Soldier gets a second chance at medical retirement
By JENNIFER HLAD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 4, 2014
A soldier who served nearly 30 years in the Army National Guard but was discharged after being misdiagnosed with adjustment disorder now has a second chance at a medical retirement.
Chief Judge Janet Hall of the U.S. District Court in Connecticut ruled on Tuesday that the Army had violated its separation regulations when it discharged William Cowles and that his diagnosis of adjustment disorder was a medical error. Hall also nullified the decision of the Army Board for Correction of Military Records, and sent Cowles’ case back to the board for reconsideration.
Right now, Cowles receives disability pay from the Department of Veterans Affairs, but only gets about 50 percent of the GI Bill benefits he would receive if he was medically retired. He does not receive a retirement pension or other benefits associated with retirement.
He filed the suit in November in an effort to get his records changed, recoup about $20,000 in retirement pay, receive a retirement pension in the future, and receive other “tangible and intangible” benefits allowed to veterans who are medically retired from the service.
Phoebe Clark, one of the Yale law student interns who represented Cowles through the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic, said she is “very optimistic that things will change this time around.”
Ashley Anderson, a law student intern who will represent Cowles going forward, said she believes the ruling is great news for Cowles and other veterans who may have been similarly misdiagnosed and are seeking amendments to their military records.
Cowles enlisted in the Army National Guard in 1974 as a combat engineer and deployed to Kuwait in 2003. Shortly after he arrived, three soldiers from the Guard unit serving next to him were killed in an ambush, and Cowles saw their bodies when they were returned to base, according to the lawsuit.
He later witnessed a soldier beat a Pakistani truck driver to death with a rifle butt and was told not to speak of it, according to the lawsuit.
Cowles suffered a breakdown and was evacuated from Kuwait, according to the lawsuit. After receiving treatment at Walter Reed and group therapy in New York, Cowles was diagnosed with adjustment disorder and released from active duty with an honorable discharge on the basis of “other designated physical or mental condition.”
Two months later, Department of Veterans Affairs staff evaluated Cowles and diagnosed him with service-connected post-traumatic stress disorder, rating him 30 percent disabled on March 2, 2004. His disability rating was later increased to 50 percent, 70 percent and then 100 percent.
In 2012, Cowles applied to the Army Board for Correction of Military Records, asking the board to change his files so he could receive benefits he would have received if he had been medically retired with a combat-related PTSD diagnosis instead of discharged with an adjustment disorder diagnosis. That application was denied.