More than 22,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from brain injuries and mental health problems have been dismissed from the U.S. Army for “misconduct,” an investigation by National Public Radio revealed on Thursday.
Many of the soldiers have not been able to receive crucial retirement and health-care benefits that soldiers with an honorable discharge are entitled to.
Sources told NPR that the Army may be more prone to kick out soldiers for misconduct rather than give them treatment or offer medical retirement because it takes less time and money to get rid of problem soldiers on the grounds of misconduct.
Lt. Col. Chris Ivany, one of the Army’s top officials who oversees mental health, told NPR and Colorado Public Radio that the Army is not violating the spirit of a 2009 law passed specifically to ensure that soldiers returning from war with serious brain injuries and mental health disorders receive fair treatment because those dismissed did not have issues severe enough to affect their judgment.
In some cases the soldiers’ disorders might have been serious when they were first diagnosed, but their “condition subsequently improved” before they committed misconduct — so they can’t blame the war for causing them to misbehave, Lt. Col. Ivany said.
And in other cases, soldiers’ medical records show they were diagnosed with a mental health disorder — but only because a medical worker wrote it down as “a preliminary best estimate, but on further evaluation, the diagnosis was clarified” and perhaps dropped. All this “clearly shows that there is no systemic attempt” to dismiss soldiers with mental problems on the grounds of misconduct, Lt. Col. Ivany told NPR.
Lt. Col. Jennifer R. Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Army, told The Washington Times in an email that the Army is “committed to a culture where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, including those Soldiers who may be separating from the service.
“Commanders take their responsibilities for separating Soldiers from the Army very seriously, and carefully weigh all of the facts, to include the medical condition of each individual,” Lt. Col. Johnson continued. “The Army’s process assesses each Soldier individually and considers their medical needs while ensuring standards of discipline and accountability are maintained. Army leaders strive to ensure that all Soldiers receive the best support and care they deserve.”