Fairness for Veterans Act 2016

CBD Screenshot of a news broadcast announcing the Fairness for Veterans Act passage

THE USGAO Report

The United States Government Accountability Office (USGAO) conducted an analysis of Department of Defense (DOD) data collected from 2011 to 2015. Their analysis found that:

62 percent or 57,141 of the 91,764 service members separated for misconduct from fiscal years 2011 through 2015 had been diagnosed within the two years prior to separation with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), or certain other conditions that could be associated with misconduct. Specifically, 16 percent had been diagnosed with PTSD or TBI, while the other conditions, such as adjustment and alcohol-related disorders, were more common. Of the 57,141 servicemembers, 23 percent, or 13,283, received an “other than honorable” characterization of service, making them potentially ineligible for health benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. ⁹

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

The USGAO report also noted the other conditions frequently cited as the diagnosed condition that led to a misconduct separation, included:

  • adjustment disorder,
  • alcohol-related disorders,
  • depressive disorders,
  • substance abuse disorders,
  • anxiety disorders, and
  • personality disorders in which behavioral changes are a significant symptom. ⁹

The use of these “other conditions” as a dischargeable diagnosis resulted in the military being able to avoid the safeguards previously established for service members diagnosed with PTSD.⁹ However, as many as 500,000 veterans who served in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, both deployed and non-deployed, from 2002 to 2015 were later diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. ⁷ׄׄ ¹⁰

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

TBI cases in the U.S. military are tracked by The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) on behalf of the DOD.² From 2000 to 2015, the DVBIC tracked approximately 343,464 first-time

TBI cases among active-duty service members (DVBIC, 2020).² However, the Department of Veterans Affairs maintains the VA Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Veterans Heath Registry, which had a total of 221,895 veterans register to seek care from the VA for symptoms associated with TBI from October 2001 to September 2013.¹⁰ Veterans who registered with the VA had served in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), or Operation New Dawn (OND). ¹⁰

Research supported change

The research conducted clearly confirmed and supported the need for changes to address how diagnoses of PTSD, TBI, and mental health disorders were affecting military service members in regard to the discharge process as well as how the characterization of their discharge impacted the availability of assistance services.

Fairness of Veterans Act of 2016

On March 03, 2016, the Fairness for Veterans Act of 2016 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative Mike Coffman of Colorado.³ The bill, H.R. 4683, addressed the need for medical evidence reviews for former U.S. Armed Forces members who had been deployed and subsequently diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) as a result of the deployment, or former U.S. Armed Forces members whose application for a discharge upgrade is based on matters relating to PTSD, TBI, or military sexual trauma.³ The bill, if passed, would be an amendment to Title 10 of the United States Code, which outlines the role of the U.S. Armed Forces in regard to the United States Code.³ The bill proposed that any review board would “provide for a review of the characterization or terms of discharge from the Armed Forces of individuals with mental health disorders alleged to affect terms of discharge” by:

  1. reviewing medical evidence of the Department of Veterans Affairs or a civilian health care provider presented by the former member, and
  2. reviewing the case with a rebuttable presumption in favor of the former member that post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury materially contributed to the circumstances resulting in the discharge of a lesser characterization.

Prior to being introduced into the House of Representatives, H.R. 4683 went through a hearing process held by the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government Sponsored Enterprises on May 13, 2015.³ Rep. Mike Coffman introduced the bill on March 03, 2016, to the 114th Congress, which then referred the bill to the House Committee on Armed Services.³ The House Committee on Armed Services then referred H.R. 4683 to the Subcommittee on Military Personnel on March 21, 2016.³

While the House of Representatives took several actions in regard to the Fairness for Veterans Act of 2016, the bill was introduced as S. 1567 in the Senate, on June 11, 2015, by Senator Gary Peters of Michigan.⁴ There, it had two readings before being forwarded to the Senate Committee on Armed Services.⁴

H.R. 4683 was included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2017, which passed with a vote in the House of Representatives with a vote of 374 to 34 on December 2, 2016.¹ The bill was then sent to the Senate where it was voted on and passed with a vote of 92 to 7 on December 8, 2016.⁵ The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 was signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 23, 2016.⁶

If you believe you have been discharged from the military unfairly or incorrectly and suffer from PTSD or TBI, complete the contact form on this page or call Crisp and Associates, LLC today for a free consultation to speak with one of our attorneys with expertise in military record corrections.

References

  1. Congressman Lee Zeldin. (2016, December 02). Rep. Zeldin announces House passage of the National Defense Authorization Act including Fairness for Veterans Act. [Press Release] Retrieved from https://zeldin.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/rep-zeldin-announces-house-passage-national-defense-authorization-act.
  2. Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. (2020, October 2). DoD Worldwide Numbers for TBI. In Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. Retrieved from https://dvbic.dcoe.mil/dod-worldwide-numbers-tbi.
  3. Fairness for Veterans Act of 2016, H.R. 4683, 114th Cong. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/4683.
  4. S. 1567, 114th Cong. (2015-2016). Retrieved from https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/1567.
  5. Susan Collins United States Senator for Maine. (2016, December 08). Senate Passes FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act with Provisions Championed by Senator Collins. [Press Release] Retrieved from https://www.collins.senate.gov/newsroom/senate-passes-fy-2017-national-defense-authorization-act-provisions-championed-senator#:~:text=Washington%2C%20D.C.%20%E2%80%94%20With%20U.S.%20Senator,the%20Senate%20Defense%20Appropriations%20Subcommittee.
  6. The White House. Office of the Press Secretary. (2016, December 23). Statement by the President on Signing the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017. In The White House. President Barack Obama. Retrieved from https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2016/12/23/statement-president-signing-national-defense-authorization-act-fiscal
  7. Thompson, M. (2015, April 6). Unlocking the Secrets of PTSD. Time, 185, 41-43.
  8. United States Department of Veterans Affairs. (2015, June 3). PTSD in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. In U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.publichealth.va.gov/epidemiology/studies/new-generation/ptsd.asp.
  9. United States Government Accountability Office (USGAO). (2017, May). DOD Health. Actions needed to ensure post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury are considered in misconduct separations. In goa.gov. Retrieved from https://www.gao.gov/assets/690/684609.pdf.
  10. Whiteneck, G. G., Cuthbert, J. P., & Mellick, D. C. (2015, May). VA traumatic brain injury veterans health registry report. In U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.publichealth.va.gov/docs/epidemiology/TBI-report-fy2013-qtr4.pdf