Bush leaves soldiers behind

By By Joseph Bateman

By Joseph Bateman

Imagine for a moment that you’re a member of our armed forces: the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Army or Coast Guard. You signed up to support your country, maybe to reap the benefits of the G.I. Bill or even the signing bonus. Perhaps you come from a long line of military veterans, and you want to continue the family tradition. Regardless of the circumstances of your enlistment, you are called to serve in Iraq. While honorably serving in Iraq, you are severely wounded — so much that you receive a Purple Heart and an honorable discharge from the military.

If you’re like me, you would assume that the military and the Bush administration would take care of the troops. President Bush has crafted an image shrouded with language and logic that suggests if you’re against the war, you’re against the troops. Without any doubt, our commander in chief is a leader who stands for and will fight for the troops. But the military and the Bush administration have been playing a clever game of Three-card Monte with our wounded soldiers.

This sleight of hand trick is a loophole known as Regulation 635-200, Chapter 5-13 in the Army separation manual, otherwise referred to as “Separation Because of Personality Disorder.” In essence, the military is claiming that the soldiers’ injuries are because of a pre-existing condition and are not combat related, despite the fact that the soldiers have been cleared through a vigorous physical test that declares the soldiers combat-ready. Simply put, if the soldiers had a pre-existing condition, they wouldn’t have been fit to serve. Common sense would dictate that their injuries are combat-related. Unfortunately, this seems to be in short supply within the current administration.

As specialist Jon Town told a Congressional Committee, “I want to state that I did not have a personality disorder before I went into the Army, as they have stated in my paperwork. I did not suffer severe nonstop headaches. I did not have memory loss. I did not have endless, sleepless nights. I have post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury now due to the injuries I received in the war, for which I received a Purple Heart. 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 stigma.”

What a discharge under this regulation means for Town and thousands of others is that the military doesn’t have to provide any medical care or disability pay. For the courageous soldiers who re-enlisted, they have to return a rather large portion of their bonuses and at times actually owe the military money.

An investigation in The Nation found that nearly 6,000 soldiers in the Army alone have been discharged in this manner and the numbers are rising — 805 cases in 2001, 980 cases in 2003, 1,086 from January to November 2006. Throughout the entire Armed Forces, the numbers soar to a staggering 22,500 and continue to grow each day.

The bottom line for the Department of Defense is money, not in looking out for its own. A Harvard University study found that Chapter 5-13 discharges have resulted in a savings of $12.5 billion.

Despite the implied slogan of “Leaving No One Behind,” the Bush administration and the military have abandoned and discarded tens of thousands of troops that bravely served and fought. The military, Congress and the Bush administration need to put their money where their mouths are and treat the wounded soldiers not as easily tossed away burdens, but as heroes. They must close the Chapter 5-13 loophole and reinstate the benefits of every soldier who was denied them.

[email protected]