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.