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Why the Navy is making a major change in its approach to PTSD

For years, the military has struggled to deal with the unseen, psychological wounds of war, especially Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Now, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has instituted major changes to the rules affecting sailors and Marines who suffer from PTSD. Mabus joins John Yang to explain the reforms and why they are necessary.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now to a major change being made by the U.S. Navy that will affect servicemen suffering from one of the unseen wounds of war.

    John Yang has that.

  • JOHN YANG:

    The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have killed thousands of American servicemen and maimed and injured tens of thousands more, but some wounds are not as easily seen or identified.

    Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD afflicts as much as one-fifth of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in any given year. Compounding the affliction, personnel who were kicked out of the military because of erratic behavior caused by PTSD, by traumatic brain injury, called TBI, or by other mental health conditions often lose their benefits, including access to veterans health care.

    But that will now change for at least one of the services, navy personnel, sailors and Marines, under a new policy enacted by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

    Secretary Mabus joins us now.

    Thank you for joining us.

    RAY MABUS, Secretary of the Navy: Glad to be here.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Tell us what this new policy is and why you made this change.

  • RAY MABUS:

    The policy that we had been operating under was, if somebody committed misconduct, the erratic behavior you were talking about, that took preference over everything else in terms of a discharge.

    And so people would get discharged with bad paper, with discharges that didn't give them any benefits when they left. What we have done with policy that I have just signed was to say, if you're being administratively discharged for some misconduct, we're going to take a look to see if you have got a diagnosable condition, to see if you have got PTSD, to see if you have got traumatic brain injury, and then that will factor in, so that you may still be discharged, but you will be discharged with benefits, with help that we're going to recognize the reason for this erratic behavior and give you help after you leave the military.

    And it's not just for combat injuries, combat wounds. It's also for things like sexual assault that is often followed by PTSD.

  • JOHN YANG:

    And just to be clear, you say that this conduct took precedence.

    In other words, it didn't matter that the misconduct may have had an underlying cause.

  • RAY MABUS:

    Right.

    The only thing that was looked at was the misconduct. And the discharge was based on that misconduct without why it was caused, without PTSD evaluation, without TBI evaluation. And the awful thing was, when people left under this circumstance, they got no benefits.

    So, they couldn't get into veterans health care. They couldn't get the assistance they needed to deal with PTSD or to deal with traumatic brain injury. It was a pure policy issue. And this is not just for people being discharged now, not just for active-duty people. If you're a veteran, and you were discharged and got bad paper, and so you're not getting any benefits, and you believe that it was caused by in some way or another PTSD or traumatic brain injury, come back. We will take another look at it.

    We will take another run at the determination of the discharge. If it is found by that, you will be able to get your benefits, even if you have been discharged for a while.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Any idea how many men and women that could affect?

  • RAY MABUS:

    The estimates we have got on traumatic brain injury are 46,000 sailors, 49,000 Marines. That's a lot of people. It's hard to know, in terms of why people were discharged, why — what kind of discharges they got.

    This sort of thing, it's hard to know how many are going to fit in under that, but it's clearly not just a few people.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Do you think enough is being done for sailors and Marines to recognize, on the commanders' part, to recognize when behavior may be because of PTSD or traumatic brain injury?

  • RAY MABUS:

    I think we're making progress on that.

    The other part of this policy is that, if you're going to be discharged and there's a possibility you will be discharged without benefits, that discharge decision was moved way up in the chain of command. It has got to be done by an admiral or a general, a flag officer, instead of where it used to be, which was a unit commander, which would be lieutenant colonel, colonel, somewhere around in there.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Mr. Secretary, do you think the other services will follow your lead on this?

  • RAY MABUS:

    Well, I certainly hope so.

    And we have had some talks with the other services on how we implemented this and what the new policy is. And so this is the right thing to do.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Let me ask you one more question about an issue facing the modern military. The Pentagon just recently had their LGBT pride event.

    Secretary Carter said last year that he would — was looking to change the policy to allow transgender people to serve in the military. That new policy was due five months ago. Can you give us any insight into what the issues are that are holding this up?

  • RAY MABUS:

    I know that the process is ongoing. We have participated in the process in terms of transgender.

    And I think that, from Secretary Carter's memo, when he set this out, it's not if, but when. It's not if, but how. We had all expected the policy before now, but things take a while sometimes.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Very good.

    Secretary Ray Mabus, thank you for being with us.

  • RAY MABUS:

    Appreciate it, John.

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