Tester urges Army to treat servicemembers suffering from TBI, PTSD

Senator: Nothing dishonorable about suffering from mental health issues

(U.S. Senate) – During a Senate committee hearing today, Senator Jon Tester stood up for the thousands of servicemembers who were dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Army and were later diagnosed with mental health issues.

According to recent news reports, the Army has kicked out over 22,000 soldiers since 2009 for misconduct before those soldiers were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries or various mental health conditions.

Tester asked Acting Army Secretary Patrick Murphy what reforms the Army is implementing to the discharge process, because a less than honorable discharge from the military denies those soldiers access to crucial retirement, health care, and other services and benefits provided to veterans.

“There is nothing dishonorable about the service men and women who are struggling with mental health issues, and they deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion, and the best care that we can provide,” Tester said. “To be forcibly separated from the military with a less than honorable discharge isn’t doing a service to the country, or the Army, and especially not to those folks and their families.”

Last November, Tester called on the Army to fully investigate the wrongful discharge of servicemembers with mental health disorders. Today, Acting Secretary Murphy assured Senator Tester that the Army would make its investigation publicly available within weeks.

Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, successfully included a provision in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act to ensure that the discharges of all servicemembers suffering from a diagnosed mental health condition be reviewed by a mental health professional. Today, Murphy said that the Tester requirement was being fully implemented.

The Senator also successfully petitioned the Pentagon to more fully consider service-related PTSD when deciding whether to upgrade a veteran’s discharge status.

At the hearing, Tester also pressed Army officials to place more emphasis on mental health care for female servicemembers. Tester noted that female veterans commit suicide at nearly six times the rate of civilian women, and are five times more likely to commit suicide than male veterans. He recently cosponsored bipartisan legislation that would allow the VA to better identify and utilize mental health care and suicide prevention programs for female veterans.