Military Leadership Disorder
Veteran Care Under Review as More Than 22,000 Are Discharged With 'Pre-Existing' Personality Disorder, Which Some Say Developed During War.
Army Spc. Jonathan Town is back home in Ohio now, but still very much at war.
"When you see bits and pieces of actual people or people bleeding to death or anything, it's very unsettling. It's something you'll never be able to forget. Period," Town told ABC News' Bob Woodruff. Since his discharge in 2006, Town has not only dealt with the emotional scars of war, but he has also found himself at the center of a national debate on mental health care for veterans as a crowd as diverse as singer Dave Matthews and members of Congress has questioned how 22,000 veterans were diagnosed and discharged since 2001.
In Town's case, the discharge came two years after he was injured in an attack. In the fall of 2004, a 107 mm rocket ripped through his unit's headquarters in Ramadi, exploding two feet above Town's head and knocking him unconscious.
The rocket blast left Town with hearing loss, headaches, memory problems, anxiety and insomnia. For his wounds, he was awarded the Purple Heart.
But when he returned to the states seeking treatment for those very wounds, the Army quickly discharged him, asserting his problems had been caused not by the war but by a personality disorder that predated his military career.
A Quick Way Out
It is known as a "Chapter 5-13" — "separation because of personality disorder." The Army defines it as a pre-existing "maladaptive pattern of behavior of long duration" that interferes with the soldier's ability to perform his duties.
In practical terms, this diagnosis means the personality disorder existed before military service, and therefore medical care and disability payments are not the military's responsibility. But some veterans and veterans' advocates have been vocal in their belief that personality disorder is being misdiagnosed in combat veterans.
"A significant percentage of the ones who are discharged with personality disorder truly have it, but there is another percentage that are put out simply to eliminate them from military service. … It's done maliciously or as some sort of a policy," said Russell K. Terry, founder of the veterans' advocacy organization, Iraq War Veterans Organization.
Since 2001, more than 22,000 servicemen and women from all branches of the military have been separated under the personality disorder discharge, according to figures provided by the Department of Defense.
Donald Louis Schmidt of Chillicothe, Ill., was being treated for posttraumatic stress disorder after his second combat tour in Iraq. His commanders at Fort Carson later decided he was no longer mentally fit and discharged him with personality disorder.
"They just slapped me with that label to get me out quicker," Schmidt said. He said superiors told him "'Everything will be great. Peachy keen.' Well, it's not."
The discharge left Schmidt ineligible for disability pay and benefits. He was also required to return more than $10,000 of his $15,000 reenlistment bonus, but he said no one explained that to him until it was too late.
"If I didn't have family, I'd be living on the sidewalk," Schmidt said.
"It's not right that they would do this to him after him going to war for us," Schmidt's mother, Patrice Semtner-Myers, said. "They threw him away. They're done with him. He's no use to them anymore so they say, 'We're done. … Thanks for nothing.'"
Schmidt and Town say Army doctors misled them about the consequences of the personality disorder discharge. Town said he was told he would receive his benefits and it would be like a medical discharge, only quicker.
In the course of reporting this story, ABC News spoke with 20 Iraq War veterans who believe they were misdiagnosed with personality disorder.
A Marine who preferred not to be named said, "Most docs won't diagnose you with PTSD [posttraumatic stress disorder] because the military has to treat you for the rest of your life."
On the day he was discharged in the fall, Town met with Jeff Peskoff, a civilian employee in the personnel office at Fort Carson in Colorado, and learned he owed the Army $3,000 to repay his enlistment bonus.
"At some points it looked like he wanted to cry and at some point he looked like he wanted to rip my head off," Peskoff said.
Peskoff, who served 10 years in the Army, including a tour of Iraq, recently quit his job in disgust and is now speaking publicly for the first time.
"If you have a combat tour and you are getting labeled as a personality disorder, there is something wrong. &0133; It's a lie," Peskoff said. "It's a quick way to get rid of that body and bring in another body. And it's a quick way to save money."
In the span of several months, Peskoff said he processed the personality disorder discharges of Schmidt, Town and hundreds of other combat veterans he believed were actually suffering physical and psychological trauma because of the war.
"They [Army officials] are basically washing their hands of them," Peskoff said.
Fort Carson officials declined to talk to ABC News about this story. The Government Accountability Office is currently investigating Fort Carson as part of a larger study of mental health services for veterans.