Soldiers with mental health issues are being dismissed for “misconduct”

Larry Morrison gave 20 years of his life to the United States Army. He deployed three times to Afghanistan and Iraq. On the day he expected to receive an honorable discharge with benefits, his commanding officer handed him a document detailing his dishonorable discharge. Like 22,000 other soldiers, Morrison, who has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), discovered the hardest way that the Army is often quicker to discharge than to diagnose.

Not drooling? Report to duty

Despite glowing reviews from his peers and from ranking officers, Morrison earned fatal demerits in the eyes of the Army when he was arrested for drunk driving two years prior to his discharge. The Army contends he belonged to a criminal motorcycle gang. According to Morrison, the gang is nothing more than a group of African-American soldiers who share a love of motorcycles.

Army sniper Eric James returned from two tours of Iraq anxious, volatile and unable to sleep. In 2014, James surreptitiously recorded his therapy sessions with an Army psychiatrist. At one point during the recordings, the psychiatrist says James is not ill because he has been able to function for the past six years. She adds, “You’re not in a corner rocking back and forth and drooling.”

On his first day of deployment to Iraq, Sargent James Vanni’s unit was ambushed near Sadr City. Eight soldiers were killed, 60 were injured. When Vanni returned stateside, his life unraveled. He flew into fits of rage and thundered at his wife and children. His wife called 911 after a particularly violent episode. Instead of taking Vanni to the hospital, as his wife asked, they police took him to jail. An army psychiatrist evaluated Vanni but found he was not suffering from deployment-related mental health issues despite the fact his Army medical records list Vanni as having at least one traumatic brain injury.

Parlance and Section 512

In Army-speak, these 22,000 soldiers were not discharged but, rather, separated from the service. According to Lt. Col. Chris Ivany, who oversees mental health for the Army, says there is no systemic attempt to get rid of soldiers with mental health issues. Ivany contends the Army is not violating the spirit of Section 512 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which requires the armed services to investigate whether a soldier’s time in combat is the cause of his or her mental health condition. Ivany says therapists often diagnose mental illness as their best estimate. In many cases, a soldier who picks up a drunk driving charge is not suffering from anything other than being intoxicated.

Treatment versus money

Critics of the Army’s summary dismissal policy contend the issue has nothing to do with conduct unbecoming but everything to do with cost. The Army denies this. Army spokesperson Jennifer Johnson said she could make no comment because the Army’s review of the situation was ongoing, but politicians are not keeping mum on the issue. Many have called for a moratorium on the army dismissing soldiers for misconduct. In a November 4, 2015 letter to the Army, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, and 11 other senators wrote, “We are concerned that it may be easier to discharge service members for minor misconduct – possibly related to mental health issues – than to evaluate them for conditions that may warrant a medical discharge.”

The Army’s motto is “This We’ll Defend,” but does that sentiment extend to its own?

Sovereign Health Group’s Court Services division will go with you to court as your advocate. If you have a legal issue stemming from a mental health condition, call our 24/7 helpline.

About the author:

Darren Fraser is a content writer for Sovereign Health Group. He worked two and half years as reporter and researcher for The Yomiuri Shimbun until they realized he did not read, speak or write Japanese and fired him. Undeterred, he channels his love of research into unearthing stories that provide hope to those dealing with addiction and mental illness. Darren loves the Montreal Canadiens hockey club and horror films and would prefer to enjoy these from the comforts of his family’s farm in Quebec. For more information about this media, contact the author at news@sovhealth.com

February 25, 2016

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