Military service places a significant physical and emotional toll on our men and women in uniform. Those who serve on the front lines to protect U.S. national security often face considerable hardship and witness unimaginable brutality to shield loved ones at home from the evils of tyranny and terrorism.
When war veterans return home, many soldiers also confront an invisible toll, burdened with psychological troubles as they struggle to integrate back into the workforce, society and family life.
Throughout my service in the U.S. Senate, I have worked to champion the interests of Iowa military veterans, from protecting veterans' access to affordable, quality health care close to home, including rural outpatient clinics; to raising better awareness about education benefits through the G.I. program; calling for suicide prevention and outreach to troubled veterans; and hiring vets for federal jobs (in fact, at my prodding the IRS fulfilled its commitment to hire 1,000 vets in fiscal year 2008).
Too often we hear stories about returning veterans struggling with homelessness, unemployment, alcoholism or depression. But an unknown number of personal stories go unreported from veterans with unseen injuries. From my leadership position in the U.S. Senate, I am working to raise awareness and change public policy to improve treatment and care for veterans and service members who have suffered mental injuries, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury from their service in zones of combat.
My advocacy was prompted by the case of an Iowa Marine struggling with PTSD. Following his tour of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, Jeremy Smerud was not provided appropriate screening upon his return to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Therefore, his PTSD was undiagnosed and untreated. As a result, this Iowa Marine was facing an involuntary dismissal for conduct linked to his PTSD. The separation would have severed his access to military or veterans' benefits, including health services necessary to treat his PTSD. Fortunately, this soldier's situation was resolved favorably. But others might not have a positive outcome.
That's why I'm supporting bipartisan legislation that would direct the Obama Administration and the Pentagon to do right by the soldiers returning from combat zones. The bill would guarantee a medical review for returning veterans to diagnose PTSD or traumatic brain injuries and would require these diagnoses to be considered during any future discharge proceedings.
Recently, I wrote to the President for his continued support on another veterans issue related to military discharges. In 2007 I worked with then-Sen. Barack Obama to fight against the military's misuse of personality disorder discharges. A 2008 government audit reviewed the files of 26,000 enlisted service members who were discharged from their military service because of a personality disorder. Of those, 2,800 had been deployed at least once to Iraq or Afghanistan. The study by the Government Accountability Office raises a red flag. Common sense suggests that service in a hazardous combat zone needs to be carefully considered during a discharge proceeding related to "pre-existing" personality disorders. It is especially troubling to the thousands of service members who are mistakenly dismissed for "pre-existing" personality disorders because this disqualifies these soldiers from military service benefits and may render these men and women ineligible for medical care from the Department of Veterans Affairs. On top of such a "thanks-but-no-thanks" gesture for their military service, those service members discharged for personality disorders are forced to repay thousands of dollars to the federal government in re-enlistment bonuses they may earned while serving in hazardous combat conditions.