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Marine commanders would be required to intervene in cases in which combat-hardened Marines with clean records have gotten into trouble after suffering combat stress, under a proposed order.
The directive, which has not yet been signed by Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway, would require medical officers to screen for combat stress or traumatic brain injury all Marines who engage in uncharacteristic misconduct after returning from combat.
The misconduct could include drug use, unauthorized absences or disrespectful conduct and could result in a dismissal from service and the denial of Department of Veterans Affairs services.
"Post-deployment misconduct, especially in a Marine who previously served honorably, must be considered a possible indicator of an undiagnosed stress injury or a mild traumatic brain injury that, if confirmed, deserves immediate and comprehensive treatment," the order said.
The order is under review and has no release date, said Navy Capt. William Nash, who coordinates the Marines' combat-stress program.
At least one-third of 1,019 combat-veteran Marines who received less-than-honorable discharges for misconduct showed evidence of mental health problems, according to Marine Corps research Nash disclosed in June.
USA Today reported last year that veterans with less-than-honorable discharges are usually denied VA health care benefits.
Nash said in June the Marine Corps lacked enough mental health caregivers to screen troops where misconduct occurred. The draft order appears to address that problem by allowing the preliminary examinations to be carried out by unit medical officers.
It "may not be justice" to strip a Marine of benefits after a dismissal linked to combat stress, Nash said.
The order does not absolve Marines of responsibility for their actions, even if they are the result of stress or brain damage.
However, the order said, "immediate screening for these conditions is also essential. Early treatment and screening when indicated without delay for legal proceedings gives the Marine the greatest chance of recovery."
The Marine proposal will "put physical and psychological injuries on the table when acts of misconduct are being considered," said Shelley MacDermid, a Purdue University professor who chaired a task force that highlighted the problem of combat stress-related misconduct in June.