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A counselor’s diagnosis brings the Army’s “personality disorder” discharges to the forefront

Heather Rudow February 28, 2012

(Photo:Flickr/The U.S. Army)

The soon-to-be discharge of a counselor from the U.S. Army with the diagnosis of a personality disorder is dredging up a longstanding conflict between some service members and the military, as well as the question of whether these people are receiving the correct diagnosis.

As The New York Times reports, since 2001, the military has discharged approximately 31,000 service members because of what Army psychiatrists have diagnosed as a personality disorder, “a family of disorders broadly characterized by inflexible ‘maladaptive’ behavior that can impair performance and relationships.” One of these service members is Capt. Susan Carlson. The 50-year-old volunteered for the Army in 2006 as a social worker, but after a soldier complained about “sexually suggestive remarks” last year, she was suspended from her work. When an Army psychiatrist diagnosed her with a personality disorder she was shocked and is now disputing the claim.

Carlson is not alone. As The Times notes, veterans and their advocates have been contending for years that the Pentagon uses the diagnosis of a personality disorder as a way to easily discharge troops it considers troublesome or wants to avoid giving benefits to for injuries connected to their time of service.

“The military considers personality disorder a pre-existing problem that emerges in youth, and as a result, troops given the diagnosis are often administratively discharged without military retirement pay. Some have even been required to repay enlistment bonuses. By comparison, a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder is usually linked to military service and leads to a medical discharge accompanied by certain benefits.”

And, when scouring her medical profile, Carlson found a document signed by her psychiatrist saying, “Her command specifically asks for a diagnosis of a personality disorder.”

“It’s a bad label,” she said to The Times. “I’m a broken soldier. I’m old. And they just want to get rid of me.”

Read the rest of the article

A study published in October revealed that in the coming years, the amount of money the Department of Veterans Affairs will spend on mental health care for veterans is likely to increase dramatically.

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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1 Comment

  1. Elizabeth

    Back in 03 a combat stress team psychologist diagnosed me with BPD & in 04 I was honorably discharged (chapter 13) out of the arm. My family and friends think I should try to get rediagnosed to PTSD but I don’t know if that’s even possible since it’s been 11 years


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