Late Breaking News
Servicemembers Lose Benefits after Improper Discharges for Alleged Personality Disorders Cont
- Categorized in: Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Depression, Marine Corps, May 2012, Navy, News, PTSD, TBI, Trauma
As of August 2008, a legal PD separation must meet eight requirements — five general and three specific to servicemembers who have served in a designated imminent danger pay (IDP) area. The first five are: formal counseling of a PD diagnosis and a chance to improve behavior; a diagnosis by a psychiatrist or PhD-level psychologist; a written statement from that mental-health provider that the disorder keeps the servicemember from functioning in the military; written notification to the servicemember of his or her impending separation; advising the servicemember that the diagnosis does not qualify as a disability.
The latter requirement exists because of reports from discharged servicemembers that they were told by military physicians or superior officers that the PD discharge was, in fact, a disability and would allow them to receive benefits and healthcare. The servicemember would then not protest the discharge and, only after leaving the military, would they discover they were ineligible for benefits.
The three additional IDP requirements are: evidence that PD diagnosis was corroborated by a peer psychiatrist; addressing PTSD or other mental-illness comorbidity; the endorsement of the Surgeon General of the military department concerned prior to discharge.
In FY 2008, a 0% compliance rating on some of these requirements by the different services was not unusual. By FY 2010, compliance rates had risen dramatically, with several services showing 100% compliance. As the VVA report makes a point of mentioning, however, the compliance ratings are self-reported by the services.
Substituting AD for PD
From FY 2008 to FY 2010, the number of PD discharges dropped, and PD compliance improved throughout DoD, according to the documents obtained by VVA. During that same time, however, discharges increased for adjustment disorder (AD), defined as a response to a life stress that is out of proportion to the intensity of the event. It manifests as significant emotional or behavioral symptoms that do not meet the criteria for PTSD or anxiety disorder.
VVA has expressed concern that the services are simply substituting AD discharges for PD discharges.
The most complete data VVA received concerning AD discharges was from the Air Force. Between FY 2008 and FY 2010, PD discharges in the Air Force dropped from 840 to 77 — an 87% decrease.
During a similar time period, AD discharges in the Air Force rose from 102 in FY 2007 to 668 in FY 2010 — a 555% increase.
From FY 2008 to FY 2010, the Army routinely discharged more than 2,000 soldiers annually for AD. During those years, the number of those soldiers who had served in imminent-danger areas rose dramatically, from 346 in FY 2008 to 767 in FY 2010, when they made up 37% of all Army AD discharges.
The only other data VVA received through its FOIA request on AD discharges was from the Coast Guard, whose AD discharges rose from 57 in FY 2009 to 109 in FY 2010.
“Unlike personality-disorder discharges, adjustment-disorder procedures were neither the subject of the 2008 GAO investigation nor the centerpiece of congressional hearings that year,” the VVA report states. “To date there has been no examination of the use of AD discharges, and it is unclear whether AD has simply replaced PD as a tool for illegally separating servicemembers.”
VVA recommends DoD revise its regulations so that the requirements for meeting an AD discharge mirror the requirements for PD discharges.
Addressing The Discharged
VVA and other VSOs are concerned about the continuing practice of wrongfully discharging soldiers for personality or adjustment disorders, but they are also concerned about the thousands of servicemembers discharged improperly over the last 10 years who might be due benefits and healthcare and have been unable to receive them.
The report states several times that, to date, DoD has “taken no meaningful steps to redress the wrongful discharges of these thousands of servicemembers.”
“Shame on the Department of Defense,” said Thomas Berger, MD, VVA executive director for the Veterans Health Council. “It acknowledges the widespread illegality of these discharges and changed its rules going forward but has left 31,000 wounded warriors alone to fend for themselves, denied even basic medical care for their injuries.”
DoD has not commented on the report.
At a recent House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on an unrelated topic, legislators waded into the issue, asking DoD and VA officials how these discharged servicemembers can address what could have been an illegal discharge from the military.
Philip Burdette, principal director of DoD’s Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy admitted that, as more attention has been paid to behavioral health issues and diagnoses have skyrocketed, training of behavioral health professionals has lagged.
As for the recourse left to discharged servicemembers, Burdette said, “The ability of a servicemember to challenge and reopen these cases has not been abridged. They’ve been extended. VA has done fantastic work of making those avenues for veterans available.”
Of the VVA report, Burdette said, “I think the role of VSOs is critical. I consider them our conscience.”