The Army will probe misconduct discharges given to troops diagnosed with mental illness, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet announced Thursday.
Bennet, D-Colo., said Army Secretary Eric Fanning ordered the investigation to answer congressional inquiries that followed a string of media reports that questioned the practice, including a Pulitzer Prize-winning series by The Gazette.
"We've heard serious concerns that soldiers have been wrongfully discharged for actions related to their behavioral health diagnoses," Bennet said in a statement.
The Gazette in October found that the Army had curtailed its use of other- than-honorable discharges but had significantly increased the number of soldiers given administrative punishments and kicked out for misconduct. National Public Radio released an October report accusing the Army of eliminating as many as 22,000 soldiers suffering from mental illness since 2009.
"We're glad this investigation will move forward so we can learn more facts," Bennet said. "Our brave men and women in uniform sacrifice so much in service to our country, and we need to ensure they receive the quality care they need."
Misconduct discharges can leave former soldiers without medical and disability benefits. The Army denies it targeted mentally ill troops for misconduct discharges.
In an Oct. 25 Gazette report, the service outlined practices including reviews by mental health professionals to ensure soldiers are treated fairly. The Gazette investigation found that even with upgraded discharges, wounded troops can face bureaucratic obstacles for care. Soldiers who get other-than-honorable discharges have a hard time finding work.
The investigation announcement came on the same day Bennet introduced an amendment to boost hiring of medical staff for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240