By Stephen Spotswood
WASHINGTON — The U.S. military continues to use improper processes to diagnose significant numbers of servicemembers with pre-existing personality disorders (PD) and then discharge them, according to government documents obtained by an advocacy group.
The Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) cited new documents released from DoD under the Freedom of Information Act to show the problem is continuing and may be increasing. Personality disorders are considered pre-existing conditions, and servicemembers discharged with those diagnoses are ineligible for financial or medical benefits.
VVA and other veterans’ advocates have spent years advocating reform of DoD’s procedure for identifying and diagnosing PD, contending the disorder can be confused with service-connected mental-health conditions. They also maintain that improper diagnosis of PD has cut hundreds, perhaps thousands, of servicemembers off from the benefits and healthcare services they are owed.
According to a report released by VVA that breaks down information the organization obtained from DoD, the number of PD discharges may be going up, and many of those discharges are still being conducted improperly.
Recruits go on patrol during basic training at Fort Jackson, SC, earlier this year.
Even if recruits meet the physical rigors, they could be forced out of the military
because of improper diagnoses of personality disorders. Photo by Air Force Staff
Sgt. Shawn Weismiller
Personality disorders are a class of mental-health disorder characterized by individuals’ inflexible, socially inappropriate behaviors across diverse situations. It cannot be caused by any other major psychiatric disorder, medical disorder or substance abuse. Neither is it necessarily incompatible with military service but deemed that only when it interferes with the proper execution of a servicemember’s duties.
In 2008, after a series of reports in the media about the inappropriate use of PD discharges by DoD physicians, including allegations that the diagnoses were made to cut down on benefit costs, Congress asked DoD to establish a moratorium on PD discharges.
According to DoD documents, 31,000 servicemembers were separated from the military with a PD diagnosis between FY 2001 and FY 2010. Records obtained by VVA and investigations conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) indicate that hundreds of these discharges were done in violation of DoD instructions establishing protections against wrongful discharge.
According to VVA’s report, those wrongful — or at least poorly conducted — discharges are continuing. One Navy report on 2008-2009 PD discharges states only that only 8.9% of PD discharges were properly processed.
A 2008 GAO investigation had looked at a sample of soldiers discharged for PD and found that between 22% and 60% of those had not actually been diagnosed by a psychologist or psychiatrist as having a PD that interfered with their duties. Additionally, 60% of them never received counseling about their PD before leaving the service.
The report concluded that the military had no way of confirming that military commanders were meeting DoD separation requirements.