When the news first broke in September, we informed our readers about the memorandum sent by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel regarding discharge upgrade requests by Veterans claiming post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The memorandum to the Military Department Boards for Correction of Military/Naval Records (BCM/NR) directed each review board to carefully consider each and every petition. Since that directive has been given, actions have been taken to assist Veterans who wish upgrade their discharge status. The latest action comes in the form of a web page, launched to assist Veterans who are seeking to upgrade punitive discharges related to behavior problems caused by PTSD.
The Army Review Boards Agency (ARBA) is the Army’s highest level of administrative review for personnel actions taken by lower level organizations. ARBA is comprised of several boards, and hears the claims of soldiers and former soldiers who are appealing unfavorable information in their personnel records. ARBA has established a web page that describes the change in policy, offers Army Veterans guidance with how to apply for discharge upgrades, and answers frequently asked questions about the policy change and the procedures involved with the review process.
The policy change and the website are the direct result of the revelation that 250,000 Vietnam era Veterans may have been given punitive discharges because of behaviors associated with PTSD, long before it was recognized as a debilitating medical condition.
Today, PTSD is universally recognized throughout the medical field, and is commonly associated with the military. Several estimates gauge that around 20% of combat Veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. It is likely that PTSD ratios from earlier wars are at least that high. But without any policy acknowledging or recognizing PTSD or its symptoms, many Vietnam Veterans were instead punished. In many cases, these Veterans were kicked out of the military with other than honorable discharges because of their behavior, which we now know are symptoms of the service-related disorder.
Discharge upgrades are extremely important to these affected Veterans, because many benefits offered through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can be denied due to the character of discharge. Upgrading the character of their discharge could mean that these Veterans will be granted access to several VA benefits that they were previously not eligible for, including care for their medical and psychological health.
Secretary Hagel’s memorandum does not guarantee status upgrades, but merely directs the review boards to factor in what we now know about PTSD when making their decisions. The memo and the ARBA site clearly state that review boards are not courts of law or investigative institutions. All appeals for discharge status updates need to come with evidence provided by the applicant. The memorandum also clearly states that, “PTSD is not a likely cause of premeditated misconduct.”
If you, or a Veteran that you know could benefit from a discharge upgrade, please refer them to http://arba.army.pentagon.mil/abcmr-overview.cfm for applications and more information.
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Military Connection: Website for Discharge Upgrades: By Debbie Gregory