Joshua Kors talks to NOW about the surprising details he uncovered during his six-month investigation into the military's "personality disorder" diagnosis.
NOW: How did you become interested in the story?
JOSHUA KORS (JK): I was doing a series of profiles of soldiers returning from Iraq when I came upon Spc. Jon Town. His story simply didn't make sense. I said to him, what do you mean you were struck by a rocket ... so they diagnosed you as having "personality disorder"? How could the Army deny you were wounded when they gave you a Purple Heart to honor your wounds?
I began to dig. Soon I discovered how many soldiers were in Town's shoes. In the last six years alone, the military has discharged 22,500 soldiers with personality disorder. Cheating those veterans out of their benefits will save the military approximately $12.5 billion over the course of their lifetimes—$8 billion in disability pay, $4.5 billion in medical care.
NOW: What was the most surprising thing you found in this investigation?
JK: Two things really surprised me. First, how clear-cut the cases were. During my six months investigating this scandal, never once did I find a case where reasonable men could disagree about the diagnosis. Instead, I found soldiers like Jon Town, whose deafness was said to be caused by a personality disorder; Richard Dykstra, whose bilateral hernia was declared the result of a personality disorder; and William Wooldridge and Chris Mosier, whose schizophrenic-type delusions were diagnosed as personality disorder.
One soldier, whose case I'm now investigating, damaged the lens of his eyeball while serving in Iraq. The soldier's doctor said his ocular damage was caused by personality disorder.
The second thing that really surprised me was how aggressive the military was in covering up the scandal. Numerous soldiers went to Col. Steven Knorr, chief of the Department of Behavioral Health at Fort Carson's hospital, complaining that doctors at his hospital had misdiagnosed them and given them false information about benefits. Knorr turned his back on them and when approached later about the issue, said simply he didn't believe the charges were true.
Recently I received a memo from Gale Pollock, the Acting Surgeon General of the Army, who was presented these cases in late October. Pollock wrote that her office had "carefully reviewed" each case and found all the diagnoses to be correct. But with a touch more reporting, I found out that her careful review was a sham. Her office didn't contact a single soldier. What they did do is contact Fort Carson and ask officials there to review their own diagnoses. Officials at the base decided they had gotten the diagnoses right the first time, and at that point the Army considered it a closed issue.
NOW: Why do you think cases like Jon Town's are not receiving more public attention?
JK: I've been getting a flood of responses to my article on Town—dozen of emails from soldiers across the country saying, "This happened to me." Already when you type in "Specialist Town" into Google, you get over three million hits. And the article just came out days ago.
This is the first the public is hearing about this scandal. I think, just as with Walter Reed, major media attention will come.
NOW: Do you think members of the military are pressured to keep cases like Jon Town's under wraps?
JK: Absolutely. There's no doubt about that. As one military official said to me, "You want me to throw away my career of a dozen years just to tell you what's going on at our base?" Those who did have the courage to step forward demanded anonymity, and even then, they were incredibly nervous.
One official I spoke with was very worried that his phone had been tapped, that the Army was listening in on our conversations. I remember being woken up early one morning: Something unusual had happened to one of my sources, and when a second source found out, he called in a panic, worried that officials with guns would be waiting for him at the base. Turned out it was all a false alarm.
NOW: What lessons should be drawn from this?
JK: The lesson, I think, is that the Army will stonewall and deny as long as it can do so without consequences. The pleas of wounded veterans who are seeking justice simply isn't enough. Army authorities, from the top down, will "carefully review" the soldiers' cases and consider them closed. Veterans' advocates who have been battling this "personality disorder" crisis for years now have seen it happen case after case.
One of the soldiers I reported on put it perfectly. He said this is a second war Iraq vets have to fight once they get home, and they're never going to win it unless public pressure forces Congress to hold hearings.
More from NOW:
» The Nation: "How specialist town lost his benefits"
» About Joshua Kors