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Congress passes Fairness for Veterans Act

The Fairness for Veterans Act passed Congress on Thursday, potentially opening up thousands of veterans to medical care.  The Bill received more than 12,000 signatures of support in connection with 11Alive’s investigative docu-series, Charlie Foxtrot

WASHINGTON -- Inside the massive defense spending bill Congress passed Thursday, is small provision that could change the fate of tens-of-thousands of service men and women currently denied access to medical care.

The Fairness for Veterans Act is featured in the TEGNA investigative docu-series, Charlie Foxtrot. The bill requires military discharge review boards to consider post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

It reads:

To provide for the treatment by discharge review boards of claims asserting post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury in connection with combat or sexual trauma as a basis for review of discharge.

Charlie Foxtrot investigated how tens of thousands of service members are stripped of benefits, often without medical care. Many are not legally considered veterans anymore.

According the VA data uncovered by a group of investigators from 11Alive News in Atlanta, since Sept. 11, 2001, about 28 percent of our troops are returning home with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or both.

PHOTOS | The faces of Charlie Foxtrot

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury often manifest as what appears to be questionable behavior, like fighting with others, substance abuse or even suicide attempts. But those actions can lead to a less than honorable discharge.

As a result of the passage of this bill, the military will now be required to consider mental health conditions for troops who receive less than honorable discharges. If a service member does something the military considers undesirable, their mental health will now factor in to any discharge review. Now, thousands of veterans will now be eligible for at status upgrade and VA medical care.

WATCH | A thank you from Nicolas Jackson, a veteran featured in Charlie Foxtrot investigation

More than 12,000 people felt compelled to signed a petition supporting the law after watching Charlie Foxtrot.

Earlier this week, Charlie Foxtrot was shown on Capitol Hill as part of a discussion with participants of the docu-series, as well as several bills aimed at safeguarding veterans' mental health.

11Alive's Veterans event at the U.S. Capitol on Monday night featuring Jeremy Campbell and Peggy Portwine

The National Defense Authorization Act now heads to President Obama’s desk for a signature. The President is expected to sign the plan into law.