Mental health now part of Navy’s discharge considerations

The Department of the Navy has become the first branch of the military to begin taking mental health into consideration before discharging a sailor or a marine.

Service members with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury cannot be separated from the service without the DoN taking those conditions into consideration, even in cases of misconduct.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus signed the new administrative separation policy, which takes effect immediately, on June 1.

“Keeping faith with veterans under all circumstances is our solemn vow,” Mabus said. “It is vitally important to address those service members whose separation is a result of PTSD [or] TBI.”

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In a reversal of prior policy, mental health conditions such as PTSD will weigh more heavily in separation considerations than misconduct, especially if the diagnosed condition may have contributed to the transgression. This will lead to fewer veterans with PTSD and TBI having their benefits adversely affected.

Officials now can refer service members with diagnosed mental conditions to the Disability Evaluation System. In addition, veterans who were separated under the previous policy can petition the discharge board or Board for Correction of Naval Records to review their cases.

Joe Davis, director of public affairs for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, praised the policy change.

“This is an outstanding decision by Secretary Mabus because now command must justify what used to be the easy way out—to administratively discharge a sailor or Marine instead of finding out why this super troop all of a sudden isn’t,” Davis said in an email to Federal News Radio. “Such sometimes heartless decisions impact lives and veterans benefits, plus it separates naysayers back into their communities, not the advocates that an all-volunteer force requires.  The VFW urges the other services to quickly follow Navy’s lead.”

This is the latest in a series of reforms announced by Mabus in May 2015. Mabus announced last year that the Navy would be overhauling a number of personnel changes, including revamped physical requirements, new gender-neutral uniforms and private industry training partnerships for promotion.

One month later, the DoN extended maternity leave from six to 18 weeks in June 2015. The Air Force followed suit 6 months after, in January 2016.