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Senate enhances chances of removing certain military discharges

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The Senate approved Tuesday an amendment to make it possible to remove certain “less than honorable” military discharges for behaviors that are now associated with mental problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder from the records of veterans of wars that have been fought after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks.

The amendment directs military Discharge Review Boards to “give liberal consideration to petitions for changes in discharge status to honorable if the service member has PTSD, TBI (traumatic brain injury) or related conditions in connection with their military service.” Veterans who experienced traumas related to sexual misconduct in the military are included in the proposal.

The amendment was approved by the Senate on voice vote on Tuesday after it was attached to a defense funding bill that has been dubbed the National Defense Authorization Act. The Senate is expected to pass the broader defense funding measure later this week.

Amendment supporters said the approval is a step toward correcting the records of thousands of veterans who have received non-honorable discharges during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that have been fought since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It would turn into law certain principles that former Obama Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel declared in a memo.

“I am pleased that the Senate passed this amendment to support brave men and women who are suffering from mental health trauma experienced during their military service,” said Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township, a former lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve.

“This amendment will help ensure veterans are treated fairly when petitioning their discharge status, and in turn, upholds America’s commitment to our men and women in uniform, who answered the call of duty in defense of our nation,” Peters continued.

The freshman Michigan senator is the lead sponsor on the legislation to remove the less-than-honorable discharges from the records of post-Sept. 11 veterans with Sens. Steve Daines, R-Mont.; Thom Tillis, R-N.C.; and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

The lawmakers said certain veterans who unfairly receive less-than-honorable discharges from the military have been cut off from benefits such as GI college benefits and Department of Veterans Affairs home loans that are typically given to military members who return home from war.

Veterans groups praised the Senate for approving the amendment to change the status of veterans who experience mental traumas in the post-Sept. 11 wars.

“Too often, we see our men and women in uniform erroneously receiving administrative discharges as a result of mental health concerns that need treatment, not punishment. And while there have been efforts to correct these wrongful discharges, the Fairness for Veterans Act is needed to continue addressing this issue,” Tom Porter, legislative director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said in a statement.

klaing@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8735

Twitter: @Keith_Laing