Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Witness Testimony of Mr. Jonathan Town, (Veteran), Findlay, Ohio
On January 20, 1961 a Veteran who was being sworn in as our president said during his inaugural speech “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. Since January 2001 over 22,000 people have answered this call and served in the United States armed forces only to be chaptered out of the military with a Personality Disorder discharge. It has become a debate if it was done to save the military money or to help out with military war time and deployment strength. Regardless of the reason, it is an outrage that these service members, including myself and their families have been put through this.
I would like to tell you my story. I served 4 ½ honorable years at Fort Knox, Kentucky as an administration specialist. I was then given orders for "Permanently Change of Station" to Korea. After arriving in Korea I was told that the unit I was assigned to had just received its deployment orders to Iraq. In August, 2004 the “STEEL” battalion (which I now was part of) deployed to Ramadi, Iraq. On October 19, 2004, I was running mail for our battalion when incoming rounds started exploding across the street from where my vehicle was parked. While running for shelter in our S-1 shop’s office, a 107mm rocket exploded 3 feet above my head leaving me unconscious on the ground. After regaining consciousness, I was taken to the battalion’s aid station where I was treated for various wounds including a severe concussion, shrapnel wound in my neck and bleeding from my ear. I was given quarters for the rest of the day and went back to work the next day. This is when everything started to go downhill health-wise for me. Throughout the next 9 months, while continuing to serve my country, I battled severe headaches, bleeding from my ear, and insomnia. We finally got the word that we were headed home and I thought I would finally be able to get some assistance for the medical issues I was going through. After a few days back in the United States, I realized a new battle for me was taking place. My ability to adjust to loud noises, large groups of people, and forgetting what had happened to my unit and myself while we were in Iraq was going to be yet another battle.
About 45 days after coming back stateside to Fort Carson, Colorado I was finally able to see a psych doctor. The first few meetings with the doctor were good and it seemed like he actually cared about helping me get through my issues if it were possible. Then word came down that our unit was going to be redeployed. The next time I went to see the doctor he informed me that he was going to push a personality disorder chapter and explained why. The doctor said “You have the medical issues that call for a medical board but the reason I am going to push this chapter is because it will take care of both your needs and the Army’s. You will be able to receive all of the benefits that you would if you were to go through a medical board; get out of the military; and focus on your treatment to get better. For the military they can get a deployable body in to fill your spot”. I told him that if this is what he thought was best for the military and my family that he could do what he needed to do. I never realized that everything that was said to me during that day were all lies.
I went through the “final out process” to leave the military. The day that I was signing out I was told by the “final out” personnel that I would not receive any severance pay or benefits and that I actually owed the military $3,000. I do not know everyone in this room but I think that if you where to work your heart out for a company or agency only to be told that you owed them money when you went to leave you would obviously think something is wrong. If it weren’t for my family taking us in and supporting us both financially and emotionally and for new friends helping us, I don’t know where my family and I would be right now. The last 9 months have been spent trying to get assistance both medically and financially through the Veterans department; getting the word out to the public about what is happening to my fellow servicemen and myself; and trying to get my family and myself back on our feet. I’m now receiving treatment and disability pay from the VA. I am fortunate because there are many, many injured military personnel that still have not gotten to this point.
I think the government should fix the Personality Disorder discharge issue and the time it takes a service member to receive the start of their disability from the time they leave the armed forces. The Chapter 5-13 Personality Disorder discharge should be completely taken out of any DOD regulation or if the military really wants a way to get service members out of the service (that do not have over 6 months of active service or have not been deployed overseas) then it needs to be written that way in the regulations. It is 100% wrong to be able to use this discharge for any service member that has been on active service for a substantial amount of time; who has fought in a war or who has served in a war zone for their country.
An idea I have heard about I could fix how long a service member has to wait till they finally start receiving disability after leaving the armed forces. The service member starts his or her disability paperwork and process at the station where the he or she is currently stationed 2 months prior to getting out of the service. The service member should not be able to final out from their branch of the military until he or she is either granted or denied their disability claim. By going through this route, it will allow the service member to receive their first disability check immediately after their last paycheck from the armed service. The Department of Defense should work “hand in hand” with the Veterans Department to assist the soldiers in need.
In closing I want to state that I did not have a personality disorder before I went into the Army as they have stated on my paperwork. I have post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury now due to injuries from the war. I shouldn’t be labeled for the rest of my life with a personality disorder and neither should my fellow soldiers who also incorrectly received this label. I would like to ask the committee and panel members to thoroughly think about the ideas I have mentioned to fix some of the issues we as veterans are facing. Please help those who have helped their country.