Thousands of Troops Given Psychiatric Discharges Each Year

Article excerpt

At a time when the military is desperate to fill its thinning ranks, the services are dismissing thousands of young troops each year because of pre-existing psychiatric conditions, statistics show.

The military last year officially discharged more than 3,100 recruits with psychiatric histories, either in boot camp or within the first six months of enlistment. Military leaders suspect the number actually is much higher because recruits with mental health problems often are discharged under a variety of other categories used to track unsuccessful trainees.

Defense Department commanders say they are concerned by the losses and searching for explanations.

"If this is a consistent pattern throughout the services, then we've got a problem of American society or a problem with the way we are recruiting," said Col. David Johnson, command surgeon for the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command near Chicago.

In the past two years, about 5 percent of all Navy recruits have been discharged because of pre-existing psychiatric problems ranging from depression to personality disorders.

The other services' numbers are much smaller. But that disparity might reflect recordkeeping differences or screening methods less rigorous than the Navy's, some think.

Johnson's organization is responsible for screening about 200,000 new recruits who enter all branches of the military. Documented cases of discharges range from recruits with attention deficit disorder to those with lengthy histories of psychiatric treatment.

The number of young military personnel with psychiatric problems is troubling for several reasons. The most serious is the potentially volatile mix of unstable people and deadly weapons. But without better data than they have, commanders and military analysts say they can only speculate as to the causes. …