The United States Army put the 36 year-old man in handcuffs. They isolated him in a six-by-eight foot cell. The lights were kept on all night, and loud heavy metal music often blared, ensuring the man would remain sleep-deprived. They denied him food and showers for lengthy periods of time. The guards would ridicule and humiliate him nearly constantly. Whenever the man became angry or despondent, the guards would hold him down and inject him with sedatives. The Army was trying to force the man to sign a paper, and the man had decided he was going to hold out as long as he possibly could. He was given a choice: sign the paper, or remain in his cell indefinitely. Finally, the man could not hold out any longer, and signed the paper.
Who was this man, and what was he signing? Was this a member of Al Qaeda in GuantanamoBay, refusing to sign a confession? A member of the Afghani Resistance, refusing to reveal the locations of Taliban weapons caches?
The man was Chuck Luther, and he was a Sergeant in the US Army. He was the recipient of three Army Achievement Medals, and a Combat Action Badge. Luther was on guard duty in Iraq one night, when a mortar struck near his guard tower. The noise was deafening, and his head and right shoulder slammed into the concrete. Sgt. Luther sought medical attention for his shoulder, his headaches, hearing loss, tinnitus, and vision problems. The doctors on base, however, told him that he was faking his symptoms due to a personality disorder. The papers he was forced to sign were discharge papers stating that his behavior (“lying” about his health problems) was the result of a personality disorder.
If a veteran was discharged under Regulation 635-200, Chapter 5-13: “Separation Because of Personality Disorder,” that veteran isn’t eligible for disability, VA healthcare, and even needs to repay his signing bonus. The rationale is that the military considers a Personality Disorder a pre-existing condition. On average, there are over one thousand discharges due to personality disorders every year.
The Military’s stance on personality disorder discharge raises several questions:
1.) If Personality Disorders are pre-existing conditions, why are they not properly screened for upon enlistment?
2.) Is the Military’s stance that personality develops during childhood and adolescence, but abruptly stops right before the minimum age for enlistment?
3.) If a veteran truly DOES have a personality disorder, and personality disorders (by definition) cause significant impairment, how are they not a disability?
The rationale used by the military in regards to Personality disorders is rife with contradiction.
The answer to the first question is fairly obvious: the military DOES screen enlistees for mental health problems. If asked how so many enlistees with personality disorders made it through entrance processing, no doubt the military would reply that tests that measure personality traits are highly subjective, and are subject to falsification. Of course, it follows that they are using the same subjective and easily falsified measures to discharge vets as well.
Even the study of personality is subjective. There is no one true definition of personality. Most theorists will say something similar to “an individual’s persistent way of behaving, thinking, and feeling.” There are numerous traits that compose one’s personality. When certain traits are high or low in combination with each other, AND this combination of traits leads to distress, social, or occupational problems, you have a personality disorder.
The military’s contention that personality traits are fixed in childhood or adolescence is also a contradiction. Military basic training is precisely designed to change an individual’s persistent way of behaving, thinking and feeling. This works particularly well in recruits under the age of 25, as the human brain is not fully developed until around that age. In fact, the research shows that personality traits such as conscientiousness change quite a bit before the age of 30, after which the change slows. Some traits, like agreeableness actually change MORE after the age of 30 than before. The fact that personality traits are malleable, coupled with the fact that soldiers are subjected to extreme cultural and environmental factors, leads one to believe that the military and VA assertion that all personality disorders are pre-existing conditions seems dubious at best.
Further, personality disorders often cause cognitive and emotional changes that can drastically affect an individual’s occupational and social functioning, often even more severely than mental disorders the military and VA recognize as disabilities. This would seem to warrant the classification of personality disorders as disabilities.
The military’s current use of personality disorders is troubling, to say the least. It would appear that the military is using personality disorders as a cost-saving measure. Cheating veterans out of compensation and healthcare undoubtedly saves millions of dollars. However, it comes at an even greater cost- ruining the lives of veterans who fought for our freedom.