A friend just told me about the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), and I was absolutely blown away at the first article I read there. If you haven't checked out this site before, do it now. It's a real eye-opener.
We've all seen those yellow ribbon / support our troops magnets. And we all know what a crock of shit they are. The Bush Administration cares nothing for our troops. They use them in a sick effort to create chaos so Halliburton et al can go in and steal all they want while our troops put out the fires and try to provide cover. We've also heard of the crap way the Defense Dept. treats them when they return home. Their support of our troops amounts to a pile of car magnets. When Bush has gotten what he wants out of them, he tosses them on the heap like so much rubbish.
The story I read at the above site blew me away. Imagine, volunteering for the Army, getting shelled and wounded in combat, and being told you OWE Uncle Sam four grand when you're discharged.
Make the jump...
Spc. Jon Town was in Ramadi when the building he was in took a direct hit from a rocket.
The impact punched a piano-sized hole in the concrete façade, sparked a huge fireball, and tossed the 25-year-old specialist to the floor, where he lay blacked out amongst the rubble.
"The next thing I remember is waking up on the ground, in headquarters. I woke up and they were screaming, `Town! Town! Are you okay?' They started shaking me. But I was numb all over," he says. "And it's weird - because ... because for a few minutes you feel like you're not really there. I could see them, but I couldn't hear them. I couldn't hear anything."
"I started shaking because I thought I was dead."
Eventually the rocket shrapnel was removed from Town's neck and his ears stopped leaking. But his hearing never really recovered, and in many ways, neither has his life. A soldier honored 12 times during his seven years in uniform, Town has spent the last two on a painful, downward arc through disability and depression, one that reached its nadir in September, when he was booted from the military and told he would never receive disability pay or medical treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Twenty-two months later, Spc. Town is back stateside and he's lost all hearing in one ear, and his "good ear" is only at 50%. People have to shout for him to hear them and he's still having headaches. On top of that, he's having increasing trouble remembering things - regulations related to his office work etc. Then he meets psychologist Mark Wexler (this guy needs to be investigated btw) who told him that he could still receive an honorable discharge under Army Regulation 635-200, Chapter 5-13, "Separation Because of Personality Disorder." Full benefits and severance pay, medical care after discharge if he still had problems, and he could keep the $15,000 bonus he received the year before for re-upping for another 6 year hitch.
His unit was headed back to Iraq and he knew he couldn't pull his fair share of the load, so he decided to take this option so they could replace him with someone more able-bodied.
Town took the deal. "They told me I'd get my full benefits, full severance pay. Everyone I talked to - doctors, JAGs - they all said I wouldn't have to repay the bonus I received in Iraq," he says. "I loved the Army and would have done 20 more years if I was able to. But after hearing that, my wife and I ... we decided to take it. We thought we'd be sitting pretty. At the least, we'd have enough to start a civilian life."
It looks like everyone was either lying to him to get him off the rolls, or they were grossly mis-informed. Because not only did Spc. Town NOT get all those things, he was left with no career, little left of his hearing, increasing memory loss, and probably PTSD to boot.
The Army took this healthy young man, sent him into a war zone where he was injured beyond repair, and thanks to many people who lied to him, he's out of the Army with no benefits and few options.
But wait - there's more...
Under Chapter 5-13, a personality disorder is a pre-existing condition. Thus, by agreeing to label his wounds a "personality disorder," Town was actually signing on to the idea that he had been suffering from hearing loss, headaches and psychiatric problems before joining the military.
That puts Town's problems outside the realm of VA assistance. The organization is only required to treat wounds sustained during service.
With a 5-13 dismissal, soldiers can't obtain disability pay either. To receive those benefits, a soldier must be evaluated by a medical board, who must confirm that he is wounded and that his wounds stem from combat. The process takes several months, in contrast to a 5-13 discharge, which can be wrapped up in a few days.
Good effing luck getting any private health insurance with that "pre-existing condition" - you know... the one caused by that rocket in Ramadi? Of course, under this reg it WAS a pre-existing condition and therefore, the Army wasn't responsible for his medical bills.
Adding insult to injury, the Army wanted the bulk of that signing bonus Spc. Town received when he re-upped the year before.
The final blow for Town came when he found out that, despite assurances from Wexler and other Fort Carson officials, the specialist would indeed have to give back the bulk of his $15,000 signing bonus. At the time of his dismissal, Town had served one year of his six-year contract. Under 5-13's regulations, he was allowed to keep one-sixth of his bonus.
It's all in the fine print, says Paul Hanson, an outprocessor who handles discharge papers for the Army. Hanson is not the outprocessor's real name. For fear of retribution, he agreed to speak only if neither his name nor the fort he works at were revealed. Still, he says, he had to speak up because he's disgusted at the way 5-13 dismissals are being used.
"The doctors, they're saying this will get you out quicker, and the VA will take care of you. To stay out of Iraq, a soldier will take that in a heartbeat. But what they don't realize is, those things are lies," Hanson says. "The soldiers, they don't read the fine print. They don't know to ask for a med board. They're taking the word of the doctors. Then they sit down with me and find out what the 5-13 really means - they're shocked."
When Town sat down with Fort Carson's outprocessor, he saw the details of his own discharge for the first time. He'd receive a $500 closing allowance, $1500 for leave he didn't take, and $6,000 of separation pay. But his 5-13 dismissal also meant returning to the military $12,000 of his 2005 signing bonus.
The result: Town packed up and left Fort Carson without a penny. In fact, he now owed the Army close to $4,000.
I'm not sure if there's a way to dig into all this further, but it looks like these kinds of discharges are being used more and more for troops returning from the war zone. At least in the Fort Carson area...
Town's case is by no means an isolated incident, says Steve Robinson, director of government relations at Veterans for America, a D.C.-based soldiers rights group. Robinson has spent the past year investigating cases of falsely labeled "personality disorders" and, he says, the problem goes way beyond Town and way beyond Wexler.
Discharge statistics acquired from Fort Carson suggest that is indeed the case. Between January and July 2006, 246 soldiers were dismissed from Fort Carson due to "personality disorder." That's 16.3 percent of all the soldiers discharged, almost three times as many as were released for other physical/mental ills (87), seven times the number dismissed for unsatisfying performance (35), seven-and-a-half times those released for failing alcohol/drug rehab (33).
Outprocessor Hanson says that's the kind of ratio he's been dealing with at his fort. "It's getting worse and worse every day," he says. "The numbers started out normal. Now it's up to three or four people each day. It's like, suddenly everybody has a personality disorder. Either that or they're misdiagnosing people."
A second military official who also demanded anonymity says there's no doubt most of these soldiers are misdiagnosed. He has spent the last several months studying cases of 5-13 dismissals and says each one he's studied is clearly misdiagnosed. He laughs at the idea that they're not. "Can you imagine? These are people who have been in four, five years - many of them with top-secret security clearances - and now they're saying they were too dysfunctional to serve," he says. "What would that say about the people we have in our Army? What would that say about the people we're recruiting?"
The real tragedy, says this official, is that many of these soldiers would not have been labeled a "personality disorder" and been booted out under 5-13 if they hadn't gone to the psychiatric unit for help. "Other soldiers see that," he says, "and it keeps them from seeking help."
Call me crazy, but it looks like someone's trying to cut corners - save a buck and do it standing on the throats of the very people who deserve respect and help after all they've been through.
Town contacted his representative in Congress (Oxley) and a caseworker sent a letter to the Pentagon on his behalf. The Pentagon contacted Town and said you owe this much but there's a form you can file to make the "debt" go away. Town still didn't think that option was right - he still needed VA help and had been denied benefits that were due him. He eventually got a check through Oxley's office for $8,976 with no explanation of what that amount represented - it didn't match anything Town figured he was due. Then there's that whole question of health benefits going forward - Town's left disabled and unemployed with few options and a family to help support. For now, he and his wife and their two kids are living with his parents in his hometown in Ohio.
This whole 5-13 discharge thing is a serious problem for countless vets like Town and it looks like the IAVA and other advocacy groups are on it.
There is a possibility that IAVA's work with Steve Robinson and Veterans for America will push Town's case forward. In late October, Robinson met with several top Washington officials, including Deputy Surgeon General Gale Pollock, Assistant Surgeon General Bernard DeKoning, and Senator Kit Bond (R-MO). Robinson laid out the larger 5-13 problem and submitted a briefing specifically on Jon Town.
"We got a very positive response," Robinson says. "After we presented, they were almost appalled, like we are every day. They said, `We didn't know this was happening.'" Robinson says the deputy surgeon general promised to look into Town's case and the others presented to her. Senator Bond, one of the few congressmen whose son has served in Iraq, floated the idea of a Congressional hearing if the 5-13 issue wasn't resolved.
This story is being repeated over and over and over again all across the country. Something's gotta be done about this 5-13 discharge scam, or more people will fall through the cracks after making more sacrifices than our so called leaders or their mouthpieces have ever been willing to make (Bush, Cheney, Rove, Limbaugh, Coulter). As for Spc. Town and his family...
In the meantime, Kristy Town is working to keep food on the table. She's holding down an assembly line job at Filtech, a local oil filter manufacturer. Her husband, meanwhile, is just trying to keep it together.
He says his nightmares have been waning in recent weeks, but most of his problems persist. He's thinking of going to a veterans support group in Toledo, 45 miles north of Findlay. There will be guys there who've been through this, he says, vets who understand.
Town hesitates, his voice suddenly much softer. "I have my good days and my bad days," he says. "It all depends on whether I wake up in Findlay or Iraq."
Anyway, hat tip to my friend for pointing me to this web-site. The stories from the people who were actually there are compelling to say the least.
If you want to support - REALLY support our troops, listen to what they have to say. And then do something real to help them and their families.
You can start by bringing them home.
Some of the information provided in the comments below is great. I sent the author of the above article on Spc. Town a quick note to convey some of your ideas...
Dear Mr. Kors:
A friend suggested I check out your site yesterday and your story on Spc. Town was very moving. I can't believe the military is dumping our troops like yesterday's rubbish with this 5-13 scam.
I hope you don't mind, but I took the liberty of putting together a post and put it up over at the DailyKos site (with a link to your original article and the IAVA site). Like me, many were outraged at what's been done to Spc. Town, and several have offered information that I'm sure smarter people than I at your organization have considered.
According to the information at this site - http://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/correcting-records.html - Spc. Town has 3 years to amend his discharge forms. I don't know the specifics of it but it might be helpful information for him and his family, and anyone working on their behalf.
Also, if his "pre-existing condition" (sic) was aggrivated by his 7 years of service, he could still qualify for benefits. I hope he's seeking a hearing on this point.
Anyway, I just wanted to drop you a note to thank you for taking up Spc. Town's cause. He and his family could use whatever help they can get and I truly hope your organization can find a way to put a stop to these 5-13 scams. Now that Carl Levin's set to chair the Sen. Armed Services Committee, maybe we'll see this mess cleaned up.
Our troops deserve better than this.
My uncles served in Vietnam and were never the same after they got back. But at least Nixon didn't fuck them over like this.
Our troops DO deserve better than this. BushCo should be ashamed of themselves. First "stop-loss", and now this shit.
For what it's worth, I just sent the following note to Senator Levin's office, suggesting he look at the original article. Might help if the rest of you contact him as well, either through the Capitol Switchboard (202-224-3121) or via his web-form at http://levin.senate.gov/contact/index.cfm.
Dear Senator Levin:
I know I'm not a constituent, but I thought your staff over at Armed Services might find this article about Section 5-13 military discharges interesting. This is causing a great deal of strain on already over-stressed military families, and I hope the Senator is planning on looking into this when he takes over the Chairmanship of the Committee in January.
Best of Luck to You,