Friday, March 30, 2007

Which is worse: When outrages take place, or when they no longer surprise you?

There is an insidious abuse of troops taking place in the shadows, and it needs to be exposed to strong overhead light.

It is the use of the 5-13 discharge to cull injured troops from service and deny them future benefits through the VA. A 5-13 is a psych discharge. It brands the veteran as having a personality disorder, an Axis II disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychological Association. Personality disorders are deemed pre-existing conditions, and therefore the military is absolved of all future responsibility to those veterans.

Take the story of Specialist Jon Town, reported by Joshua Kors in the April 9 issue of The Nation.

Jon Town has spent the last few years fighting two battles, one against his body, the other against the US Army. Both began in October 2004 in Ramadi, Iraq. He was standing in the doorway of his battalion's headquarters when a 107-millimeter rocket struck two feet above his head. The impact punched a piano-sized hole in the concrete facade, sparked a huge fireball and tossed the 25-year-old Army specialist to the floor, where he lay blacked out among the rubble.

"The next thing I remember is waking up on the ground." Men from his unit had gathered around his body and were screaming his name. "They started shaking me. But I was numb all over," he says. "And it's weird because... because for a few minutes you feel like you're not really there. I could see them, but I couldn't hear them. I couldn't hear anything. I started shaking because I thought I was dead."

Eventually the rocket shrapnel was removed from Town's neck and his ears stopped leaking blood. But his hearing never really recovered, and in many ways, neither has his life. A soldier honored twelve times during his seven years in uniform, Town has spent the last three struggling with deafness, memory failure and depression. By September 2006 he and the Army agreed he was no longer combat-ready.

But instead of sending Town to a medical board and discharging him because of his injuries, doctors at Fort Carson, Colorado, did something strange: They claimed Town's wounds were actually caused by a "personality disorder." Town was then booted from the Army and told that under a personality disorder discharge, he would never receive disability or medical benefits.

Town is not alone. A six-month investigation has uncovered multiple cases in which soldiers wounded in Iraq are suspiciously diagnosed as having a personality disorder, then prevented from collecting benefits. 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.

The number of 5-13’s coming down has ballooned. It has reached the point where they would have us believe that the Army took an entire Division of hinky, psychologically damaged troops in recent years. Even with the number of waivers that have been issued to meet recruiting quotas (17%) that stretches credulity.

Not surprisingly, Fort Carson is at the vanguard of soldier abuse and neglect. Again. For cryin’ out loud, can we get an IG on-post please? Preferably a hardass. I mean, what the hell is it going to take? You hear a tale of soldiers being abused by the system, you won’t have to listen long before you hear “Fort Carson” in that conversation. And this scandal is no exception. The command culture there once again sets the bar for fecklessness and mendacity as low as it has ever been.

Inspector General.

Fort Carson.


Got that?


Now that we have settled that, let’s talk about Feres v U.S., the 1950 Supreme Court decision that protected military medical professionals from civil suit. Because of this ruling, there is no recourse of accountability for mental health professionals who mislead vulnerable and compromised troops.

Who will be the courageous congressperson who will sponsor the legislation that gives the troops the right to seek civil remedy for professional malfeasance at the hands of military health professionals?

In the meantime, since legislation moves slowly, Senator Bond needs to move forward with his threat and launch a congressional investigation into the abuse of 5-13 discharges to avoid fulfilling responsibilities to wounded and damaged troops. And every single 5-13 discharge that has been processed in the last four years should be thoroughly reviewed, and those found to have been misdiagnosed should have their benefits restored, retroactively.

We have 535 elected officials. Will just one stand up for what is right here?

[Originally posted at Watching Those We Chose.]


Apollo 13 said...

I want to know who devised this little scheme to dump vets on their ass? WTF is going on at Fort Carson?! You are right to call for an IG to look into this disgusting abuse of war vets. I will be watching to see who in Congress takes this matter up. Thanks for the heads up.

exMI said...

Fort Carson does seem to be leading the way on treating soldiers like shit. Makes me doubly glad I was never there.

Three Score and Ten or more said...

It is always nice to be able to agree with Blue Girl. Not often, but nice, and 100 percent in agreement.