In the past few years since the Obama administration made it easier for veterans whose other-than-honorable discharges were caused by combat-related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to be granted VA disability benefits, our office has repeatedly worked on discharge-upgrade cases. Thus, sadly it was no surprise when a report released last month by the Government Accountability Office to congress found that 57,141 (or 62%) of the 91,764 servicemembers discharged for misconduct from 2011 through 2015 “had been diagnosed within the two years prior to separation with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD], Traumatic Brain Injury [TBI] or certain other conditions that could be associated with misconduct.”
According to the report, 23% (or 13,282) of these veterans received an other-than-honorable discharge and were thus potentially made ineligible for VA disability benefits due to discharges that could potentially be upgraded due to service-connected PTSD or TBI symptoms that caused the misconduct which led to their separation from service.
To make matters worse, the Government Accountability Office found that ”the military services’ policies to address the impact of PTSD and TBI on separations for misconduct are not always consistent with Department of Defense policy.” For instance, the Navy does not require a medical examination or other screening for every soldier being separated in lieu of trial by court-martial to determine whether PTSD or TBI played a factor in the misconduct resulting in other-than-honorable discharge. Further, the GAO report found that “two of the four military services have TBI training policies that are inconsistent with DOD policy” and “the Army and Marine Corps may not have adhered to their own screening, training and counseling policies related to PTSD and TBI” between 2011 and 2015.
Perhaps the most serious effect of the military failing to comply with the Department of Defense’s requirements regarding pre-separation screening related to PTSD and TBI is that thousands of servicemembers who requested separation from service in lieu of a trial by court-martial were not informed that other-than-honorable discharge might cause ineligibility for VA benefits and service. Our office is keenly aware of this, from the veterans we’ve represented who are surprised, firstly, to learn that their discharges prevent them from receiving VA benefits and, secondly, that we can help them upgrade these discharges in order to become eligible for the benefits they earned by serving our country.
If you are deemed ineligible to VA benefits due to an other-than-honorable discharge that was caused by conduct you believe was related to symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or a Traumatic Brain Injury, please that office of Attorney Sean Kendall today at 877-629-1712 so that we can discuss helping you with a discharge upgrade.