U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Senate Armed Services Committee member, announced today that the Senate has passed her legislation that would require the panel that reviews military discharges to have either a mental health professional or a doctor with a mental health certification on its board. After hearing from Kristofer Goldsmith, a local Long Island veteran who was discharged from the military as the result of an undiagnosed mental health condition, Gillibrand introduced the Military Mental Health Review Board Improvement Act in April, which would ensure these service members' appeals are expertly reviewed -- and that the records of service members who were improperly discharged for an incorrect reason, or with a less than honorable rating, can be corrected. The legislation passed the Senate today as part of the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act and now heads to the President for signature.
Nearly one million current or former service members were diagnosed with a mental health condition between 2001 and 2011, including at least 30,000 who were diagnosed with "Personality Disorder" or "Adjustment Disorder." It was later found that many of these men and women, who were discharged from the military without access to care or benefits, were improperly diagnosed and unjustly denied access to the services, care and benefits they had earned. A Discharge Review Board is a military panel with the legal authority to review military discharges.
Service members who receive a less than Honorable discharge can be denied access to many of the services, care and benefits to which they could be entitled, including G.I. Bill benefits, and can encounter various obstacles when looking for work or housing.
"We must ensure that the men and women of our military who risk their lives to protect our country receive the care they earned," said Senator Gillibrand. "Too many of our service members have been discharged as a result of an undiagnosed or improperly diagnosed mental health condition. It is important that a mental health professional be included at all review board hearings, ensuring that our service members receive a correct diagnosis and treatment for mental health injuries like PTSD, TBI and MST."
"Thanks to Senator Gillibrand's legislation, from now on, every veteran can be confident that they'll have the benefit of a properly trained review board," said Kristofer Goldsmith. "Justice is finally within reach for the countless veterans who, like me, have been inappropriately discharged from the military due to improperly or undiagnosed service-related illnesses and injuries."
After graduating Mepham high school in 2003, Kristofer Goldsmith, president of Student Veterans of Nassau Community College, enlisted with the Army as a Forward Observer and was trained to direct artillery fire. He deployed to Iraq in 2005 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom III, where his primary duties were focused on intelligence reporting from the field. These duties included the photo documentation of victims of torture found by his unit in a mass grave. Kris was diagnosed with Chronic Depression, Personality Disorder and Adjustment Disorder when he sought mental health treatment while on active duty.
He left the Army in 2007 with a General Discharge, with a narrative reason for separation listed as "Misconduct: Serious Offense" after he attempted to take his own life. This type of Discharge status made him ineligible for the Post-9-11 GI Bill, and his mental state left him unemployable for years after leaving the Army. Kris was properly diagnosed with severe PTSD just two months after his discharge by VA doctors. With seven years of treatment from the VA, he is now in the process of recovery from severe PTSD and is going to Nassau Community College under the Voc Rehab program. Kris is the president of Student Veterans of NCC, and is working to help to build a strong network of veterans on Long Island. He has applied twice to the Army Discharge Review Board to have his discharge upgraded to Honorable, and his appeal has been denied both times. At his last discharge review hearing, a physician with no background in mental health was called as an expert witness by the Army Discharge Review Board to review his mental health files.