Thursday, April 17, 2014

Local Long Island Veteran Prompts Senator Gillibrand to Introduce New Legislation Requiring Mental Health Professional on Military Review Board


Senaotr Kirsten Gillibrand's office issued the following yesterday:

Local Long Island Veteran Prompts Senator Gillibrand to Introduce New Legislation Requiring Mental Health Professional on Military Review Board

April 16, 2014

Bill Would Ensure Service Members With PTSD Get ‘Fair Shake’ 
 Garden City, NY – After hearing from a local Long Island veteran who was discharged from the military as the result of an undiagnosed mental health condition, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced legislation that would require the panel that reviews military discharges to have at least one mental health professional on its board. Senator Gillibrand’s legislation would ensure these service members’ appeals are expertly reviewed – and that the records of service members who were improperly discharged for an incorrect reason, or with a less than honorable rating, can be corrected.

 “The men and women of our military risk their lives to protect our county, and we need to ensure they receive the care they earned and deserve,” said Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  “Too many of our service members have been discharged as a result of an undiagnosed or improperly diagnosed mental health condition. It is important that a mental health professional be included at all review board hearings, ensuring that our service members receive a correct diagnosis and treatment for mental health injuries like PTSD, TBI and MST.”

“Although much has been done by the military to reduce the stigma against invisible wounds, many of those suffering from PTSD, TBI or MST, avoid getting help in order to preserve their careers, and as a result, go undiagnosed and untreated while in the military. Sometimes, symptoms of a service member's mental health injuries can be misinterpreted as acts of misconduct while they're in the military, ultimately resulting in a discharge that is less than honorable,” said Kristofer Goldsmith, president of Student Veterans of Nassau Community College. “Too many veterans have been denied an honorable discharge without ever being properly screened by qualified mental health professionals, and this legislation will make sure that these vets are finally afforded that opportunity.”

“Mental health injuries have become the signature injuries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and this legislation is a needed measure to appropriately review and potentially alter certain discharge statuses,” said Paul Rieckhoff, the CEO and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

John Javis, Director of Special Projects for the Mental Health Association of Nassau County and the Chair of the Veterans Health Alliance enthusiastically supported the legislation. "We encounter many veterans that have been shut out of invaluable services from the VA including mental health, healthcare, housing and employment due to their discharge status. This inability to access earned services and benefits can lead to hopelessness and suicidal thoughts." 

“Men and women who have fought for our country  in Iraq and Afghanistan deserve the best care possible and they must receive adequate and fair treatment upon discharge from the military,” said Andrew Roberts, Director of the Office of Military and Veterans Liaison Services for North Shore-LIJ.

After graduating Mepham high school in 2003, Kris enlisted with the Army as a Forward Observer and was trained to direct artillery fire. He deployed to Iraq in 2005 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom III, where his primary duties were focused on intelligence reporting from the field. These duties included the photo documentation of victims of torture found by his unit in a mass grave. Kris was diagnosed with Chronic Depression, Personality Disorder and Adjustment Disorder when he sought mental health treatment while on active duty.  

He left the Army in 2007 with a General Discharge, with a narrative reason for separation listed as "Misconduct: Serious Offense" after he attempted to take his own life. This type of Discharge status made him ineligible for the Post-9-11 GI Bill, and his mental state left him unemployable for years after leaving the Army. Kris was properly diagnosed with severe PTSD just two months after his discharge by VA doctors. With seven years of treatment from the VA, he is now in the process of recovery from severe PTSD and is going to Nassau Community College under the Voc Rehab program. Kris is the president of Student Veterans of NCC, and is working to help to build a strong network of veterans on Long Island.  He has applied twice to the Army Discharge Review Board to have his discharge upgraded to Honorable, and his appeal has been denied both times.  At his last discharge review hearing, a physician with no background in mental health was called as an expert witness by the Army Discharge Review Board to review his mental health files.

Nearly one million current or former service members were diagnosed with a mental health condition between 2001 and 2011, including at least 30,000 who were diagnosed with “Personality Disorder” or “Adjustment Disorder.”  It was later found that many of these men and women, who were discharged from the military without access to care or benefits, were improperly diagnosed and unjustly denied access to the services, care and benefits they had earned. A Discharge Review Board is a military panel with the legal authority to review military discharges.

Service members who receive a less than Honorable discharge can be denied access to many of the services, care and benefits to which they could be entitled, including G.I. Bill benefits, and can encounter various obstacles when looking for work or housing.