service members a fair shake when having their cases heard and will open more doors for veterans as they move onto the next stage of their lives.”
“Too many American service members are being discharged without treatment for PTSD and TBI,” Walsh said. “We can’t expect to solve this issue without including the proper professionals who can identify these unique symptoms. By adding a mental health physician to the Discharge Board, our service members will have an expert who can identify their invisible wounds.”
Tester and Walsh point to a service member with mental health issues who was recently discharged from the Army with a “General” discharge rating. Diagnosed with PTSD, the soldier appealed to the Discharge Review Board, but the panel included a physician without mental health training, thus omitting the opinion of a mental health professional who could speak to the soldier’s appeal for an “Honorable” discharge.
“Mental health injuries have become the signature injuries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Senator Tester and Walsh’s legislation is a needed measure to appropriately review and potentially alter certain discharge statuses,” said Paul Rieckhoff, the CEO and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
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 a job or housing.
Tester, a long-time member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, will serve as the keynote speaker at Friday’s dedication of the expanded Billings VA Clinic. Walsh, who will join Tester at Friday’s dedication ceremony, recently introduced the Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, a bill designed to ensure that servicemen and women have access to top quality mental health care while taking steps to streamline the problems that continue to plague communication systems between the Department of Defense and the VA.