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Combat is dangerous. But when traumatic brain injury (TBI) and other mental illnesses cause behavioral problems among soldiers, the Army may be defaulting to discharge instead of treatment.
A new report suggests that for victims of TBI and combat-related mental illness, dismissal may be in their future, instead of care. The Army has recently released a report showing that 22,000 soldiers were discharged for misconduct even though they had been diagnosed with mental illness or traumatic brain injuries.
In October, 2015, NPR’s All Things Considered told the story of Staff Sgt. Eric James, an Army sniper who suffered from traumatic brain injuries and depression. In spite of serious combat-related injuries, he was given an other-than-honorable discharge.
James wasn’t unique in his treatment. NPR identified 9 other soldiers’ stories who had been kicked out of the Army after TBI, PTSD, and other mental illnesses caused them to act out. Some involved drinking, others domestic violence. All of them resembled the symptoms of brain injury.
When James’ advocate sent his story to Lt. Col. Chris Ivany, who oversees Army mental health, she began an investigation. While James’ therapists were reprimanded and his discharge was upgraded to honorable, Ivany denied any systemic problem existed.
The resulting study confirmed, more than 22,000 soldiers had been “separated” because of misconduct after being diagnosed with TBI or mental health issues. A federal law passed in 2009 requires commanders to evaluate whether a soldier has been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder and whether the solider was deployed into a war zone during the past two years. According to the Army study, commanders held to the letter of the law, so there is nothing wrong with the system.
Psychiatrist Judith Broder, who was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal for organizing the Soldiers Project called it “unbelievable” and “bizarre.”
“It’s mind boggling to exclude people because they don’t have one of those two diagnoses,” Broder says. “Our experience at the Soldiers Project is that at least half, maybe more than that, of the people who call us with mental health problems following their service have anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol problems, all of which directly flow from their experiences in combat.”
Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn) agrees. He told NPR:
“What we know is that PTSD and other disorders and conditions that arise from military service often don’t rear their ugly heads until two or three or four years later.”
But without the protection the 2009 was intended to provide, many of these soldiers are given “general” discharges, and cut off from crucial benefits. Without a change, thousands more army soldiers will face a life with TBI and without the support they signed up for.
David Christensen is a brain injury expert at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. If you have suffered a brain injury as the result of an auto accident, contact Christensen Law for a free consultation today.