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The fiscal 2014 compromise defense authorization bill would change part of a law that has allowed the services to skirt a requirement to provide mental health and medical exams to all combat troops facing an other-than-honorable discharge.
By law, troops facing administrative separation under other-than-honorable conditions cannot be discharged until they have received an exam and the results have been reviewed by higher-ups.
The intent is to determine whether post-traumatic stress disorder, another combat-related mental health condition or traumatic brain injury contributed to the discipline issues prompting the separation.
But the law contains an exception in cases involving courts-martial and other Uniform Code of Military Justice proceedings. The Army took the legislation to mean that the exception applies to those who accept an administrative discharge in lieu of a court-martial, according to a source with knowledge of the defense bill deliberations.
The compromise bill clarifies that such a separation is “an administrative separation within the meaning of this statute.”
“By taking this action, the [House Armed Services Committee] ensures that service members are not disadvantaged due to combat-related injuries,” the original report on the House bill stated.
According to a Seattle Times investigation, more than 20,000 soldiers and Marines left the service between 2008 and 2012 with other-than-honorable discharges.
A recent NPR report puts the number of other-than-honorable discharges at 100,000 since Sept. 11, 2001.
Such discharges largely disqualify veterans from receiving Veterans Affairs Department compensation and benefits, including health care. They also disqualify former troops from accessing their education benefits and often hinder job searches, as many employers and employment programs accept only those with honorable discharges.