Lawmakers want thousands of 'personality disorder' discharges reviewed

By MARK FISCHENICH | The Free Press, Mankato, Minn. | Published: March 6, 2013

MANKATO, Min. — Many veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, including women service members traumatized by sexual assaults suffered within the military, have been wrongly diagnosed with personality disorders and improperly discharged and denied veterans benefits, according to Congressman Tim Walz.

Walz, a Mankato Democrat, is pressing for legislation that would require the Department of Defense to review the service records of 31,000 veterans discharged after military doctors diagnosed them with “personality disorder” or “adjustment disorder.” Because those diagnoses are considered pre-existing conditions, veterans are denied earned benefits even when they’ve seen combat and may actually be experiencing PTSD.

“... I am absolutely appalled that our brave warriors may have been improperly discharged and left without the care they need to reintegrate into the lives they once knew,” Walz said in a statement Tuesday announcing his introduction of the “Servicemembers Mental Health Review Act of 2013.”

Veterans discharged after being diagnosed as suffering a personality disorder are ineligible for health care and disability payments through the Department of Veterans Affairs. They also lose the hiring priorities awarded to vets and any retirement or disability payments.

A 2008 review of hundreds of records by the Government Accountability Office showed that many diagnoses for personality disorders failed to follow required procedures for making such a determination — including more than half the cases at some military bases.

According to a CNN report, the diagnoses have been disproportionately applied to female service members. Women make up 17 percent of the Navy, for instance, but received 26 percent of the Navy’s discharges for personality disorders.

The diagnosis is at times applied to victims of sexual assault, which has been a serious problem in the military that has received growing attention since the Navy’s Tailhook scandal two decades ago.

Walz cited the case of former Petty Officer 3rd Class Jenny McClendon. McClendon was repeatedly assaulted by a petty officer 2nd class on a Navy ship at sea, even after asking superiors that she not be assigned to serve night watches with him, according to a story in the National Journal.

Later, while based in Norfolk, Va., she was assaulted again and sent to a Navy therapist after reporting the assault, the National Journal reported. The therapist suggested that she was a bad fit for the Navy.

“Essentially, I was diagnosed with a personality disorder for failing to adjust adequately to being raped,” she said.

Walz’s bill has the support of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Wounded Warrior Project.

“Erroneous ‘personality or adjustment disorder’ designations have barred too many warriors with PTSD from getting needed help,” said Steve Nardizzi of the Wounded Warrior Project.

Walz spokesman Tony Ufkin said the legislation’s co-sponsors include Reps. Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts and Walter Jones of North Carolina — both members of the House Armed Services Committee, which will have jurisdiction over the bill.

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