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Pardons Sought for Troops Discharged for Mental Health-related Offenses

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By Debbie Gregory.

Military veteran advocates are urging President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump to join forces and pardon tens of thousands of post-9/11 service members whose “bad paper” or “general” discharges were based on infractions related to mental health issues.

John Rowan, the national president of the Vietnam Veterans of America says such a pardon can only be achieved if President Obama and President-elect Trump work together to identify and restore benefits to these some 300,000 veterans.

“Over the last 15 years of continuous warfare, our government has failed to respond appropriately to multiple, comprehensive reports of veterans being inappropriately discharged from the military,” the letter states. “We implore you to at least save the current generation of America’s warriors an unfairly marginal life as outcasts in the nation they have so faithfully served.”

Bad paper discharges are often given to those who suffered from post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma or other mental health issues.

Others have been kicked out for alcohol abuse, drug use and suicide attempts.

Between fiscal years 2000–2013, these types of bad paper discharges totaled 125,204. However, what is spoken about even less are those who have “general” discharges, which means veterans also lose benefits and have difficulty finding jobs in the civilian world. Veterans discharged under general conditions number as many as 172,125 since 2000.

Advocates insist that these veterans should have received treatment for those under-diagnosed problems. Veterans with less-than-honorable discharges are ineligible for a host of government benefits, including free health care.

While veterans can appeal those discharges, the process is complicated, time-consuming and expensive.

Instead, Rowan is asking for an upgrade in discharge status for all veterans who qualify and “to immediately grant access to PTS and TBI screening at the VA for all veterans.”

Setting up the system to identify and screen eligible veterans will not happen overnight, which is why the president-elect’s cooperation is vital.

Between fiscal years 2000–2013, these types of bad paper discharges totaled 125,204. However, what is spoken about even less are those who have “general” discharges, which means veterans also lose benefits and have difficulty finding jobs in the civilian world. Veterans discharged under general conditions number as many as 172,125 since 2000.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Taking PTS and TBI Into Consideration for Military Discharge Rating

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By Debbie Gregory.

If a military service member received a good or excellent rating for their service time by exceeding standards for performance and personal conduct, they will receive a military discharge rating of honorable. But there are many servicemembers who receive military discharge ratings that are other than honorable due to behaviors related to post-traumatic stress (PTS) and/or traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

Many of these men and women had multiple deployments, witnessed friends maimed or killed in battle, and were physically and/or mentally wounded themselves. Yet, instead of getting the help they needed, they were booted.

A less-than-honorable discharge severely limits the care and support options available to those veterans, leaving them with decreased medical support and an increased risk of suicide. These veterans are also at risk of family instability, elevated rates of homelessness, and joblessness. But help may be on the way.

In 2014, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that boards for correction of military records or naval records should “fully and carefully consider every petition based on PTSD brought by each veteran.”

And now lawmakers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have introduced legislation that would require military discharge review boards to factor in troops’ mental health issues, and accept a PTSD or TBI diagnosis from a professional as an acceptable rebuttal to a dismissal.

As well as benefitting those currently leaving the military, the legislation could affect past discharges, many for minor offenses related to alcohol use or tardiness.

The bill’s sponsor, Iraq War veteran Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., called expanding treatment for troubled veterans a desperate need.

“In the case of veterans with severe mental health problems, access to these services may be life-saving,” he said. “It is my hope that veterans with questionable, less-than-honorable discharges receive quick access to the mental health care they earned and deserve.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

 

New Non-profit Focused on Tests, Treatments for TBI and PTSD

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By Debbie Gregory.

New nonprofit organization Cohen Veterans Bioscience is looking for ways to cut the time it takes for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress (PTS) research to transform into real-life treatments.

The goal of the company is to speed the discovery of first generation diagnostics, treatments, and cures for PTS and TBI by improving the scientific understanding of the basic biological mechanisms that set the stage for these conditions.

This is the latest endeavor supported by Steven Cohen to address the needs of our nation’s veterans. Cohen, the chairman and CEO of Point72 Asset Management, is a philanthropist who has financed other veterans mental health programs, including the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Veterans Center for the Study of Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury at NYU Langone Medical Center and the Cohen Military Family Clinic at NYU Langone.

About 1.7 million Americans experience head injuries each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Such injuries are not uncommon in the military; 327,299 troops were diagnosed with a TBI from 2000 to March 2015.

Additionally, more than 138,000 active-duty members who deployed in support of combat operations were diagnosed with PTSD from 2001 to 2015.

“Our veterans have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan facing PTS and TBI, and we owe it to them to find better diagnostic tools and treatments,” Cohen said. “PTS is often misdiagnosed or undiagnosed, and our service members don’t receive effective treatment as a result.”

Cohen Veterans Bioscience President and CEO, Dr. Magali Haas, said, “Despite significant investment by the National Institutes of Health and the Defense Department in basic science, there is still a huge unmet need for these individuals. There are only two approved medications for PTS and nothing for TBI. The fact that this gap exists despite these investments indicates that more work needs to be done.”

Haas says she hopes to shorten the development for diagnostics and treatments from the average 11 to 13 years to five years, and, for a diagnostic test, perhaps as little as three years.

“It is sometimes disheartening to hear it’s going to be another three, five, 10 years until we have that first-generation diagnostic test, but I think it’s actually going to be sooner than that because the investments are right,” Haas said.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done to address the mental health needs of our veterans. But we haven’t done nearly enough,” says Mr. Cohen. “With Dr. Haas’ leadership, Cohen Veterans Bioscience will advance the science and availability of new medical treatments and we will be able to help more veterans tomorrow than we did yesterday.”

Cohen Veterans Bioscience is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit

Dropping the ‘D’ in PTSD: Military Connection

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By Debbie Gregory.

Does the “D” in PTSD cause individuals suffering from it to shy away from treatment? There’s been a subtle shift in the way politicians and advocates talk about veterans struggling with post-war mental illness.

It has been called shell shock, battle fatigue, soldier’s heart and, most recently, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Now, there is a debate as to whether to change the name of this condition that is as old as combat. The proposed change: either just post-traumatic stress (PTS) or post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI).

The little known semantic battle in the military has garnered considerable attention over the last year. Proponents believe that changing the current disorder to an “injury” will change the perception of the American public, leading to greater acceptance of the traumatized men and women who reintegrate back into their communities after combat.

“When we’re losing on average more than 20 veterans a day to suicide, combating the stigma around mental health-care issues could save lives. Hopefully using the term Post-Traumatic Stress without adding the negative connotation that ‘disorder’ brings will lead to a greater utilization of the mental health-care services available,” said Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.)

Gen. Peter Chiarelli, former vice chief of staff of the Army and current CEO of One Mind, was the first to advocate for dropping the “D” from PTSD several years ago. Chiarelli said, “No 19-year-old kid wants to be told he’s got a disorder.”

Those arguing against the change bring up the possibility of unintended consequences that could be dire. Comparing PTSD to a physical injury such as a broken leg could minimize the seriousness of the disorder. As a result, troops may be embarrassed to seek help, considering they live in a culture that embraces a “suck it up and get on with it” mentality.

But the name reference has been slowly gaining acceptance, and it’s starting to become more mainstream.

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Dropping the ‘D’ in PTSD: Military Connection: by Debbie Gregory