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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Northwest Soldier Gets 'Other Than Honorable' Discharge Reversed

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Former soldier Jarrid Starks, in 2012, after the Army gave him an ''other than honorable'' discharge following tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Starks recently received news that his discharge has been upgraded.

Note: This story is an update to a story first reported in 2012 in collaboration with the Seattle Times.

Between 2008 and 2011, more than 20,000 soldiers and Marines were given “other than honorable” discharges from the military. Now, one soldier from Salem, Oregon, has learned his discharge will be upgraded.

In Afghanistan, Jarrid Starks earned a Bronze Star for Valor. But when he got home, he said PTSD and depression took over. In 2012, Starks voluntarily left the Army after he was charged with marijuana use and going absent without leave.

“I’ve been stripped of all rank, I’ve been denied an honorable discharge,” Starks said.

That was then. This week Starks got some good news. His discharge has been upgraded to “general under honorable conditions” and his rank restored. The Army board reviewing his case concluded that Starks’ PTSD was a mitigating factor in his misconduct.

The news is bittersweet. That’s because Starks’ father, a veteran himself who fiercely supported his son, died suddenly earlier this year.

“I really wish he would have been around to see that envelope when I opened it. He would have been elated,” Starks said tearfully.

Undiagnosed PTSD and a revised criteria

Starks’ first request to have his discharge upgraded was denied in January of 2013. But that May he provided the board a Veterans Administration finding that he wasn’t “sane” during his second enlistment with the Army.

Two other developments also helped Starks make the case for an upgraded discharge.

In 2013, the criteria were revised for diagnosing PTSD. That led the Department of Defense to acknowledge that some soldiers who received “other than honorable” discharges might have had undiagnosed PTSD that could have been a “mitigating factor” in the soldier’s misconduct.

Then, in 2014, the secretary of defense directed military discharge review boards “to carefully consider the revised PTSD criteria” when deciding whether to upgrade a former service member’s “other than honorable” discharge.

In Starks’ case, he provided VA documentation showing he was first diagnosed with PTSD in 2006, after returning from a deployment to Iraq and after attempting suicide. That same year, Starks was honorably discharged from the Army. But he was allowed to immediately re-enlist.

Starks was soon promoted to sergeant and in 2009 he was sent to Afghanistan. It was during that year-long deployment that Starks reported he experienced a series of traumas: he was involved in an explosion, a friend was killed in an IED blast and his team killed a man and his young son.

After his return from Afghanistan, Army doctors concluded Starks was unfit for duty and recommended he be medically discharged. But that process was derailed when he was charged with drug use and going AWOL.

Facing court-martial, Starks chose to leave the Army. That’s when he received his “other than honorable” discharge.

Initially, Starks was denied health care through the Veterans Administration. But those benefits were later granted. He says he also became eligible to receive disability payments.

Feeling vindicated

Now Starks has gotten something else back -- his honor. The additional documentation he provided along with the new guidance on PTSD were enough to overcome the previous denial of a discharge upgrade.

“It is reasonable to conclude the PTSD symptoms were a causative factor in the misconduct that led to his discharge,” the board reviewing his case concluded last month. The board, however, did not find evidence that Starks was "declared legally insane" during his service.

Starks said he feels validated. “It honestly makes me feel like I was a better soldier than I had an opinion of myself on the way out.”

For now, Starks is unemployable because of his PTSD and other health issues. However, the upgraded discharge removes a potential barrier to future employment.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."