Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Son. Of. A. Bitch.

This is just unspeakably vile:
The story I read at the above site blew me away. Imagine, volunteering for the Army, getting shelled and wounded in combat, and being told you OWE Uncle Sam four grand when you're discharged.


Spc. Jon Town was in Ramadi when the building he was in took a direct hit from a rocket.

Eventually the rocket shrapnel was removed from Town's neck and his ears stopped leaking. But his hearing never really recovered, and in many ways, neither has his life. A soldier honored 12 times during his seven years in uniform, Town has spent the last two on a painful, downward arc through disability and depression, one that reached its nadir in September, when he was booted from the military and told he would never receive disability pay or medical treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Twenty-two months later, Spc. Town is back stateside and he's lost all hearing in one ear, and his "good ear" is only at 50%. People have to shout for him to hear them and he's still having headaches. On top of that, he's having increasing trouble remembering things - regulations related to his office work etc. Then he meets psychologist Mark Wexler (this guy needs to be investigated btw) who told him that he could still receive an honorable discharge under Army Regulation 635-200, Chapter 5-13, "Separation Because of Personality Disorder." Full benefits and severance pay, medical care after discharge if he still had problems, and he could keep the $15,000 bonus he received the year before for re-upping for another 6 year hitch.

His unit was headed back to Iraq and he knew he couldn't pull his fair share of the load, so he decided to take this option so they could replace him with someone more able-bodied.
Town took the deal. "They told me I'd get my full benefits, full severance pay. Everyone I talked to - doctors, JAGs - they all said I wouldn't have to repay the bonus I received in Iraq," he says. "I loved the Army and would have done 20 more years if I was able to. But after hearing that, my wife and I ... we decided to take it. We thought we'd be sitting pretty. At the least, we'd have enough to start a civilian life."
It looks like everyone was either lying to him to get him off the rolls, or they were grossly mis-informed. Because not only did Spc. Town NOT get all those things, he was left with no career, little left of his hearing, increasing memory loss, and probably PTSD to boot.
Under Chapter 5-13, a personality disorder is a pre-existing condition. Thus, by agreeing to label his wounds a "personality disorder," Town was actually signing on to the idea that he had been suffering from hearing loss, headaches and psychiatric problems before joining the military.

That puts Town's problems outside the realm of VA assistance. The organization is only required to treat wounds sustained during service.

With a 5-13 dismissal, soldiers can't obtain disability pay either. To receive those benefits, a soldier must be evaluated by a medical board, who must confirm that he is wounded and that his wounds stem from combat. The process takes several months, in contrast to a 5-13 discharge, which can be wrapped up in a few days.


The final blow for Town came when he found out that, despite assurances from Wexler and other Fort Carson officials, the specialist would indeed have to give back the bulk of his $15,000 signing bonus. At the time of his dismissal, Town had served one year of his six-year contract. Under 5-13's regulations, he was allowed to keep one-sixth of his bonus.

It's all in the fine print, says Paul Hanson, an outprocessor who handles discharge papers for the Army. Hanson is not the outprocessor's real name. For fear of retribution, he agreed to speak only if neither his name nor the fort he works at were revealed. Still, he says, he had to speak up because he's disgusted at the way 5-13 dismissals are being used.

"The doctors, they're saying this will get you out quicker, and the VA will take care of you. To stay out of Iraq, a soldier will take that in a heartbeat. But what they don't realize is, those things are lies," Hanson says. "The soldiers, they don't read the fine print. They don't know to ask for a med board. They're taking the word of the doctors. Then they sit down with me and find out what the 5-13 really means - they're shocked."


Town's case is by no means an isolated incident, says Steve Robinson, director of government relations at Veterans for America, a D.C.-based soldiers rights group. Robinson has spent the past year investigating cases of falsely labeled "personality disorders" and, he says, the problem goes way beyond Town and way beyond Wexler.

Discharge statistics acquired from Fort Carson suggest that is indeed the case. Between January and July 2006, 246 soldiers were dismissed from Fort Carson due to "personality disorder." That's 16.3 percent of all the soldiers discharged, almost three times as many as were released for other physical/mental ills (87), seven times the number dismissed for unsatisfying performance (35), seven-and-a-half times those released for failing alcohol/drug rehab (33).

Outprocessor Hanson says that's the kind of ratio he's been dealing with at his fort. "It's getting worse and worse every day," he says. "The numbers started out normal. Now it's up to three or four people each day. It's like, suddenly everybody has a personality disorder. Either that or they're misdiagnosing people."

A second military official who also demanded anonymity says there's no doubt most of these soldiers are misdiagnosed. He has spent the last several months studying cases of 5-13 dismissals and says each one he's studied is clearly misdiagnosed. He laughs at the idea that they're not. "Can you imagine? These are people who have been in four, five years - many of them with top-secret security clearances - and now they're saying they were too dysfunctional to serve," he says. "What would that say about the people we have in our Army? What would that say about the people we're recruiting?"

The real tragedy, says this official, is that many of these soldiers would not have been labeled a "personality disorder" and been booted out under 5-13 if they hadn't gone to the psychiatric unit for help. "Other soldiers see that," he says, "and it keeps them from seeking help."

Tell me again about how the Republicans (you know, the ones in charge of our military for the past six years) have been supporting our troops? About how the Democrats disrespect and spit on veterans? I suppose "Patriotic Republican posturing is a transparent lie" is not exactly news anymore, but conning wounded and shell-shocked combat veterans out of their money and benefits is low even for them.

Somebody needs to put this right (I'm looking at you, Carl Levin) and give these men and women what they were promised. What they are entitled to. Oh, and maybe some respect; that would be nice too.

(Hat tip to Gilliard)


karmic said...

Another WTF?

Eli said...

This really is awful. It's no better than a Nigerian internet scam, only in this case it's being perpetrated by people in a position of trust.

(I suppose some people trust complete strangers from Nigeria who say they need help laundering 50 million dollars, but I don't think I know any)

Elmo said...

They would rather scam those who sacrificed rather than raise the taxes on those who didn't.