Editorial – Benefit Disorder

The Courier

For more than five years, the United States of America has been relying on its volunteer military to fight a war against radical Muslim terrorists. Just a couple hundred thousand Americans and their families are carrying this burden for the other 300 million of us. Over 3,000 have died, and tens of thousands more have been injured, many seriously.And how do we thank them when they are no longer fit for service? By cheating them out of their benefits.

The case of Army Specialist Jon Town, of Findlay, has been featured in the April 9, 2007 issue of The Nation magazine as well as Monday’s Courier. In brief, Town served in the Army for seven years, receiving numerous honors including a Purple Heart. He was injured in October 2004 in Ramadi, Iraq, when a rocket struck about 2 feet from his head. He survived, but he sustained permanent hearing loss and also continues to deal with depression, headaches and insomnia. At one point Town attempted suicide. An Army psychologist told him he had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

These symptoms should sound familiar to anyone who’s served in a war or known someone who has. But to the Army, which in 2006 convinced Town that he should be discharged, it was “personality disorder” “” a supposedly pre-existing condition that let the Army off the hook on paying benefits.

Town insists that he was promised by the Army psychologist who handled his case that if he agreed to be discharged under Chapter 5-13, all his benefits would remain intact. Instead, he received no disability pay and no long-term VA medical care, even though his medical condition was the direct result of injuries sustained in Iraq. And to top it off, he was told he had to repay most of his re-enlistment bonus. Town left Fort Carson, Colo., owing the Army $3,000.

Town’s Army psychologist says he never discussed benefits with him, and the Army continues to deny systematic cheating of soldiers in order to save money. But obviously there is a reason why more than 22,000 personality disorder discharges have been issued to U.S. troops over the past five years. Doesn’t the military screen enlistees? Of course it does. Town served not only honorably but with distinction until he was injured. For the Army to cheat him and others out of their benefits because they were wounded in the service of their country is an unconscionable breach of trust.

Town’s case seems to be finally getting the attention it deserves. But what of the other soldiers in similar cases? Retired Lt. Gen. James Terry Scott testified to Congress last week that preliminary results of a study by the Veterans’ Disability Benefits Commission, which he chairs, show there may indeed be an effort to keep costs down by underrating the severity of soldiers’ disabilities.

All Americans owe a debt to those who serve in the volunteer military. Medical care and benefits are the least we can do to repay them. We urge Congressman Jim Jordan and Sen. Sherrod Brown to fully investigate the stories of Town and others like him, and fight not only for the reinstatement of their full benefits but also to stop the Army’s systematic abuse of its volunteer soldiers, if such indeed is going on.

In addition, congressional Democrats need to quickly pass a generous and pork-free military spending bill so the Army has less reason to be overly careful with its money.

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