Fairness for Veterans Act of 2016 (HR 4683, 114th Congress)

The Policy

What it does

Amends the standards for review of military discharge or dismissal regarding post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries.

Synopsis

Increasingly, traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and mental disorders like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are being recognized as diseases sustained by military members in the line of duty. As such, the “Fairness for Veterans Act of 2016” revises the current discharge review process—which reevaluates the initial conditions of discharge for a former armed forces member—to mandate a board’s review of medical evidence concerning a TBI or PTSD. Changing an armed service member’s discharge conditions can affect veteran benefits and often provide compensation for treatment of disease. Specifically, H.R. 4683 amends Section 1553(d) of Title 10 of the United States Code to additionally require the discharge review board to:

  • Review medical evidence for a veteran 1) who was diagnosed with PTSD or TBI as a result of a deployment, and 2) whose application for relief from the terms of military discharge include a PTSD or TBI related to combat or military sexual trauma;
  • Evaluate the case with a presumption in favor of the fact that PTSD or TBI resulted in a lesser discharge for a veteran than is appropriate.

Context

The Science

Science Synopsis

TBI and PTSD are two types of related head and mental disorders increasingly sustained by members of the armed forces in combat. A TBI occurs when a sudden trauma, like a blow or jolt to the head, causes damage to the brain; this can also be caused by a “shock wave” from an explosion. The trauma can result in a range of symptoms; effects can be both short and long-term. Mild impacts include dizziness, whereas more severe outcomes encompass extended periods of unconsciousness or amnesia. Symptoms may also include difficulty walking or speaking, fatigue, problems with thinking, attention, and memory, as well as other personality changes like depression or irritability. According to a report by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, approximately 14-20% of surviving casualties sustained in combat suffer a TBI.

PTSD is a mental disorder that develops following a traumatic event. Symptoms fall into multiple categories, including:

  • “Re-experiencing,” which is characterized by flashbacks, bad dreams and frightening thoughts;
  • “Avoidance,” such as aversion to emotions relating to the catalyzing incident;
  • “Arousal and reactivity,” demonstrated by tension, being easily startled, or having outbursts; and
  • “Cognition and mood,” evidenced by a waning interest in previously enjoyable activities, distorted and negative emotions, and problems with memory.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 11-20% of those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan develop PTSD in the line of duty.


The Debate

Endorsements & Opposition

Endorsements:

  • This bill is broadly supported by military support and advocacy groups.
  • The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America offered a letter of support: “We appreciate the bill’s provisions, which aim to ensure proper due process for service members whose posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental traumas should have been diagnosed and considered prior to their discharge from the military. Too often, we see our men and women in uniform erroneously receiving an administrative discharge rather than a honorable discharge, due to the traumatic experiences that alter their behavior.”
  • In a letter of support, the organization Men Recovering from Military Sexual Trauma states: “#‎MaleMST [male military sexual trauma] survivors are often affected by these unfair and weaponized discharges. Often, ‪#‎MST survivors are given these discharges as a final act of retaliation by their chain of command for reporting a sexual assault.”

Opposition:

  • At present, there have not been publicly stated reports of opposition specifically to this bill.