By LISA CHEDEKEL Conn. Health I-Team Writer
The Department of Defense has illegally discharged hundreds of veterans since 2008 for alleged personality disorder, skirting requirements intended to reduce such diagnoses and depriving veterans of benefits, according to an analysis of data by the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA).
In a new report, the VVA national organization and Connecticut chapters, working with the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, found that since fiscal year 2001, the military had discharged more than 31,000 service members on the basis of personality disorder (PD). While regulations were tightened in 2008 to require more careful diagnosis and counseling, data provided to the VVA shows spotty compliance with those rules through 2009. And while discharges for PD dropped overall from 2008 to 2010, discharges for reported "adjustment disorder," or AD, remained substantial, the VVA's report says.
"In the military, VVA believes that health care professionals may be using PD and AD interchangeably to expedite a service member's separation from the military," the report says. Some of those discharges may be based on intentional misdiagnoses, with troops actually suffering from combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI), VVA says.
Unlike PTSD or TBI, the military considers personality disorder a pre-existing condition, and service members discharged on that basis cannot receive disability or other benefits.
The law clinic's finding that 31,000 service members were discharged for personality disorder from 2001 to 2010 represents a 19 percent increase over the 26,000 personality-disorder discharges estimated by the federal General Accounting Office (GAO) from 2001 to 2007.
Among the active-duty services, the Navy, which has a strong presence in Connecticut, has discharged the most service members - 7,735 - on the basis of personality disorder since fiscal year 2002, the report says.
In a 2010 report, the GAO warned that the Department of Defense did not have "reasonable assurance" that its discharge requirements were being followed by the military branches. DOD officials have responded that they strengthened policies and boosted compliance reporting, and that troops who believe they are wrongly discharged can contest those decisions.
The VVA, meanwhile, wants the military to take "meaningful action to review and correct the wrongful discharge" of thousands of troops since 2001.
"Everyone agrees that illegal personality disorder discharges occurred," said Robert Cuthbert Jr., a student intern with the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at the Yale Law School, which represents VVA in Freedom of Information litigation. "Some of these veterans may suffer from undiagnosed PTSD or TBI. The Department of Defense must act justly, responsibly, and promptly to help them heal."
The full VVA report is available here: www.vva.org/ppd-whitepaper.html
This story was reported under a partnership with the Connecticut Health I-Team (www.c-hit.org).