Where the Heck on H.R. 975?

VeteransOn March 5, 2013 Representative Timothy Walz (D-MN) introduced H.R. 975 in the 113th Congress of the United States.  The full ‘title’ of the bill is as follows:

“To amend title 10, United States Code, to extend the duration of the Physical Disability Board of Review and to the expand the authority of such Board to review of the separation of members of the Armed Forces on the basis of a mental condition not amounting to disability, including separation on the basis of a personality or adjustment disorder.”

The Fleet Reserve Association explains why this act would be beneficial for our veterans:

“FRA recommends support the for “Servicemembers Mental Health Review Act” (S. 628), sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.) and its House companion bill (H.R. 975) sponsored by Rep. Tim Walz (Minn.) The bills would authorize the Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR) to review and, when necessary, correct service records for veterans diagnosed by DoD with a Personality Disorder (PD) or Adjustment Disorder (AD) and discharged after active duty deployment. Many of these brave veterans have seen combat and may actually be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS). Because PD and AD are considered pre-existing conditions, the DoD is not obligated to award the benefits they earned that may help them properly reintegrate into their communities.”  (emphasis added)

Now why would the Fleet Reserve Association, and others, be calling for a bill to review the application of Personality Disorders and Adjustment Disorders diagnoses?  Part of the answer is revealed in a Viet Nam Veterans study (pdf) from the Yale Law School legal services department published in February 2014.

According to the study of Coast Guard applications of PD and AD labels the study found, “The vast majority of AD and PD discharges failed to comply with Coast Guard regulations 255 of a random sample of 265 discharges analyzed violated regulations in some way. ”  More disturbingly, the study found that 100% of the combined AD and PD discharges between FY 2001 and FY 2005 (and FY 2008, FY 2012) were not in compliance with Coast Guard regulations.  And the problem continues — since 2009 the number of AD and PD discharges has risen.

It’s not just the Coast Guard, and it’s not just a few veterans, and it’s not that the problem has not been noticed before.    The problem has been, more or less, in the public domain since 2007.   Dr. Debra Draper, GAO testified to the House Committee on Veteran Affairs, “DoD data show that from November 1, 2001, through June 30, 2007, about 26,000 enlisted servicemembers were separated from the military because of a personality disorder. Of these 26,000 servicemembers, about 2,800 had deployed at least once in support of OEF/OIF.”   As of 2009 there were questions about the response to GAO recommendations from the Pentagon.   The GAO observed that the services had saved some $12.5 billion in health care and compensation via the AD/PD discharge route. [DP]

So, there has been a problem, there is a problem, and so far 49 members of the House have signed on as co-sponsors of this legislation.  None from Nevada, a state with approximately 246,000 veterans. [VA pdf] There are five sponsors for Senator Jon Tester’s version (S. 628), none from Nevada.

H.R. 975 was assigned to the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Military Personnel on March 26, 2013, one of the members of this subcommittee is Representative Joe Heck (R-NV).

There were some tangential references  to the discharge label issues in the last Defense Appropriations Bill “(Sec. 593) Establishes the Commission on Military Behavioral Health and Disciplinary Issues to study the adequacy of DOD mechanisms for disciplinary military personnel action in addressing the behavioral impact of service-connected mental disorders and traumatic brain injury.”   However,  in today’s  insurance parlance  AD and PD are “pre-existing conditions,” which may not fall under the “service connected” classifications.  In short, not enough has been done, and it appears that not enough is being done.   It’s a topic Representative Heck might want to bring up at the next meeting of his Subcommittee on Military Personnel.

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