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Groundbreaking new policy helps Marines, sailors suffering from mental health issues avoid ‘bad paper discharges’

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General Neller and Mabus

Veterans groups and families of military service members around the country are applauding the recent, unprecedented move by the Secretary of the Navy, to change the rules when it comes to involuntary separation– due to a diagnosed mental health condition.

Last week, Sec. Ray Mabus announced that sailors and Marines suffering from PTSD or traumatic brain injury (TBI) will undergo an evaluation before a final decision is made on their involuntary separation.

Mabus said that keeping faith with veterans under all circumstances is “our solemn vow” and that “we have a responsibility to support their needs, whether they are serving the Navy and Marine Corps mission around the globe or transitioning from uniformed service to civilian life.”

At issue here are other-than-honorable discharges that affect a veteran’s ability to receive benefits, among other things.

In the past, it was usually misconduct that led to involuntary separation.

The mental health of the service member was never taken into consideration, but now it will be.

According to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center – more than 46,000 sailors and 49,000 Marines have been diagnosed with TBI since 2000. The National Center for PTSD estimates that up to 20% of veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer PTSD in a given year, Marine Corps Times reported.

Service members who believe this new change in policy will affect their ‘separation characterization or disposition’ can file a petition for relief through the Board for Correction of Naval Records, the Times article said.

Veterans groups like Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) –which has over 400,000 members –are applauding Mabus’ decision. They are hoping the other branches will follow the lead of the Navy and Marine Corps.

IAVA founder Paul Rieckhoff said that “Mabus and the Navy displayed outstanding leadership today with their expanded recognition of the invisible wounds of war.”

There’s still a lot more that needs to be done, however to fix this growing problem among our vets.

“This is a good first step, however it is just one of many the Navy must take to protect its ill and injured sailors and Marines from receiving less-than-honorable discharges,” said John Rowan, national president of Vietnam Veteran of America.

Rowan also said: “This new directive is a welcome departure from previous Navy regulations, which allowed commanders to abruptly terminate sailors and Marines for alleged acts of misconduct, without consideration or regard for the mental health of the veteran.”

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