Navy Doctor Warns: Misconduct May Be Symptom of Stress Disorder

Article excerpt

Byline: Amanda Carpenter, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In 2007, a high-ranking Navy doctor sent a sobering warning to colleagues: The service may be discharging soldiers for misconduct when in fact they are merely displaying symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

By doing so, the anonymous doctor noted in a memo to other medical administrators, the service may be denying those troops their rights to Veterans Affairs benefits - including treatment for medical conditions they incurred while serving on the battlefield.

In the future, any military personnel facing dismissal for misconduct after a deployment should be screened first for PTSD, the memo said. The recommendation was never implemented.

High-ranking Navy doctorswho oversee medical care for the Marines say such screenings would help avoid sending troops back into society without the ability to get treatment for combat-induced illness from the very government that dispatched them to the battlefield.

Post-deployment misconduct, especially in a Marine who has previously served honorably, may indicate an unrecognized and unhealed line-of-duty stress injury that deserves expeditious medical evaluation and, when indicated, appropriate treatment, said the memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.

The Pentagon confirmed the memo's authenticity, but could provide no further information on the author or the names of the recipients. Veterans' mental health issues have come under increasing scrutiny during the years of the war on terrorism. The latest example is Monday's release of a government study showing a dramatic increase in suicides among young veterans.

The PTSD memo also warned, If adjudication of misconduct charges results in a less-than-honorable discharge, the Marine may lose eligibility for ongoing treatment in the Veterans Administration health care system.

The memo recommended that screening for all troops facing misconduct discharges be implemented by May 1, 2007, but that recommendation was never followed.

There is not a formal process or directive that I am aware of where [troops discharged for misconduct] must be screened, The Times was told by Frederick Fritz Kass, the director of clinical programs for the Marine Corps.

Mr. Kass said the document raises the issue of service members who are given adverse separation discharges who are at risk of not being eligible for treatment in the VA system.

It appears it was to make others aware of that as they move forward, he said.

Problems continue

The Pentagon's ability to diagnose and care for its own has come under renewed scrutiny since May 11, when, authorities say, Army Sgt. John Russell killed five fellow soldiers at a stress clinic in Iraq.

Sgt. Russell's father has said his son, who served three tours in Iraq, feared that he was being ousted from the military after being sent to the clinic by a commanding officer with whom he had fought and was told to surrender his gun.

No one knows how many more Sgt. Russells are out there, or how many have been discharged for misconduct, but two sets of statistics hint at the potential scale of the problem.

The Army told The Washington Times that 27,973 troops from that branch alone have been dismissed from service on punitive discharges from October 2002, the start of fiscal 2003 and just before the Iraq war began, to May 2009. Close to half - almost 12,700 - were ousted in fiscal 2003.

A good portion of those who have seen combat duty can be expected to have PTSD. The 2008 Rand Corp. study, which found that one in every five Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffers from PTSD or major depression, also determined that rates of PTSD were highest in the Army and the Marines and that 45 percent of those surveyed said they had seen dead or seriously injured noncombatants.

What's being done

One of the soldiers is Special Operations Command Sgt. …