Cpl. Zachary Edwards talks with Jason Hejlik about post-service opportunities as a motorcycle or marine mechanic during a job fair at Camp Lejeune, N.C., in September. (Cpl. Charles Clark/Marine Corps)
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The Corps has overhauled its manual governing how Marines retire or are separated from the service, with broad changes that cover everything from transition assistance requirements and involuntary separation protections for career officers to drug use and sexual assault.
The new Separation and Retirement Manual, Marine Corps Order P1900.16, signed Nov. 26, replaces the previous manual that dated back to June 2007. Since then, Marine leaders have tackled an array of pressing issues affecting Marines and the Corps, including problems brought on by more than a decade of war. Those efforts are reflected in the order.
For example, the new order provides leaders with more guidance on how to take post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury into account when separating Marines who have landed in hot water and whose behavior may be the result of a war injury or trauma.
The manual also incorporates tougher, zero-tolerance policies for sexual assault and drug use and reflects changes brought on by the manpower drawdown.
The new manual includes hundreds of alterations, many to the mundane rules that govern the way Marines leave the service. But Marine administrative message 640/13, signed Dec. 6, highlights the most significant, including:
The manual has been changed to reflect tougher retention guidelines during the drawdown. Until this year, for example, officers who made major were guaranteed a 20-year career and retirement, barring any criminal behavior. They were permitted to remain in uniform even if they were passed over for promotion multiple times. But that policy was rescinded as the service works to cut thousands of Marines by the end of fiscal year 2017, when the service’s end strength is expected to level off at 174,000.
The previous order continued the long-standing Marine Corps policy “to not involuntarily separate majors, except for show cause or court-martial proceedings, until retirement eligible.” That language is gone from the new manual.
A similar policy in place for staff sergeants endures, although manpower officials have said it is being scrutinized.
With veteran unemployment a persistent challenge, the Marine Corps began revamping its Transition Assistance Program. In November 2012, the service began making attendance at a transition readiness seminar a requirement for leaving the service.
The new program requires all Marines to take a core curriculum and then pursue individualized preparation for post-service life, depending on whether they are interested in higher education, launching a business, learning a vocational skill or landing a job. Marines are also counseled about how their military occupational specialty translates to the civilian job market and they attend a workshop on completing a résumé. They receive another briefing to ensure they understand their Veterans Affairs Department benefits.
To reflect those changes, the new Separation and Retirement Manual includes language making transition assistance a blanket requirement that must be completed within 24 months of their end of active service date, but no later than 90 days before separating or retiring.
The previous order also required transition training, but it was heavily focused on finding a job, rather than the multifaceted approach that now helps Marines pursue one of several paths.
PTSD and TBI
After more than a decade at war, thousands of troops have sustained traumatic brain injuries or suffered from post-traumatic stress, both of which can affect an individual’s mood and behavior. In recognition of this, the new order requires that those conditions be taken into consideration when administratively separating a service member following a negative incident.
“Prior to approving any involuntary administrative separation initiated for Marines with more than 180 days of active duty, the separation authority must ensure that a medical evaluation of the Marine is performed,” the order reads.
“The intent of performing these evaluations is to ensure that separation authorities have all pertinent information about any medical condition(s) that may have a material impact on a Marine’s behavior. ...”
A section that deals with separations that are based on a diagnosis of a personality disorder now emphasizes the potential role of PTSD or TBI in the mental illness.
In such cases, the separation authority should use the results of the medical evaluation to determine the appropriate course of action, whether it is to simply separate the Marine or retain him for additional medical treatment.
Reflecting the militarywide effort to crack down on sexual harassment and misconduct, the order now includes a more robust section detailing zero-tolerance policies.
The section on sexual harassment is about three times as long as it was in the old order and defines what constitutes sexual harassment.
“Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination that involves unwelcome sexual advance, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature ...,” according to the order, which goes on to provide several examples.
The section pertaining to sexual misconduct has also been significantly expanded and includes a new section on sexual offenders — those Marines required to register after being convicted of a sexual crime. Those guilty of a sexual offense will be separated, have the conviction noted on their permanent record and will not be subject to recall to the service under any conditions.
Other sections were dropped altogether, like the one pertaining to homosexual conduct, now that gay military members have the right to serve openly.
The section of the manual that deals with separations due to violations of Navy Department policies on drug use and possession has been expanded to provide refined guidance.
It now provides concrete examples of substances that will result in harsh punishment and ultimately lead to expulsion from the service. Those include common drugs like marijuana, amphetamines, steroids and heroin, but also newer threats like “spice” and “bath salts.”
Those substances were not widely identified as a problem when the last version of the order was published in 2007.
The concern over so-called designer drugs has grown steadily since then, especially because the introduction of these exotic substances outpaced the military’s ability to screen for them.
The problem led to a concerted effort to stem the rising tide of abuse through awareness campaigns and by including the drugs in standard urinalysis tests. The detection of spice has proved challenging, however, because there are hundreds of unique chemical compounds identified by the umbrella term spice that have similar intoxicating effects but are not detected bystandard drug screenings.
Unchanged in the new order is guidance to release Marines involved with drugs under “other than honorable conditions” and refer them to the VA for treatment for drug dependence, if appropriate.■