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Personality disorder discharge problems persist

Lawmakers and veterans advocates criticized Defense Department officials yesterday for continued questions surrounding personality disorder discharges by the military, a practice critics say allows the military to avoid paying for some war injuries by blaming problems instead on pre-existing medical conditions.

In testimony before the House Veterans Affairs Committee Wednesday, Department officials said the number of personality disorder dismissals has dropped by nearly a third in recent years, thanks to stricter regulation and new requirements for discharges. But the military in fiscal 2009 (the latest data available) still booted more than 2,000 troops for conditions they say were lingering from before their enlistment, a figure that lawmakers said is unsettling.

"Three years later, the Committee continues to hear of accounts of wrongful personality disorder discharges," said chairman Bob Filner, D-Calif. "This begs the question of how many soldiers have to commit suicide, go bankrupt, and end up homeless before real action is taken to remedy this problem?"

Troops who are found to have pre-existing medical conditions or mental disorders that would make them unsuitable for military service can be dismissed from the service, denied long-term veterans medical care and even forced to repay their enlistment signing bonus -- even if they're already served in combat and sustained injuries there.

Three years ago Joshua Kors, a reporter for the Nation, broke the story of military's use of the dismissal. On Wednesday he appeared before the panel and said the new regulations passed by the military in the wake of his articles produced little real change.

Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, said his group remains alarmed that the military "continues improperly discharging our service members who had entered the military in good health and served with honor while deployed to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, only to be administratively discharged, often without access to medical care or benefits from DoD or VA." He questioned whether Pentagon cost cutting may be to blame for the continued practice.

But Lernes J. Hebert,  acting director of officer and enlisted personnel management at the department, dismissed those claims and said all personality disorder claims are rigorously evaluated before dismissal. "The Department is confident that given the positive trends, servicemembers who experience or assert PTSD or TBI are being diagnosed and that those diagnoses are being considered prior to separation."

UPDATE: You can watch the hearing at this link.

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