NEW HAVEN (CN) - The Vietnam Veterans of America says the Pentagon has "systematically and wrongfully discharged" more than 22,000 veterans since 2001 "on the basis of so-called 'personality disorder'" - rather than post-traumatic stress disorder - to deny them medical care and save the Pentagon $12.5 billion in medical and disability payments.
"The military classifies PD [personality disorder] as a condition pre-existing military service," the four plaintiff chapters of the Vietnam Veterans of America say in their federal complaint against the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.
"Veterans discharged from the military on the basis of a PD diagnosis are not entitled to receive service-connected disability benefits or VA health care.
"By its own admission, DoD dismissed 22,656 service members on the basis of PD between fiscal years 2001 and 2007; 3,372 of these discharged service members had served in combat or imminent danger zones in support of OCO [overseas contingency operation - Pentagonspeak for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan]. Approximately 2,800 of the service members whom DoD had dismissed on the basis of PD had deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom.
"By discharging over 22,000 service members on the basis of PD, DoD saved the military approximately $4.5 billion in medical care and $8 billion in disability compensation that these service members would have received had they been discharged on the basis of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder ('PTSD') or another service-connected disability."
The veterans say the Pentagon and Homeland Security have blown off their requests for "records relating to the use by branches of the United States armed forces and the National Guard of PD discharges and adjustment disorder or readjustment disorder discharges to discharge service members since October 1, 2001."
And: "Because DoD refuses to admit that it incorrectly discharged many service members on the basis of PD, an unknown number of veterans who served with integrity and valor in the armed forces continue to be denied service-connected disability benefits and VA health care."
Personality disorder is a wide-ranging term used to cover symptoms right to the verge of schizophrenia. Post-traumatic stress syndrome however is linked to a trauma that may be severe and short-lived, such as combat, or prolonged, such as childhood abuse. PTSD may be so severe as to be indistinguishable from personality disorder.
"Personality disorder ('PD') is a pervasive and inflexible pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of an individual's culture and leads to distress or impairment. Symptoms begin during adolescence or early adulthood," the complaint states.
For the Pentagon, and the veterans, the distinction is that treatment for PTSD is covered by Pentagon policy; treatment for personality disorder is not.
"From October 2001 through September 2010, the Department of Defense and its component and subcomponent services systematically and wrongfully discharged approximately 28,800 service members who have service-connected disabilities on the basis of so-called personality disorder," according to the complaint. "Veterans who responded courageously to the government's call to action after September 11, 2001 by serving in the Armed Forces have returned home only to find that DoD's personality disorder designation prevents them from accessing service-connected disability benefits and veterans health care. By carelessly disregarding the personality disorder regulations which were promulgated for the benefit of service members, DoD has broken the United States' longstanding promise to provide for its veterans."