A federal report has found that 62 percent of military personnel discharged for misconduct from 2011 through 2015 had been diagnosed with mental illnesses that could have caused their behaviors. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) report concluded that the military failed to follow policies designed to prevent inappropriate discharge of service members with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The result is many veterans received less than honorable discharges, making them ineligible for health care, disability benefits, or education aid from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The GAO said 57,141 service members discharged for misconduct had been diagnosed up to two years before their release with conditions that included: PTSD, TBI, adjustment disorders, alcohol-related and substance abuse disorders, depression and anxiety. The conditions, which the GAO called “signature wounds” of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, can affect moods, thoughts and behaviors and may trigger activities such as drug use, insubordination, absence from the military without permission, and crimes, the report states.
Frustrated by Pentagon efforts, Connecticut groups that work with veterans have informed some 1,500 veterans that they can apply for upgrades of “bad paper” military discharge statuses if they have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Although tens of thousands of veterans nationwide are eligible to apply for PTSD-related upgrades, just 1,180 have done so, according to figures provided by the Pentagon to the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic. In 2014, then Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued a policy to make it easier for veterans with PTSD to upgrade their discharge statuses and become eligible for veterans’ benefits. “Most people don’t know about it,” said Olivia Horton, a Yale law student, working on the project to contact Connecticut veterans by mail. She said frustration with the Pentagon’s public outreach “was the impetus” to contact veterans directly.
Veterans’ exposure to toxic chemicals may harm their families’ health for generations, causing cancer, birth defects and other medical problems, according to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal. He is co-sponsoring legislation to require that veterans be informed of their exposure to toxic substances and to establish a research center focusing on the illnesses of exposed veterans’ descendants. Blumenthal, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said that “the dimensions of the problem are unknown at this point” because no one has collected data on it. But, he added, “we know the toxic exposure is there. Science indicates it can cause genetic effects.” He cited brain and blood cancers as potential repercussions.
Two national veterans’ advocacy groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs, saying it discriminates against victims of military sexual trauma who are seeking VA disability benefits. The suit was brought by Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) and Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). They want the VA to change what they consider to be burdensome regulations governing claims for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that are based on rape, sexual assault, or sexual harassment. They cite substantial gaps between benefit approvals for these claims compared to higher approvals for other PTSD claims.
The Yale Law School Veterans Legal Clinic is representing the plaintiffs and filed the suit in federal court in Washington, D.C.
The plaintiffs are asking that the rules conform to those governing PTSD claims based on combat trauma, Prisoner of War status, and fear of hostile military or terrorist activity, which are less stringent than those based on Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and are also situations that pose difficulty in obtaining corroboratory evidence. “The VA knows the current process makes veterans who’ve been harmed by military sexual harassment and assault jump through more hoops than other PTSD claimants,” said Anu Bhagwati, SWAN executive director and a former Marine Corps captain.
Five Vietnam War veterans, including a New Haven resident, filed a federal lawsuit Monday, claiming that they have been denied benefits and suffered stigma because they received “other than honorable” discharges due to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They asked the U.S. District Court in New Haven to designate the suit as a class action on behalf of tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans in the country in similar circumstances. PTSD wasn’t designated a medical condition until 1980, five years after the Vietnam War ended. Many Vietnam veterans with undiagnosed PTSD contend they received other than honorable discharges due to behaviors connected with that illness. Vietnam Veterans of America and its Connecticut State Council, and the New Haven-based National Veterans Council for Legal Redress are also plaintiffs in the suit. They are being represented by the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic.
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).
Over the years, Andy Gow of Wallingford didn’t know what to make of word that more and more of his former Air Force buddies were being diagnosed with prostate cancer or diabetes. Then, in 2003, he got the news firsthand—he had both diseases – and began to connect the dots.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has called on the Department of Defense [DoD] to grant Freedom of Information Act requests from veterans organizations seeking information on the alleged misuse of personality disorder discharges.
While the number of veterans discharged for “personality disorder” has dropped dramatically in the last two years, the numbers of service members diagnosed with adjustment disorder has climbed, leading veterans’ groups to charge Wednesday that the military may be playing a shell game to deny benefits to combat veterans.