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Army to review less-than-honorable discharges for vets with PTSD and more over last decade

Soldiers from Fort Drum's 10th Mountain Division Combat Aviation Brigade salute after returning from a nine-month deployment to Europe in this file photo from October 18, 2017 (Michael Greenlar/Syracuse Media Group/TNS)
January 12, 2021

U.S. Army veterans who were separated with less-than-fully-honorable service discharges since 2011 can now appeal discharge decisions if their service was affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), military sexual trauma (MST), or other behavioral health conditions.

In a statement to American Military News, the Army said it is changing its procedures for discharge decisions following the case of Kennedy v. McCarthy, which the Army settled on Dec. 28, 2020.

“Under the agreement, the Army will automatically reconsider certain discharge-status-upgrade decisions made by the Army Discharge Review Board (ADRB) between April 17, 2011, and the effective date of settlement that partially or fully denied relief to Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans with less-than-fully-honorable discharges,” the Army statement read. “The settlement also expands reapplication rights for eligible applicants who were discharged and received an adverse ADRB decision between Oct. 7, 2001, and April 16, 2011.”

Military veterans can be separated with a variety of different discharges including honorable discharge, general discharge, other than honorable discharge, bad conduct discharge, or a dishonorable discharge.

An honorable discharge is the highest discharge a veteran can receive. Discharge statuses that are considered less-than-fully-honorable can negatively impact a veterans access to benefits, and career and employment opportunities after their military service.

According to the U.S. Army’s Fort Hood Sentinel, a general discharge, “is for service members whose service was satisfactory, but involved situations where the Soldier’s conduct and/or performance of duty were not so meritorious to warrant an Honorable Discharge. Recipients of General Discharges usually have engaged in minor misconduct or have received nonjudicial punishment under Article 15, UCMJ.”

Even a general discharge can disadvantage veterans hoping to receive certain VA benefits. Veterans with general discharges can receive entitlement to benefits such as VA medical and dental services, VA home loans and burial in national cemeteries, but not education benefits under the Montgomery and Post-9/11 GI bills.

An other than honorable discharge is for veterans who have had a “pattern of behavior that constitutes a significant departure from the conduct expected.” This can include violent behavior, use of illegal drugs or disregard of normal superior-subordinate relationships.

Bad conduct and dishonorable discharges are more punitive discharges for either special or general court-martial offenses. Both discharges can deprive a soldier of virtually all VA benefits and can harm their employment and education prospects.

The case of Kennedy v. McCarthy established a nationwide class of Army veterans separated with a less-than-Honorable discharge after October 7, 2001. The plaintiffs argued in the class-action case that many soldiers’ separations under less-than-fully-honorable conditions could be attributed to PTSD, TBI, MST or other behavioral health conditions.

“Veterans of the Army, including the National Guard and Reserve, who were discharged with less-than-fully-honorable service characterizations while having a diagnosis of, or showed symptoms of [various behavioral health conditions] may be eligible for relief,” the Army statement reads. “Discharge upgrades are not guaranteed and applications will be decided on a case-by-case basis.”

In addition to offering to review the various cases of the veterans defined within the lawsuit’s time period, the ARDB is implementing new training and review protocols for judging discharge reviews for veterans with PTSD, TBI, MST or other behavioral health conditions.