Tag Archives: Robert Gates

Senators Bond, Boxer, Obama, McCaskill Demand Fair Treatment of Combat Vets

Generally, we progressive Democrats have had little confidence in the Bush Administration to run an effective, fair, humane Federal government.  Over and over again, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condelezza Rice, and their cronies have promised one thing and then did little or nothing in follow-up.  Cases in point include protecting our borders from unrestrained immigration, rebuilding a hurricane ravaged New Orleans, protecting the health and welfare of the rescue workers at New York’s ground zero, and developing a cohesive, cogent plan to defend the United States against terrorism at our seaports, airports, power plants, water ways, and metropolitan areas.  Bush and his cronies are more interested in commercial profit than in preserving and protecting the Union.

The Bush Administration has done little to nothing in order to help our armed forces, National Guard, and Reservists.  First, they developed a piss-poor plan for the occupation of Iraq.  Second, the Bush Administration and their war machine did little to protect the troops in harm’s way.  Now, from the Walter Reed scandals onward, they have done nothing to process and assist returning Iraqi war heroes who are in dire need of psychological services.  I know from personal experience working in the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Brooklyn, as a summer psychology intern in 1995-96, that the Reagan Administration decimated psychological services at the DVA in an ill-advised attempt at eliminating cost in the Department.

People in the Bush Administration have, as elsewhere, been on a crash course to privatize the DVA and in its ill-conceived and anti-government pursuit, has left our brave soldiers, National Guard, and Reservists without adequate services.

Finally, with the Democrats in control of the U.S. Senate, Constitutional oversight has begun.  As indicated earlier, in a Press Release, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Kit Bond (R-MO), Barack Obama (D-IL), and John Kerry (D-MA) requested that Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense, George W. Bush, so-called President of the United States, and the Department of Defense guarantee impartial psychological assessments of soldiers when needed.  Not ‘when needed’ from the Bush perspective, but from a common sensical perspective.

Now, Senators Kit Bond (R-MO), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Barack Obama (D-IL), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) are urging Bush to create a Special Review Board for discharged troops and to place a moratorium on the DoD’s use of Personality Disorder Discharges.

It is a moral outrage that U.S. Senators have to urge a President of the United States of America to provide ‘fair treatment of combat veterans.’

The Press Release is below the flip….

“Bond, Boxer, Obama, McCaskill Demand Fair Treatment of Combat Vets

“WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Kit Bond (R-MO), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Barack Obama (D-IL), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) are urging President Bush to create a Special Review Board for discharged troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and to place a moratorium on the military’s use of Personality Disorder Discharges.

“”Our government has a lifelong responsibility to care for the brave volunteers who have served our nation honorably in combat, unfortunately, the government is failing some of our wounded warriors,” said Bond.  “It is critical that the government starts treating all of our troops’ battle wounds – physical and mental, visible and invisible.”

“”It belittles the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform when you punish-instead of treat-those with combat injuries,” said Boxer. “When our brave service members are injured in combat, we cannot deny them benefits, blame their conditions on a pre-existing disorder, or refuse them the care and support they deserve.”

“With thousands of American service members suffering every day from the less visible wounds of war, reports that the Pentagon has improperly diagnosed and discharged service members with personality disorders are deeply disturbing,” said Senator Obama.  “These heroes make incredible sacrifices for our country, and our brave men and women shouldn’t have to fight a second war at home to get the benefits and care they deserve. The President should halt this practice until the military can review its policies and establish a special review board to examine the cases in question.”

“”The horrors of war are bad enough without a service member coming home only to have to fight against the government they fought to protect,” McCaskill said. “I’m please to be fighting side by side with Senator Bond in requesting a review board to study personality disorder discharges, so that those men and women who bravely fought for us and returned home with the mental scars from war get a fighting chance to receive the benefits they so greatly deserve.”

“This bipartisan group of Senators has been examining mental health care for service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and leading the effort to end the military’s inappropriate use of personality disorder discharges.

“Much like the program created by President Carter to examine the records of Vietnam veterans discharged less than honorably, the Senators are urging the President to create a Special Discharge Review Program to look at administrative discharges for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If established, the Board would give service members who served honorably in combat but subsequently received a discharge that does not entitle them to benefits the opportunity to have their cases reviewed.

“This is particularly important for those who failed to receive an appropriate diagnosis of or treatment for Posttraumatic (sic) Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The Senators believe such a process will help reduce the stigma associated with such discharges and allow those who served our nation honorably to resume normal lives after their service.  

“The discharge review board will also look at cases where service members were diagnosed for personality disorders. In the past six years, more than 22,500 service men and women have been discharged with a “pre-existing” personality disorder.  The Senators have expressed concern that some of these discharges appear to be the result of misdiagnoses and are being used to force out troops who may instead be suffering from service-connected psychological injuries – like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injury.  The use of a personality discharge can result in a loss of disability benefits and medical care from the VA, and can even lead to service members having to repay thousands of dollars in re-enlistment bonuses.

“The Senators continue to urge for the adoption of short-term, commonsense safeguards to protect service members. The Senators emphasize that just limiting the use of this discharge is not enough. A moratorium, which would temporarily suspend the Pentagon’s use of personality disorder discharges for those service members who have served in combat, is necessary until there is a comprehensive review of the current procedures and additional safeguard to prevent misdiagnosis.                  

“Bond, Boxer, Obama and McCaskill were joined by a bipartisan group of their Senate colleagues including: Joseph Biden (D-DE), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Barbra Mikulski (D-MD), Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Bernard Sanders (I-VT).”

I am glad that the U.S. Senators are finally beginning to do their duty under the Constitution to provide oversight on an Administration that subverts the Constitution, suborns perjury, and fails to protect and defend the United States of America.  Kudos to the Democratic Senate and the emboldened moderate Republicans.

Senators Concerned Service Members Suffering from Mental Illness Not Receiving Impartial Reviews

(Xposted on mydesert.com)

I have written previously on mydesert.com and on Calitics.com regarding my concerns about the lack of adequate treatment and prevention for mental illness including Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in our returning servicemen and women.

It is clear from the prosecution of the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and in the current occupation of Iraq, that the Bush Administration has given little thought to the preparation, planning and follow-through for the military efforts and Iraq occupation.  In addition, the Bush Administration did little to adequately train and supply our troops.  The poor planning and follow-through is even more evident in the Walter Reed scandals of 2006.  This Administration appears to at the very least neglect our honorable men and women in uniform.  At the worst, the Bush Administration seems to view our soldiers as mere fodder for its own political ambition.  Hopefully, it is an issue of neglect and not vile political manipulation.

Anyway, the Armed Forces under the direction of the President of the United States and of the Secretary of Defense needs to ensure that every returning soldier, marine, airmen and women, and sailors, National Guard, and Reservists be screened for mental disorders related to their time of service.  And, the Armed Forces needs to provide adequate and immediate treatment for anyone who needs such.

I received the following Press Release today that expands on my concerns by addressing the lack of impartial reviews when assessing the mental health of our returning servicemen and women:

“Washington, D.C.-U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Kit Bond (R-MO), Barack Obama  (D-IL) and John Kerry (D-MA) today sent the following letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates:

December 14, 2007

The Honorable Robert Gates

Secretary of Defense

1000 Defense Pentagon

Washington , DC 20301

“Dear Secretary Gates:

We are concerned over reports that members of our Armed Forces with underlying mental health conditions are not receiving balanced, fair, and impartial reviews when facing judicial punishment and administrative discharge for engaging in misconduct that could be related to their conditions.

“We understand and support the necessity of maintaining good order and discipline in the military. At the same time, we are concerned that the decision to prosecute a service member with serious mental health issues may, in some cases, be carried out without appropriate consideration of recommendations made by uniformed mental health providers. As such, we ask you to promptly review guidelines for the administrative handling of such complex cases.”

More below the flip…

The Press Release continues:

“On December 2, 2007, The Washington Post ran a story entitled “A Soldier’s Officer” that clearly illustrates our concerns. The piece details the ordeal of Army First Lieutenant Elizabeth Whiteside, who according to available reports, served honorably at both Water Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) and in Iraq before experiencing severe mental health symptoms and attempting suicide. During her apparent suicide attempt, Lt. Whiteside threatened a number of her fellow service members, and as a result, we understand the Army is currently deciding whether to pursue a court-martial against her.  

“What we find particularly troubling about this case is that military commanders with no medical training derided the documented medical opinions as to Lt. Whiteside’s mental condition and their bearing on the case. Colonel Terrence J. McKenrick, commander of the Warrior Transition Brigade at Walter Reed, charged that even though medical professionals had determined Lt. Whiteside had a “severe mental disease or defect, she knowingly assaulted and threatened others and injured herself.” Another commander wrote that Lt. Whiteside’s “defense that she suffers from a mental disease excusing her actions is just that…an excuse; an excuse to distract from choices and decisions made by Lt. Whiteside.” These statements are contrary to the apparent recommendations of Lt. Whiteside’s battalion commander in Iraq that disciplinary actions not be taken, and show a callous disregard for the diagnosis of qualified psychiatrists at WRAMC, who found that Lt. Whiteside suffered from a “severe major depressive disorder and a personality disorder” and “disassociation with reality.”

“We believe that service members should be held accountable for their actions, and we recognize that the Manual for Courts-Martial provides procedures for handling mental health issues in judicial proceedings. However, this case highlights the need for the Department to review its administrative procedures and training programs to ensure that commanders give full and fair consideration of the recommendations made by trained mental health providers before initiating disciplinary actions against soldiers suffering from mental diseases.

“Additionally, as Senators who have worked extensively to improve mental health care services for our armed forces, we find it unacceptable that officers with no medical training-who are required by law to protect the impartiality of the military justice process-would make dismissive statements regarding Lt. Whiteside’s mental health condition. These comments only undermine respect for the mental health profession and increase the stigma associated with seeking mental health care.

“According to the Congressionally-mandated report of the Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health, “every military leader bears responsibility for addressing stigma; leaders who fail to do so reduce the effectiveness of the service members they lead.” The Department is best served by ending policies that discriminate against service-members who suffer from mental health problems and working to eliminate the stigma that prevents too many from seeking care. That is why we strongly urge you to ensure that the recommendations of qualified medical professionals play a clearly defined and important role in proceedings to discharge or punish any service member with an underlying mental health condition.

“Thank you for your consideration of this important request.”