Transcript

JOSHUA KORS: Did you know that since 2001 over 31,000 of our soldiers have been discharged from the military with "personality disorder"? And that discharging our soldiers that way has saved the military over $17.2 billion in disability benefits and long-term medical care?

Well, I didn't know that. I didn't know what "personality disorder" was until I started volunteering for a veterans' group in my neighborhood in New York City. My role at the veterans' organization was to tell the stories of soldiers, soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with stories of heroism and courage, tragedy and triumph. Specialist Jonathan Town was going to be the fifth soldier in this series of soldier stories, until he told me something that knocked me flat. He explained how he was wounded by a rocket blast in Iraq, won the Purple Heart for his wounds — and so they discharged him with personality disorder.

I said, "Wait, wait, what? Personali— ...." That didn't make any sense to me. I was baffled. And so, I began to dig. And that is how I fell down the rabbit hole of this story, investigating personality disorder discharges for the last nine years. First, we put it on the cover of The Nation magazine. And then Bob Woodruff and I put it on "Nightline."

["Nightline" video clip]

BOB WOODRUFF: In Iraq in the fall of 2004, a rocket exploded two feet above Town'shead, knocking him out for several minutes.

SPECIALIST JONATHAN TOWN: When I started coming to, I could feel my buddy shaking me and saying, "Town, are you awake? Town, are you okay?"

WOODRUFF: The blast left him with significant hearing loss, along with headaches and memory problems. After the attack, Town was awarded a Purple Heart. But when he returned to the States, depressed and tormented by nightmares, the Army acted quickly to discharge him, ruling his problems were caused not by the war but bya personality disorder that predatedhis military career.

WOODRUFF [to TOWN]: They basically said that you had a mental problem before you got into the Army.

TOWN: Correct.

WOODRUFF: Based on ... on what?

TOWN: Nothing.

WOODRUFF: Did they ever question your parents, your friends, anybody from your past?

TOWN: Not at all.

WOODRUFF: The military calls it "Separation Because of Personality Disorder," defined in regulations as a "deeply ingrained, maladaptive pattern of behavior." And because it is considered a preexisting condition, Town was left ineligible for disability pay and benefits, and he was forced to return a portion of his reenlistment bonus.

TOWN: The day I got discharged they told me I owedthe Army $3,000.

WOODRUFF: That you owe them money?

TOWN: Correct.

WOODRUFF: You get a Purple Heart, got sent back, left the Army, now you owe them money?

TOWN: Correct.

[End "Nightline" video clip]

KORS: Town's voice broke the silence. And soon after his voice went out, "Law and Order" picked up "personality disorder discharges" as an episode in its next season. And then the big guns stepped in: Senator Barack Obama and rockstar Dave Matthews. Obama put forward a bill, S.1817, to halt all personality disorder discharges.Matthews put a petition on his rock band's website asking Congress to investigate these discharges. Within a few days that petition had over 23,000 signatures. Next thing you know, there I was sitting before Congress, and there was Specialist Jonathan Town.

After Town told his story to Congress, I heard from voices in the military from all over the country. I spoke with military doctors who talked to me about the pressure on them to purposely misdiagnose wounded soldiers. One told me the story of a soldier who came back with a chunk missing from his leg. His superior pressured him to diagnose that as personality disorder.

I also got a flood of emails just like this one: "Personality Disorder Discharge — Please Help!" That letter come before Sergeant Chuck Luther, who served in Iraq and was knocked to the ground by a mortar blast, slammed his head against the concrete, ended up with headaches so severe that they would blot out his vision — literally blinding headaches. When his superiors tried to tell him that his blindness was caused by pre-existing personality disorder, he refused to sign the documents.

And so they put him in a storage closet and held him there for over a month, under enforced sleep deprivation, with armed guards keeping the lights on all night,blasting heavy metal music at him all night. He tried to escape the closet; they pinned him down, injected him with sleeping medication,and dragged him back to the closet. Until finally, exhausted, defeated, he signed the documents.

It's worth mentioning that personality disorder actually is a recognized mental illness. You might recognize these faces here. That's Adam Lanza in the upper left-hand corner, the young man who went into Sandy Hook Elementary School and murdered all those children. In the lower right-hand corner, those are the Columbine killers, each of them recognized cases of personality disorder. It's such a severe mental illness that the military screens every soldier for it before they'readmitted into the military. They're screened a second time before being deployed. In my nine years reporting on this story, the dozens and dozens of soldiers I spoke to, all of them were a lot more like Sergeant Chuck Luther, who served a dozen years and won 22 honors for his performance, before his "preexisting condition" was discovered.

They were service members like Airman Amy Quinn. Quinn, a Navy electrician, served on the U.S.S. Harry Truman,the battle carrier where she brutally raped and physically assaulted. When she reported the crimes to her superiors, did they arrest her attackers? Did they confine them to a corner of the ship? No. Instead they settled on a discharge — for her, for personality disorder.

Now, it's important to understand that the military doesn't deny any aspect of this scandal. In fact, I spoke Sgt. Luther's commander, who talked to me about his discharge and described why he felt confining him to the closet was the right thing to do. What the military has said is that these discharges are not acts of injustice because these soldiers can appeal their cases, get them overturned on appeal and then, after winning before the appeals board, get disability benefits and medical care. But how often does that happen?

An enterprising reporter at Fusion television, Alissa Figueroa, spent a year trying to find out. In her series, "A Losing Battle," she looked at the last 3,000 cases of personality disorder discharge appeals. And of those 3,000 appeals, how many did the appeals boardrule in the soldier's favor? Zero. And the reason, she found, was quite simple: the appeals board was setting aside an average of 3 minutes and 45 seconds for each case. Now, we can speculate as to what an entire appeals board can achieve in just 3 minutes and 45 seconds, but I think this graphic tells the story better than I can. These are two hands reading the hundreds of pages of medical documents that Sergeant Luther put together to prove that he was wounded in war in just 3 minutes and 45 seconds. You can't do it. All you can do is blindly except that the military got it right the first time and move on from there.

Of course, Airman Amy Quinn didn't need an enterprising television reporter to tell her that every appeal gets rejected. All she need to do was go to her mailbox, where the appeals board had her rejection waiting there for her.

By the time of the New York Times caught on to this story and placed it on its front page, the number of discharged soldiers was sky high: Since 2001, over 31,000 of our soldiers had been discharged from the military with personality disorder, at a savings to the military of over $17.2 billion dollars in disability benefits and long-term medical care.

Now, that New York Times piece, that was published in 2012. You might ask yourself, "Where are we now?" Well, the honest answer is: we actually have no idea. The Government Accountability Office did a study last year on personality disorder discharges and found that they can't even track them anymore. That's because the branches of the military are finding all new ways to hustle our wounded soldiers out the side door. Some are still calling it "personality disorder"; others are now calling it "adjustment disorder"; others are using new avenues altogether. Same lack of benefits, same lack of medical care, only now undetectable, beneath the radar.

So what can be done? Well, Yale Law School had an enterprising solution. They put together the Veterans Legal Services Clinic specifically to look into these discharges. The clinic actually sued the government to get more information about personality disorder discharges. Sergeant Chuck Luther had extraordinary solution. He founded Disposable Warriors, a veterans organization specifically designed to assist wounded soldiers who have been discharged with personality disorder. And Representative Timothy Walz, the highest-ranking enlisted man in Congress, went back onto the floor of Congress and resubmitted Senator Obama's bill to help halt these discharges.

But the real solution, I think, is actually a lot simpler. It begins with you, and it begins with me.

We can KNOW — know what is happening to our wounded soldiers. For those of you here today, the phrase "personality disorder" will never again be a mystery. Maybe you've even become curious enough to go home tonight, Google "personality disorder discharges,"and find out what the heckis happening to our soldiers.

We can SHARE. For those of you here in the auditorium, tonight when you're having dinner with your family, will you tell them what is happening to our soldiers? For those of you who are hearing my voice at home — with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at your fingertips — will you make one click and share our soldiers' stories with your friends and family? Will you challenge them to share this video with their friends and their family?

Because finally, we can RECOGNIZE — recognize that this is not a political issue. This is a human rights crisis. Because these wounded soldiers, they're not just statistics. And they're not just photos. Airman Amy Quinn, Sergeant Chuck Luther, Specialist Jonathan Town — these are real people. These are real families.

They have served us. Now it's our turn to serve them. Thank you.


 

 

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Tel.: (646) 456-7738                                                              joshua@joshuakors.com