Huffington Post: Command Sgt. Major Tim Walz’s New Mission: Getting Disability Benefits to Wounded Soldiers

Congressman Tim Walz is on a mission. More than seven years after hanging up his National Guard uniform, Walz—the highest-ranking enlisted soldier on Capitol Hill—is fighting for a group of veterans few have ever heard of: wounded soldiers discharged with “personality disorder.”

Most Americans know about the enormous backlog of disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers have returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan in desperate need of medical care, only to stand in a line one million veterans long, waiting an average of 322 days for their claims to be processed. For wounded soldiers shoved out the military’s side door with personality disorder, the situation is even more grim. Because personality disorder is a pre-existing condition, soldiers discharged with the illness are ineligible for disability benefits and long-term medical care. They are, in other words, ineligible to stand in that line behind one million of their fellow soldiers.

Walz, a member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, saw firsthand how personality disorder discharges work when Specialist Jon Town and Sergeant Chuck Luther testified before his committee. Specialist Town was knocked unconscious by a rocket blast while serving in Iraq, an explosion that severely damaged his hearing. Town won the Purple Heart for his wounds but was then denied disability and medical benefits after military doctors declared that his deafness was caused by pre-existing personality disorder. Sergeant Luther was wounded by mortar fire in Iraq. Luther was then pressed to sign documents saying his mortar fire wounds were caused by personality disorder. When the sergeant refused, he was tortured by U.S. Army officials until he agreed to sign the documents.

Since 2001, more than 31,000 soldiers have been discharged with personality disorder at a savings to the military of over $17.2 billion in disability and medical benefits. Walz’s new bill, H.R. 975, would grant those soldiers access to benefits. The former command sergeant major spoke with me about his bill and the uphill battle to get it passed.

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