Veterans Today By Rebecca Ruiz: Is the Army Improperly Discharging Wounded, Ill Soldiers For Misconduct?
In May, the Colorado Springs Gazette published an exhaustive account of how wounded and mentally ill soldiers are being kicked out of the Army for minor offenses and misconduct related to their wartime injuries. Since then, the revelations have prompted new legislation that would assess whether or not the Department of Defense is improperly discharging soldiers, a charge that the government denies. "There is not a deliberate effort to remove soldiers from the Army without proper medical evaluation and consideration of their war-related conditions," an Army spokesman at the Pentagon told me. "All soldiers are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, this includes soldiers in the medical review board process. Our leaders appreciate the honorable service of our soldiers. However, it is the soldier's responsibility to ensure they adhere to the Army Values while going through their individual separation processes." For a soldier on the opposite end of this experience, however, trying to mount a defense against accusations of misconduct, especially those linked to wartime injuries, can be a byzantine process that ultimately ends in heartbreak. The Gazette series, reported by Dave Philipps, looked at three separate incidents, each involving a combat veteran in which units at Fort Carson in Colorado appeared to willfully ignore mental and physical health conditions that played a role in misconduct, such as traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain. Kash Alvaro, for example, was diagnosed with PTSD and TBI after enduring multiple bomb blasts in Afghanistan in 2009. When he returned to Fort Carson, he was cited and punished for violating code by missing appointments, missing work, arriving late to formation and getting in an argument. As Philipps points out, these behaviors, while disruptive, can be symptoms of both TBI and PTSD. Alvaro, 24, should have been given additional consideration or dispensation due to his injuries, or admitted to a warrior transition unit where convalescing would be a priority. Instead, Alvaro said that his unit harassed him, and the situation escalated to the point where he went AWOL temporarily. He expected a harsh punishment when he returned to Fort Carson two weeks later to apologize, but was thrown in county jail without his anti-seizure medication. Alvaro was then asked to sign paperwork for an other-than honorable discharge known as a Chapter 10, which allows a soldier facing a court-martial to resign instead. The designation can bar a veteran from getting long-term medical and disability benefits. "They said if I signed this paperwork everything would be alright and I would get out," Alvarado told the Gazette.