Military's use of other-than-honorable discharges to get heavy scrutiny


By TOM ROEDER | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) | Published: December 16, 2014

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Tribune News Service) — President Barack Obama is expected to soon sign a bill ordering an investigation of whether the military has improperly used other than honorable discharges to rid the services of wounded troops who commit minor offenses.

The amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act passed both chambers of Congress and is on Obama's desk. The amendment, written by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., follows a Pulitzer Prize-winning 2013 Gazette investigation that found the Army used disciplinary discharges to part with soldiers who were later denied health care benefits that might help them recover from combat wounds and mental illness.

"We have heard from veterans in Colorado who believe that some service members are receiving less than honorable discharges for behavior that could be related to mental trauma from combat," Bennet said Monday in a statement. "Clearly, we can't have a system that punishes service members for injuries sustained in service and this bill will help us understand whether this is happening and what we need to do to change it."

Under the measure, the Government Accountability Office will investigate the discharges. Specifically, the report will show whether the military unfairly discharges troops for minor misconduct. It will also examine whether officers are trained to balance misconduct against war-caused mental illness and other factors. Other areas of inquiry include how often misconduct discharges can be related to troops with post-traumatic stress and whether troops are counseled on veterans benefits before agreeing to a dishonorable discharge.

Bennet said the questions came up in veterans panels after The Gazette's investigation.

"Other than Honorable" showed that an increasing number of soldiers, including wounded combat veterans, were being kicked out of the service for misconduct, often with no benefits, as the Army downsizes after more than a decade of war.

In May 2013, The Gazette published the series in print and on gazette.com. It used Army data to show that the number of soldiers being discharged for misconduct annually had surged to its highest level since 2009 at posts with the most combat troops. The investigation found that several factors were related to the discharges,including a mandatory troop reduction; an overwhelmed medical discharge process; and policies that didn't account for behavior resulting from the mental wounds of war.

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