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Why has the Army kicked out more than 20,000 soldiers for misconduct since 2009? That's something that 12 U.S. senators are asking the Army inspector general to investigate. These soldiers came back from Iraq and Afghanistan with mental health problems and traumatic brain injuries. And the new investigation is a result of NPR's reporting last week in collaboration with Colorado Public Radio. NPR's Danny Zwerdling reports.
DANIEL ZWERDLING, BYLINE: The senators signed a group letter today, and they sent it to the acting secretary of the Army and the Army's top general.
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CHRIS MURPHY: Dear honorable Fanning and General Milley...
ZWERDLING: That's Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut reading the letter. He organized this effort. The letter calls on the Army's inspector general to find out if thousands of troops were wrongfully dismissed. Murphy read it for us.
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MURPHY: ...That the U.S. Army is violating the intent of...
ZWERDLING: The Army got the letter this morning, but the controversy has been simmering for years. NPR and other media started reporting almost 10 years ago that a lot of officers were kicking out soldiers instead of helping them after they came home from the wars with mental health problems. These were soldiers who showed up late for formation or got caught driving drunk. Mental health specialists said that kind of behavior is common among troops who went through trauma. And as a result, Congress passed a law in 2009 that basically told the military, look; you shouldn't just toss out soldiers like that. You have to consider, did the war help trigger their behavior? Since then, nobody has checked how the Army is following that law until now. NPR and Colorado Public Radio learned that since the law went into effect, the Army has kicked out 22,000 soldiers who'd been diagnosed with mental health problems or TBI.
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MURPHY: I would argue that the military should err on the side of caution, that if there's a question as to whether that act of misconduct is connected to this disability, they should give the soldiers the benefit of the doubt.
ZWERDLING: We asked Army officials for their reaction to the senator's letter. A spokesman wrote that the Army will, quote, "respond accordingly," unquote. You might think that if anybody would applaud calls for the Army to investigate, it'd be activists who help soldiers when the Army tried to toss them out. But one of the leading advocates denounced what the senators are doing. Andrew Pagani gives soldiers legal services for free under the name Uniformed Services Justice and Advocacy Group.
ANDREW PAGANI: I think giving anything back to the Army or the Department of Defense is a terrible idea because we've been down this road before, and nothing ever changes.
ZWERDLING: Pigani showed us numerous emails that he sent to generals and other top officials over the years. He kept pleading with them to investigate this issue, but he says they didn't follow up.
PAGANI: What really needs to happen - an independent investigation commission or an independence truth commission needs to be stood up in order to get to the bottom of this and to produce results.
ZWERDLING: Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office has started its own investigation into whether the Army's kicking out soldiers who need help. Daniel Zwerdling, NPR News.
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