This bill establishes a precedent to require a review of discharges of more than 31,000 service members diagnosed with personality or adjustment disorders to see if those troops actually suffered from post-traumatic stress. The impact of service should be fully diagnosed as such and entitle servicemembers to the full care and benefits that their military service dictates and deserves.
A personality disorder diagnosis is considered a pre-existing condition that is not a result of their military service but must have existed prior to serving in the military. Veterans who may have been unjustly given this discharge are denied benefits from the VA. Advocates, including Swords to Plowshares, have been concerned for years that the diagnosis has been inappropriately used to discharge service members who have been sexually assaulted as well as those with post traumatic stress.
Navy Times – More than 31,000 discharges for service members diagnosed with personality or adjustment disorders would be reviewed to see if those troops actually suffered from post-traumatic stress, under legislation introduced Tuesday by Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn.
The bill, HR 975, is endorsed by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which is concerned that misdiagnoses of mental disorders are cheating veterans out of benefits. The Wounded Warrior Project also supports the bill.
Personality disorders and adjustment disorders are considered to have existed before service members joined the military, making them ineligible for disability compensation and mental health treatment. There are particular concerns that the diagnoses have been inappropriately used to discharge victims of sexual assault.
Not only are those veterans denied benefits, but the diagnosis also appears on their discharge papers, which can stigmatize them and make it harder to find civilian employment.
Walz, a retired Minnesota Army National Guard command sergeant major — the highest-ranking former enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress — has been a champion of a variety of veterans’ causes. “After fighting for our country overseas, I am absolutely appalled that our brave warriors may have been improperly discharged and left without the care they need to reintegrate into the lives they once knew,” he said. “Action must be taken to correct the record.”
His Servicemembers Mental Health Review Act of 2013 would require a review of discharges for personality and adjustment disorders for anyone separated from Sept. 11, 2001, through Dec. 31, 2014, when unfitness for duty was the cause.
Those discharged would be allowed to present evidence to the review board, including from at least one licensed psychologist and one licensed psychiatrist who have either never worked for the Defense Department or have not worked for DoD since at least Dec. 31, 2001.
“Today, thousands of veterans may be suffering in silence because an unknown number of Department of Defense physicians chose to diagnose these men and women with personality disorder or adjustment disorder instead of post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA’s executive director, in a letter of support for the bill.
“IAVA is in no way insinuating that every DoD physician providing these diagnoses was incorrect or had malicious intentions,” Rieckhoff said. But he noted that a review by the Government Accountability Office “clearly illustrates that many physicians were swayed to give a diagnosis of personality or adjustment disorder in place of PTSD in an effort to save money on providing mental health care and/or disability benefits post service.”
“Thousands of service members who may be struggling with service-incurred mental health conditions end up carrying a particularly stigmatizing label that bars them from much-needed military and veterans’ benefits and services,” said John Molino of the Wounded Warrior Project. “It is apparent that in many cases, their separations were not conducted in compliance with applicable DoD requirements and the service members were not afforded applicable protections.”
Source: Navy Times, March 6, 2013, by Rick Maze