Joshua Kors, in the Nation, indicates that the military is still using apparently bogus personality disorder diagnoses to kick out service members without the benefits to which they are entitled. In this article he tells of Sergeant Chuck Luther, a 19-year veteran who reportedly was held in isolation for a month and subjected to sleep deprivation in order to force him to sign papers accepting the personality disorder diagnosis. After a months,
Luther was called to his commander’s office. Major Wehri was frank. He held the personality disorder discharge papers in his hand. “And he said, ‘Sign this paperwork, and we’ll get you out.’ I said, ‘I don’t have a personality disorder.’ But it was like that didn’t matter,” says Luther. “He said, ‘If you don’t sign this, you’re going to be here a lot longer.’”
The Major, in giving his account of the origins of Sgt. Luther’s, actually contradicts a personality disorder diagnnosis:
The major says Luther’s real story is that of a good soldier who came home for leave, saw his wife’s new haircut and slimmed figure and was driven mad by fears of her infidelity. “When he came back to Iraq, something had changed. He had a negative attitude. He wouldn’t respond to direct orders. His head wasn’t in the game.” Wehri says it became clear to him that Luther was intent on returning home right away, a realization that left him disappointed but not shocked. “Soldiers are conniving,” he says. “They are manipulative. If they get in their minds they want to do something for personal gain, including going home, they’ll go to any lengths to get it.”
While the Major denies that Luther’s military experience caused his problems:
Wehri rejects the idea that the mortar attack and subsequent concussion could have triggered Luther’s woes. “That mortar attack was nothing,” he says. “Insignificant. Maybe he fell down. Sure. I’ve fallen down lots of times.” The major wonders aloud whether Luther is using that injury to justify his instability. He says if he thought the attack was significant, he would have investigated it fully and gotten the ball rolling for a Purple Heart.
Even if [and I mean IF] the Major’s account was true, a condition that doesn’t show symptoms until a person is in his late thirties or older is not a personality disorder. PDs must last for at least five years for a diagnosis to even be considered. The military’s own account shows that the PD diagnosis is a fraud.
The Major also claimed:
The major says that when Luther’s troubles began, the sergeant’s behavior confounded him. Then, says Wehri, he heard from a commander who said Luther’s family had spoken with him and revealed that Luther had suffered from psychiatric problems before entering the military and had been treated with medication. “Then suddenly it made sense to me,” says Wehri. “This was not new. His symptoms were just popping up now, after he’d kept a lid on them for many years. It all clicked into place.”
The family denies that any such conversation ever took place, or that Luther had earlier psychiatric problems. But, in this case, the truth or falsity of the claims is irrelevant. If Luther had had psychiatric treatment 19 years earlier, before he enlisted, and “kept a lid on them for many years,” by definition, he did not have a personality disorder.
The personality disorder diagnosis ended Luther’s military career. He was shipped stateside and quickly discharged. In the process he learned the result of accepting a personaliy disorder diagnosis:
he was ineligible for disability benefits, since his condition was pre-existing. He would not be receiving the lifetime of medical care given to severely wounded soldiers. And because he did not complete his contract, he would have to return a slice of his signing bonus.At the base, a Fort Hood discharge specialist laid out the details. “He said I now owed the Army $1,500. And if I did not pay, they’d garnish my wages and assess interest on my debt,” Luther says.
Luther was then released into a pelting Texas rain. He called his wife, Nicki, to pick him up. “When I got to Fort Hood he was in the parking lot, alone, wet, sitting on his duffel bag,” Nicki recalls. “He had lost a lot of weight. He looked like…a little boy. I remember thinking, My God, what have they done to my husband?”
He gave 19 years and dumped on the side of the road.
Luther’s case is not unique. As Kors summarizes:
In the past three years, The Nation has uncovered more than two dozen cases like his from bases across the country. All the soldiers were examined, deemed physically and psychologically fit, then welcomed into the military. All performed honorably before being wounded during service. None had a documented history of psychological problems. Yet after seeking treatment for their wounds, each soldier was diagnosed with a pre-existing personality disorder, then discharged and denied benefits.
That group includes Sgt. Jose Rivera, whose hands and legs were punctured by grenade shrapnel during his second tour in Iraq. Army doctors said his wounds were caused by personality disorder. Sailor Samantha Stitz fractured her pelvis and two bones in her ankle. Navy doctors cited personality disorder as the cause. Spc. Bonnie Moore developed an inflamed uterus during her service. Army doctors said her profuse vaginal bleeding was caused by personality disorder. Civilian doctors disagreed: they performed emergency surgery to remove her uterus and appendix. After being discharged and denied benefits, Moore and her teenage daughter became homeless.
Former Senator Obama filed a bill to address the problem. It got watered down to a call for an investigation, which President Bush signed. The investigation, like so many others where the military investigates itself, was a complete whitewash:
The Pentagon’s conclusion: no soldiers had been improperly diagnosed, and none had been wrongly discharged. The report praises the military’s doctors as “competent professionals” and endorses continued use of pre-existing personality disorder to discharge soldiers whose “ability to function effectively” is impaired. The report’s author, former Under Secretary of Defense David Chu, further notes that though the Navy’s official label for the discharge is “Separation by Reason of Convenience of the Government,” soldiers “are not wantonly discharged at the convenience of the Military.”It is unclear how Chu came to these conclusions. The report does not cite any interviews with soldiers discharged with personality disorder, or their families, doctors or commanders. That fact infuriated many military families, as it triggered memories of a 2007 study by former Army Surgeon General Gale Pollock. Pollock had been asked to examine a stack of PD cases. Five months later she released her report, saying her office had “thoughtfully and thoroughly” reviewed them. Like Chu, she commended the soldiers’ doctors and determined that they all had been properly diagnosed. The Nation later revealed that Pollock’s office did not interview anyone, not even the soldiers whose cases she was reviewing [see Kors, "Specialist Town Takes His Case to Washington," October 15, 2007].
“He doesn’t talk to soldiers, and he doesn’t talk to their families?” says Nicki Luther, the sergeant’s wife, her eyes welling with tears. “I heard the same thing from that surgeon general, and I thought, You haven’t been in my house. You don’t know what I’ve dealt with. How dare you sit there and say you’ve investigated thoroughly and found nothing. That’s a crock.”
His life falling apart, Luther sought help from a psychologist, this time, one outside the military:
This time he sought it outside the military. He began seeing Troy Daniels, a psychologist, once a week. One fact was clear immediately, says Daniels. “He did not have personality disorder. The symptoms we were looking at looked more like traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. To take a soldier having problems with vision, hearing and so forth–and to say he has personality disorder–that’s a bogus kind of statement. I don’t even think a master’s student would make that kind of mistake.”While Daniels dismisses the Army doctors’ diagnosis as a “gross error,” he says he was not surprised by it. “I’ve treated hundreds of soldiers over the years, and I’ve seen a dozen personality disorder diagnoses. None of them,” says the psychologist, “actually had personality disorder.”
Yet all of those soldiers, he says, faced serious repercussions because of their discharge. “Many of the soldiers can’t get hired anymore. Every time they go for a job, they’ll have this paper that says they’ve been diagnosed with a personality disorder. Employers take one look at that and think, ‘This guy’s crazy. We can’t hire him.’ For most of the soldiers,” says Daniels, “it becomes a lifetime label.”
After a battle, the VA agreed:
This past December–after VA doctors found Luther to be suffering from migraine headaches, vision problems, dizziness, nausea, difficulty hearing, numbness, anxiety and irritability–the VA cited traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder and declared Luther 80 percent disabled. “PTSD, a consequence of the TBI,” wrote one VA doctor, “is a clear diagnosis.”
But the army won’t budge:
The VA rating cleared the way for the sergeant to receive disability benefits and a lifetime of medical care. But it hasn’t changed the Army’s view–or altered Luther’s discharge papers, which still list the sergeant as suffering from personality disorder. The sergeant, in return, has refused to pay back the $1,500 of his signing bonus that the Army says he owes, despite threats to garnish his wages. “I told them, Let me put it this way: as long as I’m breathing of my own free will, I’m not paying you a dime.”
Luther is fighting back, but he is still under attack from someone:
Luther is now the founder and executive director of Disposable Warriors, a one-man operation that assists soldiers who are fighting their discharge and veterans who are appealing their disability rating.Luther’s organization did not receive a hero’s welcome. Soon after founding the group, he discovered a threatening note on his windshield. “Back off or you and your family will pay!!” it read, in careful, black ink cursive. Weeks later, thieves broke into the home of a veterans’ organizer who worked closely with Luther, taking nothing but the files of the soldiers they were assisting.
It is long past time that the scandal of false personality disorder diagnoses stop. Any diagnosis that wasn’t detected in pre-deployment screening should be irrelevant anyway. These soldiers gave their all. They deserve to be taken care of. Period.
1 comment April 14th, 2010