Three out of every five service members in the armed forces discharged for misconduct had mental health issues like post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or other "adjustment" issues like drinking, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.
Because those service members did not receive an honorable discharge – sometimes called a "bad paper" discharge – they could lose out on health benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs or on education benefits from the GI bill.
The study by the GAO looked at four years worth of data in reaching its conclusion. The study also found gaps in how soldiers, sailors and Marines are evaluated for mental health issues — if they're evaluated at all — near the time of their separation.
On Monday, a group of veterans announced a new class action lawsuit against the Pentagon, with an assist from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., charging that the Department of Defense isn't taking seriously the numerous requests from service members who are asking that their bad-paper discharges be upgraded.
Stephen Kennedy of Connecticut is one of the veterans leading the lawsuit.
"As my PTSD became impossible to manage on my own, my commander told me that the only way I could receive treatment was by leaving the Army with a bad paper discharge," Kennedy said. "Just like that, the Army wiped away years of distinguished service to my country and deemed it less than honorable."
Kennedy had been on a fast track to promotion to sergeant, according to the Hartford Courant.
The Department of Defense questioned the methods and statistical accuracy of some of the GAO's report. After pointing out several possible issues with how the data was gathered, the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs said, "the inflated figures create the false impression that the majority of Service members administratively separated for misconduct had psychological health conditions that would explain their misconduct."
In 2014, the DOD took the unusual step of saying they would reconsider the "bad paper" discharges of thousands of Vietnam Veterans who suffered from combat-related PTSD.
A group of veterans also tried to raise the issue near the end of President Barack Obama's term in office, asking why he had commuted the sentence of several felons, but had not pardoned some who had been kicked out of service for behavior that might have been linked to PTSD.