In 2007, this Committee held a hearing to explore the problem of the Department of Defense (DoD) improperly discharging servicemembers with pre-existing personality disorders rather than mental health conditions resulting from the stresses of war such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
This means that servicemembers with personality disorder discharges are generally denied key military disability benefits and DoD is conveniently relieved from the responsibility of caring for our servicemembers in the long-term. These men and women continue to face an uphill battle when they seek benefits and services at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) because they must somehow prove that the so called pre-existing condition was aggravated or worsened by their military service.
Following the 2007 hearing on personality disorder discharges, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 included a provision requiring DoD to submit a report to Congress on this issue. DoD reported that from 2002 to 2007, the Department discharged 22,600 servicemembers with personality disorders.
DoD policy further stated that servicemembers must be counseled, be given the opportunity to overcome said deficiencies, and must receive written notification prior to being involuntarily separated on the basis of a personality disorder. DoD also added rigor to their policy guidance by authorizing such separations only if servicemembers are diagnosed by a psychiatrist or Ph.D. level psychologists of the personality disorder.
It has been over three years since we first exposed this issue at our hearing in 2007. It is my understanding that DoD's use of personality disorder discharges has decreased and that they concluded that no soldiers have been wrongly discharged.
I am deeply puzzled by this conclusion and would like to better understand the process and the criteria that were used to review the files of the thousands of servicemembers who were discharged with personality disorders. I cannot help but suspect that our men and women are not getting the help that they need and are struggling with PTSD, TBI, and other stresses of war on their own because of wrongful personality disorder discharges.
Stresses of war such as PTSD and TBI are debilitating and its impact can be far-reaching. We know of the negative impact that PTSD and TBI can have on the individual's mental health, physical health, work, and relationships. We also know that veterans attempt to self-medicate using alcohol and drugs. This means that PTSD and TBI can lead veterans on a downward spiral towards suicide attempts and homelessness.
Just this past summer, we all heard the United States Army reporting suicide rates of 20.2 per 100,000 which now exceeds the national suicide rate of 19.2 per 100,000 in the general population. And, when high-risk behaviors such as drinking and driving and drug overdoses are taken into account, it is said that more soldiers are dying by their own hand than in combat. Similarly, we know that homelessness continues to be a significant problem for our veterans, especially those suffering with PTSD and TBI.
Three years later, the Committee continues to hear of accounts of wrongful personality disorder discharges. 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? Clearly, our veterans must not be made to wait longer and must not be denied the benefits that they are entitled to.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today as we further expose the problem of personality disorder discharges, better understand the steps that DoD has taken to deal with this problem, and forge a path forward to help our servicemembers who were improperly discharged with personality disorders.