Personality disorder discharges save money, sacrifice soldiers
Let's put ourselves in these shoes for a moment, if we can:
You've honorably served in the Army for seven years. You've won commendations. You re-enlisted after your first hitch. You're in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2004 when a rocket hits the building you're in and leaves you unconscious in rubble. Eventually doctors pull shrapnel from your neck and ear canals. You lose 75 percent of your hearing, suffer depression and nightmares.
You try to kill yourself by dropping a hair dryer in your bath water. The dryer short-circuits. You seek medical help at your Army post.
Eventually, the Army discharges you because you had a "pre-existing personality disorder" before you joined the service…
And what does that mean?
• You can't get disability pay. That requires a medical board evaluation, and a soldier who signs a personality disorder discharge gets no medical board…
• You can't get VA medical care — you can't be treated for post-traumatic stress syndrome — because the VA treats only those wounds and conditions suffered in service. "Pre-existing condition" is the Pentagon's way of saying the Ramadi rocket had nothing to do with the soldier's troubles.
• You must pay back part of your re-enlistment bonus for the time you won't serve because of the personality-disorder discharge.
All of this happened to former Spc. Jon Town of Findlay, Ohio. This spring and summer, with reports in The Nation and ABC News, Mr. Town became a symbol for veterans groups, because he's not alone.
The military has mustered out about 22,000 service people in the last six years with personality-disorder discharges. It appears that a lot of them were flat-out bogus, as in the case of Mr. Town, or at least contestable.
There's a gut-reaction word for what happened to Mr. Town, but we can't use it in a family newspaper.
Why are the services doing this?
The departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs save money if they don't have to pay benefits.
God almighty, let us take a deep breath.
A bipartisan group of senators led by Barack Obama of Illinois and Christopher Bond of Missouri has introduced a provision in the defense bill to stop the personality-disorder discharges pending investigations by the General Accountability Office (the GAO already is looking into the practice at Fort Carson, CO.) and impose tougher standards and limits on such discharges.
Good for the senators.
Where's the commander in chief? A few words from the White House lawn — strong words, Mr. President, leader's words — would go far to end this kind of nonsense.
Some personality-disorder discharges are no doubt valid, and those no longer able to function in a theater of war shouldn't be there. But any soldier who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan should get the benefit of the doubt. Soldiers subject to personality-disorder discharges must be fully informed of their rights and all the consequences of such a discharge before signing one.
You don't have to be a psychiatrist or a soldier to understand that rockets, IEDs and sniper rounds are not pre-existing conditions. One god-awful argument to justify personality-disorder discharges was that dormant pre-existing conditions surface under the stress of combat; hence such soldiers don't qualify for treatment of post traumatic stress disorder.
In response, we refer to that word we can't print in a family newspaper.
The United States has a solemn obligation to those among us who were asked to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Let's keep it.
BOTTOM LINE: Let's take care of our wounded troops — not look for ways to deny care.
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