Troops with PTSD, other conditions, discharged for misconduct

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A joint military exercise by Filipino and American soldiers

(CNN) — Thousands of US service members with serious health conditions such as PTSD, traumatic brain injury, mental health disorders or substance abuse have been discharged for misconduct in recent years, a new government watchdog report found.

The US Government Accountability Office report title summed up its recommendation: "Actions Needed to Ensure Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury Are Considered in Misconduct Separations."

The GAO report found that 62% of service members (57,141 of 91,764) who were discharged between 2011 and 2015 had received diagnoses such as PTSD, TBI and other serious conditions within two years before they were let go.

PTSD and TBI are "signature wounds" of conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the Department of Defense. Such injuries and conditions can affect a person's behavior, which could lead to their discharge, the GAO report pointed out.

Getting discharged for misconduct has serious repercussions for former military men and women as this disqualifies them from receiving health benefits from Veterans Affairs.

"Unless the policy inconsistencies are resolved and routine monitoring is undertaken to ensure adherence, the risk increases that service members may be inappropriately separated for misconduct without adequate consideration of these conditions' effects on behavior, separation characterization, or eligibility for VA benefits and services," the report says.

The report also highlighted other issues for the Department of Defense:

The Navy doesn't require a medical examination for certain service members to assess whether PTSD or TBI diagnosis is a factor in the person's alleged misconduct. The Army and Marine Corps may not follow their own policies related to PTSD and TBI. The GAO reviewed 48 sample separation packets and found that 18 of them didn't have documentation that the service member had been screened for PTSD.

The report made five recommendations to the Department of Defense, urging it to address inconsistencies in its policies, better training for service members on identifying TBI and PTSD, screening service members before discharging them for misconduct, and counseling about VA benefits and services.

The Pentagon did not agree with the recommendation to address inconsistencies in policies, but concurred on the other suggestions.

CNN reached out to the Pentagon for comment on Wednesday morning but didn't get a response.

The report notes that the DOD had concerns about the way the GAO calculated its numbers. In a March 24 letter to the report authors, acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs David Smith wrote that people who had PTSD and a TBI were counted twice. Smith said the number of individuals is "significantly lower" than one cited in a draft report.

The GAO disagreed, but said it made clarifications to the final report on how its number was derived.

CNN's Steve Almasy contributed to this report.

This story was first published in CNN.com, "Troops with PTSD, other conditions, discharged for misconduct."