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VVA Complaint: Pentagon Saved $12.5 Billion by “Systematically and Wrongfully” Discharging 22,000 Veterans with Bogus ‘Personality Disorders’

Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) has filed a complaint against the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security over the wrongful discharge of tens of thousands of military veterans who the Pentagon intentionally misdiagnosed with ‘personality disorders’ in order to save billions of dollars.

"Systematic and wrongful" discharges of U.S. veterans. (Photo: David B. Gleason)

Courthouse News Service reports that the VVA claims the Pentagon “systematically and wrongfully discharged” more than 22,000 veterans since 2001 “on the basis of so-called ‘personality disorder” instead of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in order to save $12.5 billion in medical and disability payments. PTSD victims are entitled to military disability benefits and VA health care. Those discharged with personality disorder are not eligible for such benefits.

“The military classifies PD [personality disorder] as a condition pre-existing military service,” the complaint filed by four plaintiff chapters of the VVA says. “By its own admission, DoD dismissed 22,656 service members on the basis of PD between fiscal years 2001 and 2007; 3,372 of these discharged service members had served in combat or imminent danger zones… Approximately 2,800 of the service members whom DoD had dismissed on the basis of PD had deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom.”

“By discharging over 22,000 service members on the basis of PD, DoD saved the military approximately $4.5 billion in medical care and $8 billion in disability compensation that these service members would have received had they been discharged on the basis of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (‘PTSD’) or another service-connected disability.”

“Because DoD refuses to admit that it incorrectly discharged many service members on the basis of PD, an unknown number of veterans who served with integrity and valor in the armed forces continue to be denied service-connected disability benefits and VA health care.”

“Veterans who responded courageously to the government’s call to action after September 11, 2001 by serving in the Armed Forces have returned home only to find that DoD’s personality disorder designation prevents them from accessing service-connected disability benefits and veterans health care. By carelessly disregarding the personality disorder regulations which were promulgated for the benefit of service members, DoD has broken the United States’ longstanding promise to provide for its veterans.”

The DoD refuses to admit that even one single person was ever wrongfully discharged or purposefully misdiagnosed with personality disorder.

“Even in light of these statistics, DoD and its components continue to deny that any veteran was misdiagnosed with PD before 2008,” the complaint reads. “In August 2010, the Army told the Associated Press that they had ‘reviewed the paperwork of all deployed soldiers dismissed with a personality disorder between 2001 and 2006’ and ‘did not find evidence that soldiers with PTSD had been inappropriately discharged with personality disorder.'”

VVA filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the Pentagon, the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, National Guard and Air National Guard to obtain records pertaining to the discharges. None have responded.

The serious nature of what affected veterans are calling “the PD discharge scandal of 2007-2008” prompted Congress to hold hearings investigating PD discharges in 2007. Congress passed a bill, signed into law by President George W. Bush in January 2008, that required the DoD to submit a report on PD discharges. Six months later, that report was released. The Pentagon changed its screening process, but as of September 2010 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that “the military services have not demonstrated full compliance with the DoD’s PD separation requirements.”

The misdiagnosis and discharge of so many thousands of veterans is highly dubious to anyone who knows anything about personality disorder. The military classes PDs as  pre-existing conditions, since they are severe afflictions that develop during childhood or early adolescence. Military recruits are thoroughly screened for PDs and those who are diagnosed are universally rejected. This is why it is highly likely that the military’s diagnosis of PDs in veterans was intentionally fraudulent.

Troops discharged with PD not only lose their lifetime disability benefits and long-term medical care, they also often have to pay back some of their enlistment bonuses, often leaving them indebted to the Army even after they’ve been unceremoniously and fraudulently expelled.

Former sergeant Chuck Luther was one of these unfortunate soldiers. He was booted from the Army after a mortar attack which left him physically and mentally broken. Despite having passed eight psychological screenings, Luther was given a PD discharge, but not before he was declared a suicide risk and locked up in an isolation chamber where he was subjected to some of the same abuses familiar to Guantanamo detainees. His commander later forced him to sign papers stating his medical problems resulted from a personality disorder; if he refused he was told he would remain locked up in solitary confinement.

Proof that the Army is pressuring its medical personnel not to diagnose PTSD surfaced in June 2008 when a sergeant suffering from the ailment brought a hidden voice recorder to an appointment with psychologist Douglas McNinch at Fort Carson, Colorado. According to Salon.com, the sergeant asked McNinch why he had been diagnosed with “anxiety disorder” rather than PTSD. The psychologist replied:

“OK, I will tell you something confidentially that I would have to deny if it were ever made public. Not only myself, but all the clinicians up here are being pressured to not diagnose PTSD and diagnose anxiety disorder instead. Unfortunately, yours has not been the only case… I think it’s a horrible way to treat soldiers.”

Smoking guns don’t smoke much more than that.

Lately there’s been a concerted top-down effort in the military to encourage soldiers suffering from PTSD and other brain injuries to seek the help they so desperately need. But the macho military culture still very much discourages this. Fully 60% of U.S. troops believe their careers would suffer if they sought mental health help, despite the fact that brain injuries are among the most common wounds suffered by War on Terror veterans.

It should come as no surprise, then, that 12,000 veterans attempt suicide every year. The V.A. lied about this number, claiming it was “only” about 800, but internal e-mails revealed the truth. The tragic reality is this:  a veteran dies by suicide every 80 seconds. In 2010, some 2,000 active duty and reserve troops attempted suicide. Of these, 468 succeeded. That’s more than the number of U.S. troops killed in combat that year, and 2010 was the second straight year in which suicides outnumbered combat deaths.

Alive in body but dead in spirit, all too many of our wounded warriors have lost the will to live.

In filing its complaint against the DoD and Department of Homeland Security, VVA is honoring its founding principle that “never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.” With War on Terror vets sleeping on the streets by the thousands, dealing with employment discrimination, struggling with reintegration into civilian society and dealing with an epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, the last thing these young men and women need is a Defense Department that has intentionally misdiagnosed and discharged tens of thousands of them. But that’s exactly what has happened, and if we Americans are really serious about “supporting our troops” (and not just practicing “bumper sticker patriotism,” we owe it to those veterans to see to it that their wounds– both physical and psychological– are treated with the highest standard of care available. Anything less would be a disgrace.

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