The Army gave a Special Forces captain with 17 years of service and a Purple Heart only 14 days of notice to separate from the Army — leaving him and his family scrambling to figure out how to pay all their bills for at least the next few months.
To make matters worse, a medical board had qualified him to receive a $250,000 severance package for injuries he sustained while serving in combat in Iraq in 2007. But an Army assistant deputy secretary ignored that recommendation and instead ordered that he be separated with nothing.
The captain had been planning, as part of a warrior transition program with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), to begin training at the VA beginning in late January through April. The program allows active duty soldiers transitioning out of the military to receive their military pay while training to become a service representative at the VA. However, due to the Army’s ruling, he would not be an active duty soldier when the program begins, and thus not be eligible for the program.
The VA has granted several people, including him, an exception to start training, but he will not receive any pay during the training.
The captain, in addition to monthly mortgage and other bills, is also supporting a family of five — himself, his wife who is attending pharmacy school, and his three children, 13, 11, and three.
His three-year-old daughter will lose her ability to attend military base daycare once her father is separated from the Army. The family will have to find childcare while not making any income for at least several months. While he will have health care at the VA, his immediate family will not, until he finds another job at the VA or elsewhere.
All of this is happening due to an extramarital affair he had five years ago, in 2015. He asked not to be identified out of concern over retaliation as well as hurting his future job prospects.
After six combat deployments and injuries from an improvised explosive device (IED) in 2007, he was suffering from chronic lower back pain, traumatic brain injury, and marital problems. He said his then-wife refused to work on their problems, instead wanting to appear “picture perfect” to the outside world.
He fell into a dark period and considered suicide. It was at that time he started an affair, which lasted for two-and-a-half months, while on a deployment. He said the woman was married to an Army staff sergeant, who he did not know personally, and that they were already going through a divorce. After seeking help, he confessed to his wife about the affair. They then went to marital counseling.
They would eventually divorce, but as he was going through marital counseling, he told his chain of command about the affair in October 2016. He was then relieved of his duties, had his clearance suspended, and was suspended from work for 11 months. His suspension ended when he received a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand (GOMOR) in 2017, which is essentially a letter of reprimand, from the 1st Special Forces Command commander.
Things seemed to get better after his suspension ended, however. He was assigned to work at his Special Forces Group’s headquarters in a “rehabilitation assignment,” where he deployed to Germany and worked on sensitive activities to deter Russian aggression and excelled at that job. After the deployment, he was then given an executive officer position in a company, essentially becoming second in command. He was remarried in the fall of 2018 and getting treatment for his injuries.
Around that time, he was informed that the GOMOR had triggered a board of inquiry on whether he should be separated from the Army. His deputy commander and two battalion commanders wrote letters to the board in his defense, arguing he should be allowed to stay in the Army.
A Special Forces colonel and group commander he served under wrote in an August 2018 letter:
[He] has accepted responsibility for the actions documented in his GOMOR and referred [Officer Evaluation Report]. He continues to serve our Nation, the Army, and our Soldiers at a very high level — the Army should retain him.
We assess [his] leadership as sound. His professional performance warrants continued service. He has expiated his personal and professional transgressions through hard personal and professional work.
His battalion commander wrote in a separate August 2018 letter:
I unequivocally recommend that [he] be retained on active duty as a Special Forces Officer. Prior to the incident in 2015, [he] performed exceptionally well as an officer in the U.S. Army. After receiving a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand, [he] continued to be a top officer, performing with distinction as a CPT in this highly talented Special Forces Group. I witnessed [his] leadership, critical thinking, and ability to make a difference in our Soldiers’ lives.
I believe [he] understands his errors and fully redeemed himself. In retention, I believe [he] will live the Army values, continue to be a strong performer, and excel as a Special Forces CPT. I strongly recommend this officer be afforded the opportunity for continued service as a Special Forces Officer.
Another battalion commander wrote:
His work ethic and commitment to excellence was apparent with his ability to manage, plan, and execute sensitive activities for a forward deployed O-6 headquarters, a task usually assigned to a seasoned Field Grade Officer. [He] is an officer that can always be counted on to complete any task assigned and is a great asset to the Army and the Special Forces Regiment. He should be retained and given the opportunity to lead in the future.
And a major and direct supervisor wrote:
With one exception, [his] professional record depicts a high performing and accomplished Army Officer, which is consistent with my personal observations over the past eight months as his supervisor. During a recent deployment, [he] was provisionally assigned to my office. I found [him] to be a distinctly competent, hardworking, and motivated Captain. His initiative, leadership, and concern for Soldiers impressed me.
I respectfully request retention of [him] in the U.S. Army as a Special Forces Officer.
Despite the letters, the Army board of inquiry decided on February 28, 2019, that he would be separated with an honorable discharge. About a month later, his doctors recommended he be evaluated by a medical board and seek medical separation or retirement due to his injuries.
A physical evaluation board on November 1, 2019, found him to be physically unfit for duty due to his IED-related injuries and recommended he be medically separated from the Army with severance pay. The board’s rating and his 17 years of service qualified him for an approximately $250,000 severance package.
His lawyers told him it would take six to nine months for the Army to adjudicate the board of injury’s ruling and the medical board’s recommendation, which would give him roughly until May 2020 to transition out of the Army. He then applied for the VA training program.
Despite a medical separation usually taking precedence over other kinds of separation, on January 6, 2020, Army Assistant Deputy Secretary Alexander Conyers convened an “ad hoc review board” and denied his medical separation and severance pay, and instead gave him an honorable discharge and just 14 days notice of separation from the Army.
The captain has sought help from Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), whose office has queried the Army about his case. The Army told his office in a January 10, 2010, letter obtained by Breitbart News:
The Department of Army Ad Hoc Review Board subsequently reviewed the case. The elimination is based on both misconduct and moral or professional dereliction (army Regulation 600-8-24, paragraph 4-2b), and derogatory information (Army Regulation 600-8-24, paragraph 4-2c).
Gardner’s office said in a letter that the Army has not addressed all the issues his case raises and that he will be following up on his case with the Army.
Aside from being denied a medical separation with severance pay, he has been denied the ability to take 67 days of leave he has built up or transition leave, which could have allowed him to continue to be paid while training with the VA through April. The Army instead bought back his days of leave for about $11,000, but that may not be approved until March.
“Now my daughter will not have daycare. I will not have a job. I am looking and applying, and my family will not have health care until I find a new job. My entire family is struggling with this news. My wife is applying for residency programs, and she does not believe she will be able to do them now that I will not have a job and the severance package,” he said.
“I have served with honor. I have been wounded in combat, and when I come forward with my problems, the Army did not care and just threw me away,” he said.
The captain has also looked at recent high-profile cases where soldiers who were convicted have been pardoned. “I am looking for mercy to save me and my family,” he said.
He will also likely have chronic back pain for the rest of his life. “Sometimes I can’t even walk,” he said.
He is due to be discharged from the Army on Monday, January 20, 2020. Since Monday is a federal holiday, he cleared his workspace on Friday.
Veteran advocates agree it is unusual that a medical board recommendation not take precedence over a board of inquiry.
Andrew Pogany, an Army veteran who runs a non-profit to help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, said this kind of stress can lead those serving to a path of suicide.
“It’s a horrific sad reality of how this nation treats those who have honorably served,” he said.
Breitbart News queried the Army as to why he was being honorably discharged versus medically separated, whether his discharge is a result of him coming forward with mental health and marital issues, and why he was given only two weeks notice to leave the Army instead of allowed to use 67 days of earned leave.
An Army spokesman responded that due to privacy concerns, the Army was not able to discuss the specifics of the case.
This story has been updated.