By Marcelle Rico
“They told me I wasn’t a real soldier, that I was a piece of crap. All I wanted was to be treated for my injuries, now suddenly I’m not a soldier. I’m a prisoner, by my own people.” Chuck Luther, after he was discharged from the Army for having Pre-Existing Personality Disorder.
In order to be in the Army Luther had to pass the various medical and psychological examinations, so his condition couldn’t possibly be pre-existing. He was kept in an isolation chamber for one month, where he was treated worse than a prisoner, until he agreed to sign a pre-existing PD discharge. The Army’s officials found a way to get away with misdiagnosing him and he was denied treatment for his disabilities. The Army’s Chapter 5-13 says that any soldier with pre-existing PD should be discharged from the army with no medical benefits. This excuse is used to avoid paying medical treatment to soldiers who get wounded in battle. This is how the Army makes money out of their war heroes. The Army is using a technicality to deny benefits to service men that desperately need and deserve them. This must stop.
In addition to being discharged with no benefits, soldiers have to pay the Army a slice of their re-enlistment bonus. The Army has left thousands of veterans struggling to pay back the bonus, with no medical treatment, and fighting against Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In 2008 the Nation magazine reported that 22,000 soldiers had been discharged from the Army with PD. Dozens of those soldiers have been found to be wrongly diagnosed. This raises the question: how many more soldiers have been erroneously diagnosed for the Army’s convenience? Our country doesn’t realize how hard it is for veterans to go back to the lives they had, now that they have PTSD.
“I see the ugly,” Luther said in an interview with Truthout news website, “I see soldiers beating their wives and trying to kill themselves all the time, and most folks don’t want to look at this, including the military.” Soldiers diagnosed with Personality Disorder are ineligible to be treated by The Department of Veterans Affairs. Most of them have severe injuries and need immediate care, but they are not being treated because they did not receive a disability rating from the Army. The VA is aware of this problem and is doing its best to find veterans who are being misdiagnosed.
The fight to end the contradiction and injustice of chapter 5-13 has been ongoing since 2007. During this time, few people were aware of this problem. Representative Filner decided to take action, so he scheduled a hearing on Personality Disorder to inform the Congress about this issue. Months later Obama created a bill as senator of Illinois. When he ran for president, people hoped he would talk to the public about this issue but he never did. With not enough support, the bill was never passed and had to be rearranged into an amendment that required the Pentagon to investigate PD dismissals and report back to Congress. When the report came back it said no soldiers had been improperly diagnosed and none had been wrongly discharged.
Three years have passed and there still hasn’t been any effort to go back through the files and find the thousands of veterans who are struggling without benefits. Without the Army’s medical board lists it is harder for the VA to find all of the soldiers that are still suffering without medical care. How many soldiers have to commit suicide, go bankrupt or suffer with severe illnesses until something is done? On average 18 veterans commit suicide every day. Five of those veterans are under the care at VA. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other syndromes that come after fighting in war govern the lives of veterans entirely and sometimes there is nothing they can do but commit suicide.
The faculty at the VA and many other people who work to better the lives of veterans are tormented by this problem, but is it really their responsibility? Why isn’t the bigger power doing something about it? This problem can only be resolved if the government decides to take action and treat every single soldier that is discharged from the Army instead of denying them the care they deserve.
Due to the lack of public knowledge of this issue, proper measures have not been taken to end it. We need more transparency on this issue. The more it is talked about and the more people find out about it, the easier it will be for Barack Obama to make it a priority to end the chapter 5-13 discharges. The first step is to set regulations in the Department of Defense. The files should be reviewed by a trustworthy member of the government and any misdiagnosed soldiers should be found and given the proper medical care. The second step would be to create a bill that says the government can view the lists of medical examinations and that officials from an outside organization should be appointed in each military base to avoid any more misdiagnoses.
For now our citizens should spread the word and help the war veterans in any way that they can. Our country has been taking advantage of its own people for too long. These are our heroes and they should be treated as such.
Marcelle Rico is a junior at High Tech High International in San Diego, California