A new report released Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office revealed that more than three of every five troops dismissed from military service for misconduct from 2011-2015 had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, drinking or other adjustment-related issues.
Of the 57,141 troops who received such diagnoses in the two years prior to their dismissal, nearly one quarter of the discharges, or 13,283, were categorized as “other than honorable,” potentially disqualifying them for health benefits from the Veterans Affairs Department.
The GAO study also revealed that Defense Department policies on screening troops for PTSD and TBI prior to issuing discharge orders were not followed by the Air Force or Navy.
Hundreds of thousands of troops have suffered the ill effects of stress from repeated deployments, and brain injuries from improvised explosive devices, the most fatal weapon in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. PTSD and TBI have been labeled as the “signature wounds” of the wars.
According to the report, such conditions can negatively affect troops’ moods, thoughts and behavior, leading to discipline challenges and dismissal from service.
David Smith, a physician and Defense Department official for Health Affairs, wrote a rebuttal to the GAO’s statistics, contending that data from the Pentagon showed that nearly 200,000 more troops were discharged during the period studied by the GAO. The official also claimed that the GAO inaccurately counted troops with PTSD and TBI, overstating the number of troops diagnosed with the conditions.
Smith asserted that the errors greatly overstated the number of troops affected and created “the false impression that the majority of service members administratively separated for misconduct had psychological health conditions that would explain their misconduct.”
The Pentagon has accepted the GAO’s recommendations to order the Air Force and Navy to comply with Defense Department policy on screening service members for PTSD and TBI, and agreed to train officers to detect mild cases of TBI.
During the period studied, more than 91,000 troops were discharged for misconduct, with 98 percent of the 57,141 troops with behavior problems coming from the enlisted ranks. Among the top issues cited were alcohol and drug abuse, adjustment disorders and depression. Many troops were challenged by multiple conditions.
GAO investigators discovered evidence that some Marines and soldiers might not have been informed that they risked their VA benefits by accepting a discharge instead of facing court martial.
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