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PTSD victim booted for ‘misconduct’

By Kelly Kennedy – Army Times
 Jan 7, 2009  

After serving two tours in Iraq — tours filled with killing enemy combatants and watching close friends die — Sgt. Adam Boyle, 27, returned home expecting the Army to take care of him.

Instead, service member advocates and Boyle’s mother say his chain of command in the 3rd Psychological Operations Battalion at Fort Bragg, N.C., worked to end his military career at the first sign of weakness.

In October, a medical evaluation board physician at Bragg recommended that Boyle go through the military disability retirement process for chronic post-traumatic stress disorder — which is supposed to automatically earn him at least a 50 percent disability retirement rating — as well as for chronic headaches. The doctor also diagnosed Boyle with alcohol abuse and said he was probably missing formations due to the medications doctors put him on to treat his PTSD.

But in December, Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, signed an order forcing Boyle out on an administrative discharge for a “pattern of misconduct,” and ordering that the soldier pay back his re-enlistment bonus.

Last year, after a number of troops diagnosed with PTSD were administratively forced out for “personality disorders” following combat deployments, the Defense Department changed its rules: The pertinent service surgeon general now must sign off on any personality-disorder discharge if a service member has been diagnosed with PTSD.

“Not even a year later, they’re pushing them out administratively for ‘pattern of misconduct,’ ” said Carissa Picard, an attorney and founder of Military Spouses for Change, a group created in response to the personality-disorder cases. “I’m so angry. We’re seeing it all the time. And it’s for petty stuff.”

In Boyle’s case, according to Picard and Boyle’s mother, Laura Curtiss, the soldier had gotten in trouble for missing morning formations and for alcohol-related incidents such as fighting and public drunkenness.

“The whole thing is absurd to me,” Picard said. “They acknowledge that PTSD causes misconduct, and then they boot them out for misconduct.”

Carol Darby, spokeswoman for Special Operations Command, said she could not discuss personnel administrative or medical issues, and that the Army did not have a response to the case as of Tuesday evening.

Doctors first diagnosed Boyle with PTSD after his second deployment ended in 2006, when he moved to a new unit. After he missed his first formation, he said he went in to talk to his first sergeant to explain he was having problems with depression, PTSD and insomnia. But after that, he said, no one ever asked how he was doing.

“They just said, ‘You messed up. Here’s what we’re going to do to you,’ ” Boyle said. “I would have loved it if someone had sat me down and had a heart-to-heart with me. I tried. I stuck with the counseling.”

But counseling at Fort Bragg was also difficult, he said, because there were not enough doctors for more than one counseling session a month, and because he had to explain his story to seven different therapists over two years.

He received two Article 15s, one for not reporting to duty while helping a girlfriend who had been in a car accident, and one for not returning home three days early from leave after drunk-and-disorderly conduct in a bar. Over that time, he said he was also experiencing flashbacks, anger-management and relationship issues, trust issues and guilt.

Picard said she has seen at least a dozen cases of soldiers with PTSD being pushed out for a “pattern of misconduct.”

Chuck Luther, also with Military Spouses for Change, said he’s working on four cases similar to Boyle’s now.

“I’ve seen the office of the surgeon general doing some great things,” Picard said. “But they didn’t intervene in this case. Technically, it’s OK. Morally, is it OK? No. If they’re going to call it a combat injury, they need to treat it, or else people will be afraid to come forward.”

Boyle’s mother gave another reason: “You can hear it in his voice,” Curtiss said. “He can’t believe the Army’s doing this to him. He needs counseling. He needs medication. He needs it even more now because of what they’ve put him through.”

Curtiss contacted Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and a spokesman said the senator has been in contact with the Army several times about the case.

Boyle always wanted to be in the Army, Curtiss said, and served in junior ROTC while in high school. He planned to be an officer, worked as psychological operations sergeant, received a Good Conduct Medal and two Army Commendation medals, and wanted to spend his career in the military. Instead, he was twice diagnosed with PTSD and said he enrolled himself in the Army’s substance abuse program and went to group and individual counseling for his disorder, just as he was supposed to.

The administrative discharge means Boyle will have to prove that his PTSD is service-connected when applying for benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and he’s not eligible to immediately receive the counseling he needs through the transition program for service members moving between the military and VA systems.

“The military is creating a societal issue,” Luther said. “These guys come out with no resources, and they’re angry and feeling betrayed. But commanders are thinking, ‘Do I rehabilitate him or do I get rid of him expeditiously so I can replace him with someone who can deploy?’ ”

Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, said the Army should have provided Boyle with legal representation; that Boyle should remain in military therapy until VA processes his claim; that he should get an honorable discharge and go through the disability retirement process; and that the military needs to apply the same rules to “pattern of misconduct” as it does to personality disorders.

“The military should be concerned about the welfare of the soldier,” Sullivan said.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Mike Parker, who has worked as an advocate for service members going through the disability retirement system, said the cases are frustrating because veterans’ groups just fought to get the military to automatically award 50 percent disability ratings for people with PTSD severe enough to force them to leave the service, as is required by law. Many troops with PTSD had been receiving far lower ratings.

“Even though they have this new regulation saying they can’t kick them out for personality disorders, they can still kick them out for misconduct,” he said. “Everything they say, they have an escape clause.”

Mulholland did not respond to a Military Times request for an interview Tuesday morning, but Tuesday afternoon Boyle received word that Mulholland was standing behind his decision.

That means Boyle must repay the Army $18,500 for his re-enlistment bonus. The Army also withheld 65 days’ worth of leave payments and his final paycheck.

“I have nothing,” Boyle said. “After all I did for the Army, they took my money and kicked me to the curb and said, ‘Don’t let the door hit you in the ass.’

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