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Changes sought for psych disorder discharges

Nov. 28, 2012 - 01:31PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 28, 2012 - 01:31PM  |  
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WASHINGTON — After nearly 30,000 servicemembers were forced out of the military for "personality disorders," often after combat service, a bipartisan House coalition hopes to require the Pentagon to review those cases in the hopes that some veterans could receive benefits.

Those processed out with a "personality disorder," which is considered a pre-existing condition, received an administrative discharge and no possibility of health benefits or disability retirement pay from the military. Many of those servicemembers had served in combat and showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Vietnam Veterans of America, which filed a lawsuit in 2010 demanding the records of those veterans. They were also not eligible for benefits from Veterans Affairs.

"It's pretty clear to us that it is our responsibility to make this right," said Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn. "They need to get back and get their cases adjudicated correctly."

Walz introduced his bill in October, long after the House passed its version of the annual defense authorization bill, but he's hoping the Senate will add the bill as an amendment to its version of the authorization bill. It was co-sponsored by Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif.; Chellie Pingree, D-Maine; and Thomas Rooney, R-Fla.

Failing to provide these veterans with the help they need to function in society will cost more money in the long run, Walz said. He said the issue "just wasn't addressed," and that a case of a young woman discharged for a personality disorder after she had been raped while in the military "really troubled me."

The discharges left former servicemembers not only without benefits, but also with a diagnosis that caused many of them to fear showing potential employers their military records. The form troops must sign as they're being counseled about personality disorders states, "If separated with less than an honorable discharge/characterization, you could encounter substantial prejudice in civilian life."

Personality disorders usually appear long before a person's 18th birthday, and many of the servicemembers said they had no symptoms of a mental health disorder before they deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. The military also screens for personality disorders before allowing a person to join the military.

"I think it would be the right thing to do, to have their cases reopened and reviewed," said Mike Hayden, a retired Air Force colonel and deputy director of government affairs for the Military Officers Association of America. "These were servicemembers diagnosed with personality disorder, when what they really had was post-traumatic stress, in order to curtail their disability benefits."

Beginning in 2008, after several media reports exposed the problem, the Army surgeon general must approve any personality disorder discharges.

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