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Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman seeking Senate support for wounded soldiers investigation

By Dave Philipps Updated: September 4, 2013 at 7:52 am 0

Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman is looking for Senate support for an amendment that would create a Congressional commission to investigate whether the military is wrongly discharging wounded troops without benefits.

So far he hasn't found it in Colorado.

"I've reached out to Colorado's senators. I haven't heard back," said Coffman, a Republican who represents Denver suburbs.

Coffman introduced the amendment in June, after an investigation by The Gazette showed increasing numbers of troops are being discharged from the Army for misconduct, including wounded combat veterans with such injuries as posttraumatic stress disorder. The amendment to the 2014 Defense Authorization Act would create a Commission on Military Behavioral Health and Disciplinary Issues.

The 10-member commission would be formed within 30 days of passage of the bill and have power to hold hearings on whether systematic problems in the military are causing wounded troops to be kicked out for exhibiting behavior related to their injuries. The commission would be required to report its findings and recommendations to the president and Congress within a year of its creation. Coffman hopes to use the commission's findings to pass legislation creating more protection for wounded veterans.

The bill passed the House in June and is awaiting a vote by the Senate, which returns from its August recess Monday. The Defense Authorization Act, which funds the military, is passed every year, though not all amendments make it to the final bill.

Coffman, an Iraq War veteran who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, has requested that Colorado Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats, sponsor an identical amendment in the Senate that would add the creation of the commission to the Senate version of the bill.

So far, Coffman said, he has received no response.

Representatives of the senators said the lawmakers are studying the amendment, but had made no decision to sponsor an amendment.

Once the Senate approves its version of the Defense Authorization Act, any differences in the Senate and House versions will be sorted out in committee.

"The commission can still be created without a Senate sponsor, but their help will ensure it is in the final bill," said Coffman.

The Gazette in May showed the number of soldiers discharged from the Army for misconduct has surged 67 percent since 2009 at posts with the most combat troops. Factors driving the surge in discharges, including those at Fort Carson, include an overwhelmed medical discharge system and requirements to reduce the Army by at least 80,000 troops by 2017.

"I just think it is stunning," said Coffman. "People are being removed from the Army for minor infractions. I know the Army has to thin their numbers but it seems like they are trying to do it by looking at conduct. We've never done that before and it doesn't seem right."

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