Soldiers with PTSD misdiagnosed and dismissed

Despite all that we’ve learned about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in recent decades, many returning veterans from the Iraq War — deeply wounded in mind if not in body — have been abandoned by the country they served.  As reported by Anne Flaherty for the Associated Press:

At the height of the Iraq war, the Army routinely fired hundreds of soldiers for having a personality disorder when they were more likely suffering from the traumatic stresses of war, discharge data suggests.

The Nation‘s investigative reporting

Flaherty credits the investigative reporting of The Nation magazine for drawing greater attention to this practice, which has resulted in denials of disability benefits and long-term medical care.  Here’s part of a recent Nation piece by Joshua Kors summarizing that reporting:

For three years The Nation has been reporting on military doctors’ fraudulent use of personality disorder to discharge wounded soldiers [see Kors, “How Specialist Town Lost His Benefits,” April 9, 2007]. PD is a severe mental illness that emerges during childhood and is listed in military regulations as a pre-existing condition, not a result of combat. Thus those who are discharged with PD are denied a lifetime of disability benefits, which the military is required to provide to soldiers wounded during service. Soldiers discharged with PD are also denied long-term medical care. And they have to give back a slice of their re-enlistment bonus. That amount is often larger than the soldier’s final paycheck. As a result, on the day of their discharge, many injured vets learn that they owe the Army several thousand dollars.

What can unite us

Flaherty further reports that problems persist despite the growing public interest:

Under pressure from Congress and the public, the Army later acknowledged the problem and drastically cut the number of soldiers given the designation. But advocates for veterans say an unknown number of troops still unfairly bear the stigma of a personality disorder, making them ineligible for military health care and other benefits.

In previous wars, we called it “shell shock” or accused soldiers of being cowards.  Now we understand much more about PTSD, but we’re misdiagnosing soldiers’ conditions and dismissing them from service, with potentially lifelong repercussions. This is a travesty.  Regardless of whether one favors or opposes the Iraq War, we can unite in supporting the men and women who are coming back from tours of duty there.

6 responses

  1. This is also a common practice in the civilian world. Personality disorders are actually trauma disorders like PTSD. Some of the symptoms can be the same. Mental health practitioners who have low education and experience will often misdiagnose PTSD as a personality disorder. This happens very frequently in women who are diagnosed as borderline personalities when if they were male they would be given the label PTSD. BPD has a negative connotation and is often used as a retaliatory diagnosis by the uninformed. Some of the things that happened with me here in Alaska after my workplace bullying trauma were a “mental health professional” started to read the DSM-IV criteria for PDs to me and would ask if any of it sounded familiar. I told him I had PTSD and told him the criteria, among other things. The public defender agency hired a man with a Phd in education as a consultant on my case(he’s from WA) who is supposed to be an expert on Aspergers, he told her I had paranoid personality disorder after talking to me five minutes on the phone. I reported him to the BOL in WA for practicing without a license and diagnosing on the phone. I spit coffee all over a table laughing when she told me that. They also hired a psychiatrist who put about 25 pieces of false information in a report, the worst being my father sexually molested me(he’s from CA). Another one told me I was paranoid with psychotic features, I understood why she would mistake me as paranoid, I was hypervigilant and my story is hard to believe. I asked her what psychotic symptoms she was noticing, her answer was, “It was the way you told that story”. I said you mean like a traumatized person who is trying to get someone to listen to her. When I left I thought that is a person with just enough education to be dangerous. I thought she was a psychologist, but found out she was a social worker. Then two days later a psychologist told me there was absolutely nothing wrong with me. A few days later two women contacted me about him because one of them was his patient and he had sent her a letter stating he would help her keep her child if she gave him sexual favors. I told them to fax it to the BOL. Then an internal medicine doctor told me I was bipolar because I was having sleeping problems(despite the fact that Aspergers, PTSD, and CFS all have sleep problems). At the time my CFS was flared up so bad I looked like I had MS and had brain lesions on my MRI which I had to argue with him to get and then he hid the results from me. I got them from the hospital and then went to a neurologist who told me the lesions were from headaches despite the fact I had CFS which causes brain lesions. Cortisol from stress makes CFS flare up (XMRV a retrovirus has recently been discovered in CFS patients). While wrongfully imprisoned a “psychologist” presented in my little window on my cell door and told me I did not have a mental illness I was just “arrogant and nasty”. I had never had one conversation with him. I asked him how angry he would be at being wrongfully imprisoned while he knew his property was being stolen and cat starved and tortured. I asked him how he would feel if some ignorant psychiatrist had abruptly(and dangerously) stopped a high dose of Trazadone and Neurontin. I then told him if being arrogant was a crime a lot of lawyers and doctors would be in prison. That is when the psychiatrist leaned into the window so I could see her to try and intimidate me. She later told me autistic people don’t have problems with diarrhea just to give you an idea of the lack of information here. I actually have a lot more examples, I don’t give up easily. The military in Alaska has decided to send the soldiers with mental health issues to civilians for mental health treatment. They just have no idea what a bad idea that is. I did have one good experience when I went to Providence Hospital and checked myself into their mental health unit. They made appropriate diagnoses of PTSD, and cautiously told me I had features of Obsessive compulsive personality disorder to which I laughingly replied, “That is one of the requirements to be a critical care nurse”. One psychiatrist told me, “You have been through many layers of trauma”. That statement did more to make me feel better than anything that had happened during my three year struggle previously to get treatment. It was a relief for one thing to find someone based in reality and truth…finally.

  2. I have to say that I work for the federal government and this has happened to me. You say that James Flaherty is trying to bring more awareness to this misdiagnosing? the same has happened to me by my employer and wsiat believing them…I met James when he was Ministry of Labour, out on the lawn under a tent at city hall, I told him about the abuse by a co-worker that was occurring…& I’ve been trying to get a hold of him, to establish my credibility but his office stated that he does not recall our meeting, even though he told me at our meeting that I was the 1st member of public to sign up to meet him and he did not know that could be done. How could he forget that? He told me that there were specific laws in place to deal with that, and could not advise me…that’s ok…but you can help me now…

  3. more studies have to be done on ptsd; to distinguish the differences after subsequent trauma. By basically telling people they have a pre-existing disability, personality disorder, etc, it basically gives abusers the free for all opportunity to abuse further…in whatever fashion…and get away with it…this is not right; just because a person has suffered trauma once, does not mean they can’t suffer it again.

  4. as time goes on, I realize that it easy for a medical diagnosis to be misread and manipulated by insurance co.s to enhance their bottom line (and with the explicit help of the employer). It is disgusting that the medical industry is being influenced by people only concerned with their interests instead of yours!

  5. my son came back from iraq sick with ptsd tbi and other conditions he was sent to various phyiquiatric hospitals and sent to fort gordon there he was over medicated and court maritaled and now awaiting discharge is this the way a soldier who was proud to serve he is a medic who saved lives and now he has nothing and everyone ust gives him the back , my son is in need of help he tried for three occaciones to comitt suicide and the army mistreated him is this ustice is this the way to treat our heroes.

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