Health

Is The U.S. Army Kicking Out Soldiers With Post-War Mental Health Issues?

| by Michael Allen
U.S. Army LogoU.S. Army Logo

A new report claims that the U.S. Army has kicked out 22,000 soldiers with mental health problems or traumatic brain injuries (TBI) under the claim of "misconduct."

NPR and Colorado Public Radio (CPR) report that while the soldiers may have misbehaved (drunkenness, talked back to officers), that misbehavior may have been caused by to the mental health problems or TBI that they were diagnosed with after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

NPR and CPR acquired statistics under the Freedom of Information Act that show the U.S. Army has dismissed 22,000 soldiers with diagnosed mental health problems or TBI since January 2009.

Many of these dismissed, or "separated," soldiers have not gotten their retirement and health care benefits, which normally accompany an honorable discharge from the military.

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Army sources suggest it's cheaper and less time-consuming to boot the soldiers out for misconduct than to give them intensive mental health treatments or a medical retirement, according to NPR and CPR.

And this is all occurring despite a Congressional edict that was enacted in 2009. The edict states that military officials must investigate whether a military member's misconduct is the result of mental issues brought home from the wars before dismissing them.

Lt. Col. Chris Ivany, an Army official who oversees mental health, told NPR and CPR that the mass dismissals do not violate the 2009 law.

Ivany claimed that in some cases, the dismissed soldiers' "functional impairment was not severe" enough to affect their judgment when they misbehaved, and in other cases, their mental health "condition subsequently improved" before they did their alleged misconduct.

Using this logic, the soldiers cannot blame the horrors of war for their actions.

Ivany also said that soldiers' records may only reflect a mental health disorder diagnosis because a medical professional noted it as "a preliminary best estimate, but on further evaluation, the diagnosis was clarified." In other words, at the end of the day, the soldiers never really had a mental health disorder.

Ivany insisted that the above explanation "clearly shows that there is no systemic attempt" to dismiss soldiers who suffer from mental health problems using the guise of misconduct.

However, Army officials refused to discuss with NPR and CPR current and former soldiers' cases (which might prove the Army wrong) because the Army claims that it is protecting the soldiers' privacy.

NPR suggested in a 2006 report that the Army's Fort Carson base in Colorado was punishing soldiers who desperately needed psychological help, and then kicking them out.

The 2006 report noted a study by the Government Accountability Office that found about 80 percent of soldiers who displayed potential symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) did not get referred for mental health follow-ups. However, the Pentagon disagreed with that study.

Congress subsequently passed the 2009 law, but that law doesn't outright ban the Army from dismissing soldiers who have mental problems and commit misconduct.

Sources: NPR (2) / Image Credit: U.S. Army Logo, The U.S. Army/Flickr