On Capitol Hill, the House panel on Veterans Affairs heard testimony Wednesday on personality disorders. They are mental health conditions that can have some similarities to post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD — but with a big difference. Thousands of soldiers who have been diagnosed with personality disorders instead of PTSD have been discharged from the military with no medical benefits to help them recover.
In October 2004, Jonathan Town, a young Army soldier, was delivering mail at his base in Ramadi when it came under fire.
While he was running for shelter, he says, a rocket exploded "3 feet above my head, leaving me unconscious on the ground, with a severe concussion, shrapnel in my neck and blood pouring from my ears."
Town was rushed to the medical unit, treated for his wounds and given a day to rest. He returned to duty the next day.
"Two months later, I was awarded a Purple Heart for my injuries I suffered on that traumatic day in October," he says. "This is where everything started to go downhill for me. Throughout the next 9 months, while continuing to serve my country, I battled nonstop headaches, bleeding from my ears and insomnia."
Despite the fact that Town hadn't had those symptoms before — and had passed psychological screenings when he enlisted and re-enlisted in the Army — Town was diagnosed with what Army doctors called a pre-existing personality disorder. So when Town was discharged, he got no access to medical care and no disability benefits.
Paul Sullivan, a veteran who runs an organization called Veterans for Common Sense, says there are thousands — perhaps tens of thousands — of cases like Town's. Sullivan's group filed suit against the Department of Defense this week, with one goal in mind:
"If a servicemember goes to war and they come back wounded, injured, ill, and they need medical care, the country has an obligation, [a] social contract, to provide that care," Sullivan says.