by Sherwood Ross
Over the past six years, some 22,500 soldiers have been discharged on grounds of “personality disorder” – a condition that can be alleged to have existed prior to their tour of duty – thus absolving the Pentagon of its obligation to provide their medical care and pay their benefits.
A six-month investigation by reporter Joshua Kors for the April 9th “The Nation” magazine learned of “multiple cases” in which “soldiers wounded in Iraq are suspiciously diagnosed as having a personality disorder, then prevented from collecting benefits.”
According to Kors, “The conditions of their discharge have infuriated many in the military community, including the injured soldiers and their families, veterans’ rights groups, even military officials required to process these dismissals.” They say the military is purposely misdiagnosing soldiers “to cheat them out of a lifetime of disability and medical benefits, thereby saving billions in expenses.”
With an average disability payment of about $8,900 a year and a medical cost of about $5,000 per year over a 40-year period per soldier, separating 22,500 of them would save the Pentagon $8-billion in disability pay and $4.5-billion in medical care over their lifetimes, the article says.
Specialist Jon Town, of Findlay, Ohio, was separated on a “personality disorder” diagnosis even though in October, 2004, a 107-millimeter rocket struck two feet over his head as he stood in the doorway of his battalion’s headquarters in Ramadi, Iraq. Town’s ears were leaking blood from the blast and rocket shrapnel was removed from his neck. The blast caused substantial deafness, and he suffers from memory failure and depression as well. Inexplicably, doctors at Fort Carson, Colo., diagnosed Town with “personality disorder”, depriving him of disability and medical benefits.
Russell Terry, founder of the Iraq War Veterans Organization pointed out that each soldier is screened psychologically when they join the military and asks, “if all these soldiers really did have a severe pre-existing condition, how did they get into the military in the first place?”
In the last six years, according to “The Nation,” the Army alone has diagnosed and discharged more than 5,600 soldiers because of personality disorder, and their numbers continue to rise. Between January and November of last year, 1,086 soldiers were discharged on such grounds. One military official who was not identified told Kors, “It’s like, suddenly everybody (on my base) has a personality disorder. They’re saving a buck. And they’re saving the VA money too. It’s all about money.”
In the case of veteran Town, he was told to give back the bulk of his $15,000 enlistment bonus and left Ft. Carson owing the government more than $3,000. According to the magazine, Fort Carson psychologist Mark Wexler assured Town he would receive disability benefits, VA medical care, and would get to keep his bonus. When he found out he was being discharged empty-handed, Town said, “It was a total shock. I felt like I’d been betrayed by the Army.” When asked if doctors at Fort Carson were assuring patients set for a 5-13 pre-existing condition discharge they would receive benefits, Colonel Steven Knorr, Wexler’s boss, replied, “I don’t believe they’re doing that.”
Other veterans contacted by Kors, however, said military doctors tried to force the diagnosis upon them and turned a blind eye to physical ailments and post traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Army Specialist William Wooldridge said he struck and killed a young girl who was pushed in front of his ammunition truck in Iraq and has heard voices and suffered hallucinations ever since. He was discharged with “personality disorder” but 18 months later a review board in Memphis voided that 5-13 dismissal, stating his PTSD was so severe he was, in fact, “totally disabled.”
Another veteran, Chris Mosier, of Des Moines, Iowa, put a note on the front door of his home saying the Iraqis were after him and then shot himself. His mother, Linda, said her son’s problems began in Iraq when a truck in front of his was blown up by a roadside bomb and the men inside were burned alive. “He was there at the end to pick up the hands and arms,” Ms. Mosier said. “They take a normal kid, he comes back messed up, then nobody was there for him when he came back. They discharged him so they didn’t’ have to treat him,” she added.
Steve Robinson, director of veterans affairs at Veterans for America, a Washington, D.C.-based soldiers’ rights group, pointed out military doctors have been facing an overflow of wounded soldiers and a shortage of rooms, supplies and time to treat them. “By calling PTSD a personality disorder, they usher one soldier out quickly, freeing up space for the three or four who are waiting,” he said.
A lawyer for Trial Defense Services, an Army unit to guide soldiers through their 5-13 discharge and who was not identified by name, told reporter Kors: “Right now, the Army is eating its own. What I want to see is these soldiers getting the right diagnosis, so they can get the right help, not be thrown to the wolves right away. That is what they’re doing.”
As for veteran Town — whose case was brought by Robinson to the attention of Deputy Surgeon General Gale Pollock and others — he says he is doing his best to keep his head in check and that his nightmares have diminished. “I have my good days and my bad days,” he said. “It all depends on whether I wake up in Findlay or Iraq.”
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Sherwood Ross is an award-winning reporter. He served in the U.S Air Force where he contributed to his base newspaper. He later worked for The Miami Herald and Chicago Daily News. He contributed a weekly column on working for a major wire service. He is also an editorial and book publicist. He currently resides in Florida.