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"It's all about the money:" Personality disorder discharges cheat vets while contractor$ make killing$ in Middle East wars

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In the last six years the Army has diagnosed and discharged more than 5,600 soldiers because of personality disorder, according to the Defense Department. And the numbers keep rising: 805 cases in 2001, 980 cases in 2003, 1,086 from January to November 2006. "It's getting worse and worse every day," says the official who handles discharge papers. "At my office the numbers started out normal. Now it's up to three or four soldiers each day. It's like, suddenly everybody has a personality disorder."
The reason is simple, he says. "They're saving a buck. And they're saving the VA money too. It's all about money."

Personality disorders can make your ears bleed, if you're a veteran of either Iraq or Afghanistan. Concussion, brain bruising, stroke, bullet wounds, loss of mobility or even partial loss of extremities can be caused by conditions going back to your childhood. Conditions that didn't show up, couldn't be discovered, in time to stop you from joining the US military or being deployed -- sometimes repeatedly -- to Middle East combat zones, but were suddenly and inexplicably obvious once you came home from one of those combat zones wounded, injured, broken, damaged. Or so says the Army.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, is a diagnosis most people who remember the late 1970s find vaguely familiar -- a lot of 'Nam veterans came home from the war in 48 hours or less, and the 'adjustment period' their predecessors had had didn't occur. Many veterans had a tough time making the transition back to "the world" from "the 'Nam", and the military and/or VA were, characteristically, loath to help: it was detrimental to the "ideal" of the tough and independent, spiritually, morally indestructible (though oh so physically destructible) soldier /sailor /airman /Marine.

It's the same way now, only more so -- Iraq and Afghanistan present the same problems for GIs in-country that Viet Nam did: you can't tell who's on your side, and the 'friendly' kids are as apt as not to be booby-traps. Other than that ... "in-country" in a jungle and "in-country" in a desert, where none of the indigenous peoples speak your language, share your culture, or want your presence, let alone your assistance, is still "in-country" a long, long way from home.

What is hugely different this time, of course, is the government's management of the war. In the 1960s and early 1970s, reporters didn't have to be "embedded" and didn't have to get written permission from the troops they were reporting about to take pictures or write news accounts or shoot video of the events taking place in the theatre. Today, pictures of combat are rare -- video from the war front is usually a line of tanks or Bradleys or Humvees rolling down a road somewhere, with a background of sky or sand. Walter Cronkite's reporting from the front lines is said to have shaken LBJ so badly that it contributed to his decision not to run for a second term; what reporter's footage from Afghanistan or Iraq has President Bush even acknowledged viewing? In the 1960s and early 1970s, the war effort was limited by conventions and rules of engagement, and although accounts of violations of those rules were given by returning soldiers, those accounts did not, in the main, describe atrocities committed by American GIs against prisoners of war. Not so any more; and while the war in Viet Nam was never managed with the intent of saving US GI lives as a primary goal, at least the leadership of the nation had the grace to respect the dead and wounded. In the 1960s and 1970s, atrocities were prosecuted -- witness Lt. William Calley's courts-martial over My Lai. Images of the war were everywhere -- do you remember the photos that won Pulitzers, from Viet Nam? The six year old girl running naked from the napalmed village? The North Vietnamese prisoner shot in the head, at point-blank range? The TV newsmen helping load wounded soldiers onto medevac choppers? Such images, if such events are taking place in Iraq, are suppressed in this war; this administration claims this is to protect the privacy of its soldiers, who have the right to decide not to notify their next of kin if they are injured or wounded; this administration demands that the dead not be fully accounted for, either on the US side or on the Iraqi side, or on the Afghani side. The dehumanization of the "enemy combatants" is so complete that no description of them is necessary, or allowable. In the 1960s and 1970s, the stories of questioning suspected Viet Cong in helicopters, and tossing out non-cooperative ones pour encourager les autres, generally involved not GIs but Korean interrogators or CIA operatives. American soldiers didn't treat POWs that way. In the 1960s and 1970s, the pictures from Abu Ghraib would not have merely been hushed up -- students and mothers of soldiers and veterans would have taken to the streets, because we all knew that we had GIs at risk; mistreatment of prisoners the US held to be intolerable. Of course, if the Bush administration's contention that these are not POWs but "illegal combatants" is true, technically Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo do not violate this principle -- notwithstanding the direct opposition to the principles of basic human rights, the Geneva Convention, and the US Constitution represented by the very existence of Guantanamo and the secret prisons and the practice of "extraordinary rendition," also known as kidnapping for torture by other countries so that, technically, the Bush administration can claim it is not liable for the consequences.

But no matter the differences between the management of the two wars, one thing apparently remains inviolable: the veterans of both wars return to a country that neither welcomes nor appreciates their service, recognizes their sacrifice, nor intends to adequately care for them after their service.

The men and women who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan missing portions of their skulls, or suffering from traumatic brain injury, or blinded, deafened, mutilated -- deprived of hands, arms, feet, legs in the shattering instantaneous cataclysm of an IED explosion, shot by unseen snipers, desperately hurt in the crash of a road vehicle or a helicopter -- the men and women who give beyond the risk of life and limb, and part with their bodies and their talents, their abilities -- deserve far better than the cheap treatment they're receiving at the hands of the administration.

Bearing up under this lauding of their bravery combined with this inchoate derision, this deliberate refusal to acknowledge that these men and women have paid in blood for the policies this administration steadfastly refuses to reconsider, this denigration of the troops' sacrifice in the name of penny-ante parsimony comes hard and leaves a bitter taste in the nation's mouth. Knowing this, the government prefers to suppress the knowledge, silence the victims, deny the evidence and sabotage the reporters who do try to wake the public up.

If this government truly supported the troops, perhaps the war would not be such an abomination in the eyes of the American people.

The troops are your neighbors, your family members, your friends and schoolmates too. Do more than tag your vehicle with a magnetic ribbon. Rise up. Demand respect and support for the troops -- proper equipment, real protection, a plan for action and a time for their return home, and adequate care for those who come home damaged -- medical care, mental health care, training and jobs at good living wages.

Jessica Lynch joined the Army to pay for college so she could be a school teacher.

Southern Maryland Online today reported that Barbara Mikulski, Kit Bond, and Barbara Boxer are investigating the Department of Defense's sudden upsurge in "personality disorder discharges" (and since you have to pass a psych test to join, how can you have had a pre-existing condition and gotten into the military in the first place?) Below, copied in full from that website, is a letter the Senators sent to Defense Secretary Robert Gates:
"Dear Secretary Gates:

We urge you to conduct a thorough and independent review of the personality disorder discharge process across the Armed Forces. We are concerned over continuing reports from Veterans' Service Organizations, the media, and individual U.S. service personnel that personality disorder discharges have been implemented inappropriately and inconsistently. There are indications that personality disorder discharges are being used as a tool to discharge expeditiously U.S. service personnel who have service-connected injuries, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Even more troubling is the perception that the U.S. military is using these discharges to avoid disability and medical benefits payments.

The Washington Post deftly illustrated an example of this problem on June 17, 2007, in a piece entitled "The War Inside." According to the Post - after serving a combat tour in Iraq - Army Specialist Jeans Cruz returned to Ft. Hood, Texas, crippled by the mental anguish of his combat experience. Notes from his medical files indicate "major depression," and "anger from Iraq, nightmares, flashbacks." The Army was so concerned that it even went so far as to have Spc. Cruz sign a "Life Maintenance Agreement," a document stating that he agreed "not to harm himself or anyone else." But the Army ultimately discharged Spc. Cruz with a "personality disorder," in essence finding that Spc. Cruz's medical problems had nothing to do with his service in Iraq.

Since personality disorder discharges are considered "pre-existing," personnel discharged under these provisions cannot collect disability benefits and may not receive medical care from the Department of Veterans Affairs for these "pre-existing" illnesses. Spc. Cruz experienced this first-hand. On August 16, 2006, Spc. Cruz received a letter from the VA stating that he had been denied disability pay.

To make matters worse, military personnel given a personality disorder discharge who have not fulfilled their service contracts can find themselves forced to repay thousands of dollars in re-enlistment bonuses back to the federal government. This can result in debilitating debt for military personnel and their families - many of whom supported our forces over many years of service and endured significant strain as a result of frequent and protracted combat deployments.

Defense Department records indicate that over 22,500 personality disorder discharges have been processed within the past six years. While this represents a small percentage of overall discharges, their inappropriate use and debilitating impact on personnel once discharged is cause for grave concern.

Another egregious example of misuse was chronicled by reporter Joshua Kors on March 29, 2007, in a piece entitled: "How Specialist Town Lost his Benefits." A copy of the article is attached for your review. On October 19, 2004, Spc. Jon Town was injured and sustained major loss of hearing in a rocket attack in Ramadi, Iraq. His injuries ultimately resulted in memory loss and depression, ending his military career. But instead of sending Spc. Town through the medical board process - an in-depth medical review of a service member's fitness that often results in the award of disability payments and allows injured personnel and their families to remain eligible for medical benefits after active service ends - the command at Ft. Carson, Colorado, elected to give Spc. Town a personality disorder discharge. This action deprived Spc. Town of disability benefits and guaranteed VA care for his injuries once he was discharged from the Army.

While the Army claims to have thoroughly evaluated and reviewed the Town case, we understand that neither Spc. Town nor his fellow soldiers, who were aware of the rocket attack and his resulting injuries, were contacted to discuss the case. Hence in this situation, and we fear potentially in others, the Army review was inadequate and anything but thorough. Consequently, serious questions remain unanswered about the use, or abuse, of the personality disorder discharge and a chain-of-command that allows the inappropriate use of the discharge to continue even as members of Congress from both parties seek to review the practice and the media points out the glaring inconsistencies in the manner in which the personality discharge is administered.

Like many veterans' advocates, we are skeptical about an administrative process that suddenly diagnoses military personnel who have long and honorable military careers, such as Spc. Cruz and Spc. Town, with pre-existing personality disorders that reportedly become apparent only after combat service in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are particularly concerned that combat forces at the unit level and above are inadequately equipped to diagnose, treat, and work with personnel assessed with brain-related injuries, and that the mechanisms tasked with handling the discharge process and meeting unit manning requirements are also overwhelmed.

Therefore, we urge you to conduct a thorough and independent review of the personality discharge process and to implement appropriate measures to prevent the repeat of cases like Spc. Cruz's and Spc. Town's in the future. We also urge you to support the creation of a Special Discharge Review Board to assist the Board for Correction of Military Records for each service in reviewing petitions from personnel discharged for personality disorders with honorable service records in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As the Walter Reed Army Medical Center hearings demonstrated, the American people will not tolerate substandard treatment and rehabilitative care for those who have served. As members of the United States Senate, we have an obligation to ensure that our service personnel and their families receive the benefits and care they are entitled to. We are eager to work with the Department of Defense on the issues we have outlined and look forward to hearing from you."

More about the fraudulent attempts to deny veterans their benefits on trumped-up "personality disorder" claims can be found here:
Stephen Soldz's website,
Veterans for Common Sense,
Veterans For America,
Markham's

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Thanks for spreading the word on this! As an Army veteran myself, it's actually worse that these things don't get more attention in the press, that people don't care...than it does the actual problem (which can be fixed, our own souls cannot)