Military Law

Some Discharged Vets Are Denied Health Benefits

Update

A newly published study revealed a solid link between PTSD and dementia in one group of veterans. The study included over 10,000 veterans, age 65 and older, all with PTSD from combat duty. Researchers found they were twice as likely to develop dementia than those free of PTSD.

Researchers' next step is to find out if the risk of dementia is reduced when a patient receives effective therapy for PTSD.

Military funding is lacking for the research needed, while troops with PTSD symptoms are returning by the thousands from the Middle East.

Other groups with PTSD may suffer the same effects of increased dementia risk as well, such as those with PTSD caused by sex crimes or surviving a natural disaster. It's an issue for society as a whole, as the population ages with rising healthcare costs and a smaller workforce providing support.

Original Article

Often, men and women serving in the US military suffer injuries you can't see. Unfortunately, sometimes they don't get the medical treatment they need and deserve.

Personality Disorders

In August 2010, it was reported the US Army discharged about a 1,000 service members each year between 2005 and 2007 for having a "personality disorder." A personality disorder often has the same symptoms as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Depression, anxiety, and irritability are common symptoms of both.

In the military world, that's where the similarities end, however. PTSD is treated by the military as a mental disability caused by the stress of war and combat duty. Active service members and veterans are provided health care services to help treat and manage the disorder. Not so when it comes to a personality disorder.

In the Army - and presumably in the other branches of the military - a personality disorder is a pre-existing condition. A service member who's discharged because of such a disorder often loses his entitlement to health care benefits that other veterans enjoy.

The question is, and has been since about 2007, have service members been misdiagnosed with personality disorders when in fact they're suffering from PTSD? In 2008, the military changed the way it diagnosed these and other invisible injuries. Since then, personality disorder diagnoses have plummeted, while PTSD cases have skyrocketed.

In July 2010, the Army announced new efforts to diagnose PTSD faster.

Help?

It's unclear how or if the military's current practices will change when the health care reform laws go into effect fully. As you may recall, the law bars insurance companies from denying coverage or refusing to issue policies based upon a pre-existing condition. It also requires most employers to provide health care coverage for their employees. A lawsuit by a veteran - who is, technically, a former employee - against the US Defense Department - again, technically, an employer - may be an interesting test of the new laws.

In any event, service members who've been denied health benefits because of a pre-existing personality disorder may take advantage of a program under the new health care reform laws. The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan is up and running. While coverage isn't free (most veterans' benefits are free or low cost), it does provide the means to get health coverage, including mental health services.

Also, a new federal law provides some help, too. Under the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010, veterans facilities may:

  • Make referrals to help veterans who've been discharged for personality disorders find mental health care and services outside the US Veterans Administration (VA)
  • Give such veterans information about having their discharges reviewed to make sure they weren't misdiagnosed

What You Can Do

If you're a service member discharged because of a pre-existing personality disorder, contact your local VA facility immediately and ask about the new help available to you under federal law. Also, check with your state and local health departments to see if you qualify for free or reduced-cost health services. Free services are available from Give an Hour, too.

Do whatever you can to get the help you need.

For the rest of us:

  • Contact your elected officials in the US House of Representatives and Senate and ask them to investigate the matter and pass new laws to help our veterans get the health care services they earned and deserve
  • Volunteer. If you're a lawyer with experience in military law, contact the National Veterans Legal Services Program and offer your help. Likewise, mental health professionals can volunteer, too

Invisible injuries suffered by our veterans can be just as debilitating as physical ones. Everyone who's served our country honorably in the armed forces deserves medical and health care to treat their injuries. It's the very least we owe them.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What can I do if the military won't release all of my medical records?
  • Can you help me get the military to review my discharge? What are my options if it refuses to change my discharge away from "pre-existing personality disorder?"
  • Can a civilian employer fire someone because she has a pre-existing personality disorder?
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