Joshua Kors is an investigative reporter for The Nation, where he covers military and veterans' issues. This speech was recorded on January 19, 2016, in Nashville, TN.
Kors delivered the same talk in November 2015 at TEDxVanderbiltUniversity.
Additional information about the personality disorder scandal is available at http://joshuakors.com/military.
JOSHUA KORS: Did you know that since 2001 over 31,000 of our soldiers have been discharged from the military with "personality disorder"? And that discharging our soldiers that way has saved the military over $17.2 billion in disability benefits and long-term medical care?
Well, I didn't know that. I didn't know what "personality disorder" was until I started volunteering for a veterans' group in my neighborhood in New York City. My role at the veterans' organization was to tell the stories of soldiers, soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with stories of heroism and courage, tragedy and triumph. Specialist Jonathan Town was going to be the fifth soldier in this series of soldier stories, until he told me something that knocked me flat. He explained how he was wounded by a rocket blast in Iraq, won the Purple Heart for his wounds — and so they discharged him with personality disorder.
I said, "Wait, wait, what? Personali— ...." That didn't make any sense to me. I was baffled. And so, I began to dig. And that is how I fell down the rabbit hole of this story, investigating personality disorder discharges for the last nine years. First, we put it on the cover of The Nation magazine. And then Bob Woodruff and I put it on "Nightline."
["Nightline" video clip]
BOB WOODRUFF: In Iraq in the fall of 2004, a rocket exploded two feet above Town'shead, knocking him out for several minutes.
SPECIALIST JONATHAN TOWN: When I started coming to, I could feel my buddy shaking me and saying, "Town, are you awake? Town, are you okay?"
WOODRUFF: The blast left him with significant hearing loss, along with headaches and memory problems. After the attack, Town was awarded a Purple Heart. But when he returned to the States, depressed and tormented by nightmares, the Army acted quickly to discharge him, ruling his problems were caused not by the war but bya personality disorder that predatedhis military career.
WOODRUFF [to TOWN]: They basically said that you had a mental problem before you got into the Army.
WOODRUFF: Based on ... on what?
WOODRUFF: Did they ever question your parents, your friends, anybody from your past?
TOWN: Not at all.
WOODRUFF: The military calls it "Separation Because of Personality Disorder," defined in regulations as a "deeply ingrained, maladaptive pattern of behavior." And because it is considered a preexisting condition, Town was left ineligible for disability pay and benefits, and he was forced to return a portion of his reenlistment bonus.
TOWN: The day I got discharged they told me I owedthe Army $3,000.
WOODRUFF: That you owe them money?
WOODRUFF: You get a Purple Heart, got sent back, left the Army, now you owe them money?
[End "Nightline" video clip]
KORS: Town's voice broke the silence. And soon after his voice went out, "Law and Order" picked up "personality disorder discharges" as an episode in its next season. And then the big guns stepped in: Senator Barack Obama and rockstar Dave Matthews. Obama put forward a bill, S.1817, to halt all personality disorder discharges.Matthews put a petition on his rock band's website asking Congress to investigate these discharges. Within a few days that petition had over 23,000 signatures. Next thing you know, there I was sitting before Congress, and there was Specialist Jonathan Town.
After Town told his story to Congress, I heard from voices in the military from all over the country. I spoke with military doctors who talked to me about the pressure on them to purposely misdiagnose wounded soldiers. One told me the story of a soldier who came back with a chunk missing from his leg. His superior pressured him to diagnose that as personality disorder.
I also got a flood of emails just like this one: "Personality Disorder Discharge — Please Help!" That letter come before Sergeant Chuck Luther, who served in Iraq and was knocked to the ground by a mortar blast, slammed his head against the concrete, ended up with headaches so severe that they would blot out his vision — literally blinding headaches. When his superiors tried to tell him that his blindness was caused by pre-existing personality disorder, he refused to sign the documents.
TRANSCRIPT CONTINUED: http://joshuakors.com/transcript