Veterans respond to Mark Benjamin's article on Walter Reed and share their own frustrations with the Army's medical bureaucracy.

By Salon Staff
Published February 23, 2005 9:57PM (EST)

[Read "Behind the Walls of Ward 54," by Mark Benjamin.]

Mark Benjamin's article hit me quite personally on a number of levels. I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in counseling psychology, did a thesis titled "Socialization and Assimilation in the Combat Infantry," suffered PTSD as a result of combat as an enlisted man in Vietnam, and was a later a captain with 20+ years in the National Guard (Infantry and Armored Cavalry) and Army Reserve (Special Forces).

In June 2003, I was ordered to active duty for up to a year in either Iraq or Afghanistan and was extended for an additional 28 years(!) until the year 2031 (this is not a typo). Ironically, at 56, I am considered too old to be a psychologist in the Army Medical Corps, where I could help fellow combat veterans recover from PTSD. However, I am NOT too old to serve as the lowest-level sergeant (E-5) on convoy duty hauling cargo or driving vehicles all day somewhere in a war zone.

Seven years of postgraduate education at UCLA, with a cognate in psychiatry, and I cannot use that training to help my country. But 10 days of training in cargo handling and driving a truck, and I'm "good to go"!

-- Harold Martin

I'm a retired (1999) Army colonel with two years (1967-69) of enlisted service in the U.S. Marine Corps. I went through a Medical Evaluation Board and Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) at Walter Reed in 1998-99. I was found fit for duty. Right now I have two suits against the Army: one in the Federal Claims Court and one in the U.S. Federal District Court of Delaware.

Mark Benjamin is right on the money in his article about the military disability evaluation system (MDES). It is stacked against the service member (SM), and its fact-finding process is woefully inadequate. For example, the physicians conducting the examinations receive no specialized training to conduct impairment and disability evaluations, and their reports, in my case, didn't even conform to regulatory requirements.

The Army PEB is supposed to determine if a SM can reasonably perform the duties of his or her job and rank, but it has no document defining just what these duties are. It's up to every board member to decide. The PEB members have no formal training as disability evaluators. There is no way the Army can ensure even minimal consistency for decisions at the PEBs -- the same file would not be evaluated consistently by different PEBs at different locations. By its very nature, the system is arbitrary and capricious.

In other disability evaluation systems such as workmen's compensation, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Social Security, such practices are unheard of. The MDES also has no due process safeguards for those found fit for duty. They have no right to a formal on-the-record hearing, as in the V.A. and Social Security systems.

Appealing to an Army Board for Correction of Military Records is equally useless. The chances of having a disability decision overturned are practically nil. In the final analysis, as the article mentions, disability decisions seemingly are made to save budgetary dollars.

-- Gerald A. Lechliter

Salon Staff

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