WASHINGTON — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel signed a directive Wednesday to make it easier for veterans with PTSD claims to get their unfavorable discharges upgraded.
Many Vietnam veterans claiming to have service-related PTSD have been petitioning the applicable “board for correction” for an upgrade to their discharge status. During the Vietnam War era, the U.S. military did not recognize PTSD as a legitimate medical diagnosis.
A less than honorable discharge can have many negative effects on a former servicemember, including a loss of benefits.
“Liberal consideration” will now be given in cases where there is any evidence to indicate that PTSD might have contributed to misconduct that led to a less-than-honorable discharge, Hagel said in the memorandum.
Hagel noted that records for troops who served before PTSD was recognized often lack important information, which makes it “extremely difficult” to document PTSD or establish a connection between PTSD and misconduct.
The new policy guidance will make it easier for veterans to make their case that undiagnosed PTSD negatively influenced their behavior while they were in the service. It also clarifies how boards should judge applications.
Hagel said that PTSD and related conditions will be considered potentially mitigating factors if they can simply be “reasonably determined” to have existed when the person was discharged for misconduct.
However, the existence of PTSD or PTSD-related symptoms at the time of discharge will not necessarily result in an upgrade.
The Pentagon chief directed the boards to “exercise caution” when it comes to cases where a discharge stemmed from “serious” or “premeditated” misconduct.
“Potentially mitigating evidence of the existence of undiagnosed combat-related PTSD … will be carefully weighed against the severity of the misconduct,” Hagel said.
Moreover, the new guidance does not apply to people who had pre-existing PTSD that was not aggravated by military service.