By Mike Lillis - 09/20/10 04:25 PM EDT
A top House Democrat this week is blasting the Defense Department (DOD) over the tens of thousands of veteran discharges the agency has attributed to personality disorders in recent years.
Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, said he's "deeply puzzled" how the agency could deem soldiers combat-ready, only to discover a pre-existing personality disorder after they've been injured — a diagnosis that can threaten a veteran's eligibility for government-sponsored health benefits.
“DoD reports that the use of personality disorder discharges has decreased and that no soldiers have been wrongly discharged,” Filner said Monday in a statement. "I cannot help but suspect that our men and women are not getting the help that they need and are struggling with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], TBI [traumatic brain injuries], and other stresses of war on their own because of wrongful personality disorder discharges."
Filner said he wants to take a closer look at the criteria used by DOD to guide personality disorder discharges, which numbered 22,600 between 2002 and 2007.
Under current rules, service members diagnosed with personality disorders lose eligibility for disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) because such a disorder isn't considered service-related. The distinction has sparked concerns among veterans advocates that misdiagnoses may have caused some soldiers to be unfairly denied their due benefits.
"A personality disorder discharge is a contradiction in terms," Joshua Kors, an investigative reporter who's covered the issue extensively, testified before Filner's committee last week. "Recruits who have a severe, pre-existing illness like a personality disorder do not pass the rigorous screening process and are not accepted into the Army."
A DOD official defended the agency's record, telling lawmakers the department is "confident" that those suffering service-related mental conditions "are being diagnosed and that those diagnoses are being considered prior to separation."
Filner isn't so sure.
"I remain extremely concerned that our dedicated service members struggle to get the proper mental health care and support while fighting America's wars," said the California Democrat. "I hope that the military’s inattention to this particular issue is not the typical manner which the services address the needs of its troops, although I’m not optimistic that is the case."