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Military discharges, rather than treats

May. 21, 2013 - 05:39PM   |  
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COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. — The U.S. Army has discharged escalating numbers of traumatized combat veterans who commit crimes and in ways that make them ineligible for Veterans Administration health assistance, The Gazette of Colorado Springs reports.

The Gazette found that the numbers of combat veterans discharged has risen since 2006. Many have post-traumatic stress disorder or brain damage. An unknown number of those veterans have committed crimes since returning to the United States.

More than 13,000 have been discharged them under a provision called Chapter 10, which prevents them from being eligible for Veterans Administration benefits that include treatment for combat-related psychiatric disorders. It’s unclear how many suffered from combat-related wounds that may have driven them to misconduct.

Chapter 10 — resignation in lieu of prosecution — is almost always accompanied by an other-than-honorable discharge that bars soldiers from medical benefits.

When injured soldiers commit crimes, the Army rarely offers mercy, according to records obtained by the newspaper. PTSD is not an effective defense, Army defense attorneys say, and the majority of woundedsoldiers who commit crimes are stripped of medical care and other benefits for life and thrown out of theArmy.

Of the 2.5 million troops who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, more than 400,000 have deployed three times or more. Each time, they are more likely to develop traumatic brain injury, PTSD and other psychological problems, Department of Defense studies show.

Repeated studies also show the injuries dramatically increase the likelihood that troops will act out and be kicked out with no benefits. Often, the wounds take years to develop, which means the country will be dealing with the wounded long after the wars are done.

In three combat tours, Sgt. Paul Sasse had five medals for heroism, four for excellence, three for good conduct and one for nearly getting killed in Iraq. The 32-year-old Special Forces soldier faced court-martial for assaulting his wife and two military police officers in July and had been brought to Fort Carson to be arraigned.

Sasse was hit by a roadside bomb in 2007 in Iraq and diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. He went on another combat tour even though he struggled with shattered memory and concentration, depression, nightmares and rage.

In 2012, the Army diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder. A few weeks later, he assaulted his wife and military police who tried to stop him. He had been scheduled to go into a special unit for wounded soldiersbut was sent to El Paso County jail, where he was placed in solitary confinement after assaulting guards.

“Given his condition, his confinement is tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment,” Fort Carson’s top defense attorney said in a letter to Fort Carson’s commander in September, asking the general to send Sasse to a psychiatric hospital.

“It’s despicable,” said retired Special Forces Staff Sgt. Jason Inman, who shared a Humvee in Iraq with Sasse. “Guys get in trouble and the Army makes it look like the soldier’s fault and kicks them out when it’s the Armythat made them this way.”

The Army offered Sasse a Chapter 10 deal: Quit the Army and get out of jail with no supervision.

“He is too dangerous, but then they turn around and offer to put him out on the street?” said Georg-Andreas Pogány, a veterans advocate. “It’s more than insane.”

Sasse’s commanders repeatedly sent him to the doctor, concerned something was wrong, records show.

In February, the Army charged Sasse with assault, conveying threats and conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline. It offered him another deal: Plead guilty but receive no additional punishment. He would keep his rank and pay and get no prison time. Instead, the Army sent him to in-patient psychiatric treatment.

Sasse pleaded guilty in March. He has since been pulled out of his psychiatric hospital by the Army against his wishes. For weeks he has been at Fort Carson with little supervision. He still faces civilian charges for assaulting jail guards.

More than 440 soldiers have resigned in lieu of court-martial through Chapter 10 at Fort Carson since 2006,Army records show. An additional 13,000 resigned under Chapter 10 Army-wide in that time.

The Army didn’t respond to requests for information showing how many, like Sasse, struggled with wounds from combat. A spokesman said the Army does not track that data.

“We may not get it right 100 percent of the time but we work hard to identify at-risk troops in time for intervention,” said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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