Mideast edition, Saturday, June 30, 2007

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress have asked Pentagon officials to review the policy on and numbers of personality disorder discharges in the military to ensure service officials aren’t abusing the process.

The concerns rose after a pair of news reports chronicling soldiers wounded overseas who were later discharged for what the Army called pre-existing personality problems, unrelated to their combat tours.

The move left them ineligible to receive veterans’ benefits despite their injuries, since they were deemed unfit to serve.

Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Kit Bond, R-Mo., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., last week asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates for a “thorough and independent review” to ensure that such diagnoses aren’t being made to save the services health care costs.

“Serious questions remain unanswered about the use, or abuse, of the personality disorder discharge,” Mikulski wrote in a letter to Gates. “… Like many veterans’ advocates, we are skeptical about an administrative process that suddenly diagnoses military personnel who have long and honorable military careers.”

Defense Department spokesman Maj. Stewart Upton said officials have not yet issued a formal response to the senators. He said the issue is under review by the presidential commission on military health care, but would not discuss any details of their decisions.

“The department is committed to improving the disability evaluation system across-the-board, as well as to quality health care,” he said.

Army spokesman Paul Boyce said service officials are actively working with the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs on the issue.

Since October 2001, the services have discharged 24,723 troops under the character and behavior disorders policy.

In 2006, 3,937 servicemembers were dismissed under the policy, up about 8 percent from 2005 but just above the 3,899 servicemembers dismissed in 2002.

In the letter, the senators also ask for the creation of a special discharge review board to assist in the process of re-examining the cases of troops already discharged with personality disorders.

“As the Walter Reed Army Medical Center hearings demonstrated, the American people will not tolerate substandard treatment and rehabilitative care for those who have served,” Mikulski wrote.

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