While you may know that 96% of the media outlets in the US are owned by just 5 corporations, and while you may understand how heavily censored and manipulated the news you receive may be; it still doesn’t begin to put into perspective the “why” and “how” of the information you are fed is used to keep you uninformed and how it is manipulated to form your opinion of what is really going on in the world. Over the next several days and weeks, we are going to endeavor to “paint” as vividly as we can the real information you need to form opinion and hopefully, collectively, we can begin to stand up and change the reality of our political bondage and economic slavery. Sound too paranoid? Hold your opinion until our series ends, then make your judgment as you will.
What is “chaptered out”?
The US military has been engaged in a policy of forcing wounded and disabled veterans out of service to avoid paying benefits and to make room for new able-bodied recruits. Identifying injured combat soldiers as delinquent and negligent has lead to a practice called “chaptering out” which results in those soldiers being forced to leave the military without an honorable discharge. Because of this, thousands of soldiers have been chaptered out, losing federally sponsored benefits including health care, unemployment, and educational programs.
Dave Philipps, a reporter for the Colorado Springs Gazette, exposed this practice through his story of Purple Heart recipient Sergeant Jerrald Jensen. Jensen, a decorated two-tour Afghanistan war veteran and recovering active-duty sergeant, was forced from the army without benefits for what army officials called “a pattern of misconduct.” Jensen failed to pass a urine test after being prescribed drugs for his injuries. He was also written up for being late to an appointment. Jensen made numerous attempts to be retested but was chaptered out by his superiors. “They told me that I didn’t deserve to wear the uniform now, nor did I ever deserve to wear it,” Jensen told Al Jazeera America.
Philipps has followed several stories of wounded soldiers who have been kicked out of the military and left with nothing. “Many have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and some also have traumatic brain injuries (TBI), both of which can influence behavior and judgment,” said Philipps. He estimates that 76,000 soldiers have been chaptered out since 2006, and that number has increased every year since the war in Iraq began.
Although the military declined to be interviewed, denying any policy that targeted disabled soldiers to be forced out without benefits, an insider from the US Army Medical Command confirmed that this does happen. According to Philipps, “These commanders are stuck in this position where if they try to get them out medically, they are still stuck with them, maybe for a long time. If they decide to kick them out for misconduct instead, they could be out in weeks.” Some soldiers like Jensen have had success appealing their discharges, but many others are left without any support from the nation they served.
A roadside bomb hit Sgt. Jerrald Jensen’s Humvee in Iraq, punching through heavy armor and shooting a chunk of hot metal into his head at several times the speed of sound, shattering his face and putting him in a coma. “I wasn’t supposed to live,” the veteran lisped with half a tongue through numb lips. “No one knows why I did. It’s shocking.” Even more shocking is what Jensen did next. After 16 surgeries, the sergeant volunteered to go back to combat in one of the most savage corners of Afghanistan, where he was injured again. Perhaps most shocking, though, is what happened when he got home.
Jensen returned to recover in a battalion at Fort Carson designed to care for wounded soldiers called the Warrior Transition Unit. In the WTU, the soldier with a heroic record said he encountered a hostile environment where commanders, some of whom had never deployed, harassed and punished the wounded for the slightest misstep while making them wait many weeks for critical medical care and sometimes canceling care altogether.
In 2011, a year after joining the WTU, just days after coming out of a surgery, Jensen tested positive for the drug amphetamine. The then-41-year-old asked to be retested, suggesting his many Army prescriptions might be to blame. His commander refused and instead gave Jensen the maximum punishment, cutting his rank to private, docking his pay and canceling surgery to fix his face so he could spend weeks mopping floors, picking weeds and scrubbing toilets. Then, Jensen said, WTU leaders said he should be discharged for misconduct — the equivalent of getting fired — with other-than-honorable rating, which denies him any benefits for the rest of his life.
“To call guys who sacrificed so much dishonorable and kick them out with nothing?” said Jensen, who is now out of the Army, living in a small apartment with blankets covering the windows because his injuries make him sensitive to light. “Christ sake, man, it is a disgrace.”
With troops going back and forth between duty stateside and in war zones during multiple deployments, disciplinary regulations designed for more conventional wars of the past increasingly are snaring troops. A Gazette investigation shows that after a decade of war, the Army is discharging more soldiers for misconduct every year. The number kicked out Army-wide annually has increased 60 percent since 2006.
The Gazette detailed how some of the discharged have invisible wounds of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder but are kicked out anyway. The factors driving the surge in discharges include a lack of objective tests for those invisible injuries; the need to shrink the force by at least 80,000 by 2017; and Army systems that make combat units wait months or years for replacements for the wounded, turning injured soldiers into a burden and giving low-level leaders incentive to get rid of them.
“At a policy level the Army is saying it takes care of these guys but at a command level it is not happening,” said Lenore Warger, a counselor who has worked with discharged soldiers for 12 years at the veterans rights organization The Quaker House near Fort Bragg in North Carolina. “Oftentimes guys with PTSD or TBI are shunned. Instead of being cared for they are marginalized.”
More than 13,000 soldiers were discharged for misconduct from the Army in 2012, records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show. Army leaders contend that caring for soldiers is a top priority and no one is unduly punished. But the Army does not track how many of the discharged were also injured.
The Army refused multiple requests to comment on Jensen’s case. Army regulations allow soldiers to be discharged for any number of infractions, from drug use to disrespect to showing up late too often. Ultimately, the commanding general of each post decides who is punished and who is spared.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Army considers soldiers’ entire records, as well as their physical and mental conditions, in a discharge. “In short, each case is considered individually and judged on its merits,” he said in an email.
At Fort Carson, discharge data obtained by The Gazette shows few of the wounded are spared. Of the 41 Fort Carson soldiers designated as wounded (those in the medical discharge process) who were targeted for a misconduct discharge in 2012, 80 percent were cut loose.
In the WTU, where soldiers by definition have complex medical issues, the rate of discharge was just as high. Of the five soldiers up for punishment, all but one were kicked out. In 2011, it was even more harsh. Of four WTU soldiers targeted for misconduct, all were kicked out.
The Fort Carson figures do not account for the unknown number of soldiers with PTSD or TBI who are not in the medical discharge process or the WTU. The Army said it does not track the number of wounded soldiers kicked out for misconduct.
Maj. Gen. Joseph Anderson, who commanded Fort Carson from November 2011 until mid-March and is slated to become commander of Fort Bragg this summer, said discipline, must be strictly enforced, even when soldiers are hurt.
This story isn’t about just veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns, Vietnam era veterans were denied treatment for PTSD. The military said it was just behavioral disorders. We now know better.
The number of veterans as of Sept. 2014 is approximately 25 million men and women.
- Between 529,000 and 840,000 veterans are homeless at some time during the year.
- On any given night, more than 300,000 veterans are living on the streets or in shelters in the U.S.
- Approx. 33% of homeless males in the U.S. are veterans.
- Veterans are twice as likely as other Americans to become chronically homeless.
- Veterans represent 11% of the adult civilian population, but 26% of the homeless population, according to the Homeless Research Institute.
- Veterans are more at risk of becoming homeless than non-veterans
- The number of homeless Vietnam-era veterans, male and female, is greater than the number of soldiers who died during the war.
- Primary causes of homelessness among veterans are:
- Lack of income due to limited education and lack of transferable skills from military to civilian life (especially true of younger veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan)
- Combat-related physical health issues and disabilities
- Combat-related mental health issues and disabilities
- Substance abuse problems that interfere with job retention
- Weak social networks due to problems adjusting to civilian life
- Lack of services.
While we all are aware of the spotlight on the Veteran’s Administration’s failure to treat our veterans in a full or timely manner, the military itself is guilty of a far more egregious act of denying benefits at all to those who have so faithfully served and have paid a high price for their service. This is an outrage! We all should surely be motivated to act politically to this situation, if we knew. Now you know.
We should demand that every one of these men and women be re-instated to a status to continue to receive the care and treatment they deserve and have earned. Veterans represent one of the largest political blocs in this country and it is time we, along veterans, stand united. It truly has touched every family. No politician should be elected to office who would not pledge to have these men and women reinstated to their honorable status.. No Exceptions.