Today, Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN)--the highest ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress--introduced the Servicemembers Mental Health Review Act of 2013, a bill that would ensure justice by reviewing and, when necessary, correcting service records for over 31,000 veterans who may have been misdiagnosed by the Department of Defense with a Personality Disorder (PD) or Adjustment Disorder (AD) and improperly discharged after active duty deployment.
Many of these brave veterans have already seen combat and are actually suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Because PD and AD are considered pre-existing conditions, the Department of Defense isn't obligated to award the veteran the benefits they need to properly reintegrate into their communities.
"After fighting for our country overseas, 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," said Walz, a 24 year veteran of the Army National Guard. "Action must be taken to correct the record and provide these wounded warriors with the disability, healthcare, and benefits they have earned and deserve."
Disturbingly, records show the personality disorder diagnosis is being used disproportionately on women. Recent reports show a pattern of the military using psychiatric diagnoses to discharge women who report sexual assaults. An estimated 20,000 servicemembers were sexually assaulted in 2011 alone.
"I was diagnosed with a personality disorder for failing to adjust adequately to being raped," said Former Petty Officer 3rd Class, Jenny McClendon.
In 2008, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that 26,000 servicemembers were discharged with PD between 2001 and 2007. Based on a review of several hundred cases, GAO indicated that compliance rates for discharging veterans with PD were as low as 40 percent. As of 2010, the military separated more than 31,000 servicemembers on the basis of PD or AD.
Veterans who suffer from PTSD but were discharged with PD or AD are not eligible to access the following benefits:
Timely healthcare and disability payments from the Department of Veterans' Affairs.
Hiring priority and other economic opportunities afforded to veterans.
Military retirement benefits and service disability severance payments.
Furthermore, the diagnosis is indicated on the sevicemembers' discharge papers. This may hurt their ability to gain civilian employment since PD or AD discharges can carry a harmful stigma. For these reasons it is important to expeditiously correct the records of those veterans who have been improperly discharged and ensure this practice does not continue.
Veteran Service Organizations, including the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), support the Walz legislation and have publically criticized DOD's systematic misuse of Personality Disorder discharges and their failure to offer recourse or repair the harm it causes to the veterans they've misdiagnosed.
"For warriors separated from service based on inappropriate psychiatric labels, this bill would establish a much-needed remedial avenue for records-correction and benefit eligibility," said Steve Nardizzi, CEO and Executive Director of Wounded Warrior Project. "Erroneous "personality or adjustment disorder' designations have barred too many warriors with PTSD from getting needed help."