May 6, 2010
The mortar shell that wrecked Chuck Luther's life exploded at the base of the guard tower.
Luther heard the brief whistling, followed by a flash of fire, a plume of smoke and a
deafening bang that shook the tower and threw him to the floor. The Army sergeant's head
slammed against the concrete, and he lay there in the Iraqi heat, his nose leaking clear
"I remember laying there in a daze, looking around, trying to figure out where I was at,"
he says. "I was nauseous. My teeth hurt. My shoulder hurt. And my right ear was killing
me." Luther picked himself up and finished his shift, then took some ibuprofen to dull the
pain. The sergeant was seven months into his deployment at Camp Taji, in the volatile Sunni
Triangle, twenty miles north of Baghdad. He was determined, he says, to complete his
mission. But the short, muscular frame that had guided him to twenty-two honors --
including three Army Achievement Medals and a Combat Action Badge -- was basically broken.
The shoulder pain persisted, and the hearing in his right ear, which evaporated on impact,
never returned, replaced by the maddening hum of tinnitus.
Then came the headaches. "They'd start with a speckling in the corner of my vision, then
grow worse and worse until finally the right eye would just shut down and go blank," he
says. "The left one felt like someone was stabbing me over and over in the eye."
Doctors at Camp Taji's aid station told Luther he was faking his symptoms. When he insisted
he wasn't, they presented a new diagnosis for his blindness: personality disorder.
"To be told that I was lying, that was a real smack in the face," says Luther. "Then when
they said 'personality disorder,' I was really confused. I didn't understand how a problem
with my personality could cause deafness or blindness or shoulder pain."
For three years The Nation has been reporting on military doctors' fraudulent use of
personality disorder to discharge wounded soldiers [see Kors, "How Specialist Town Lost His
Benefits," April 9, 2007]. PD is a severe mental illness that emerges during childhood and
is listed in military regulations as a pre-existing condition, not a result of combat. Thus
those who are discharged with PD are denied a lifetime of disability benefits, which the
military is required to provide to soldiers wounded during service. Soldiers discharged
with PD are also denied long-term medical care. And they have to give back a slice of their
re-enlistment bonus. That amount is often larger than the soldier's final paycheck. As a
result, on the day of their discharge, many injured vets learn that they owe the Army
several thousand dollars.
According to figures from the Pentagon and a Harvard University study, the military is
saving billions by discharging soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan with personality
In July 2007 the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs called a hearing to investigate PD
discharges. Barack Obama, then a senator, put forward a bill to halt all PD discharges. And
before leaving office, President Bush signed a law requiring the defense secretary to
conduct his own investigation of the PD discharge system. But Obama's bill did not pass,
and the Defense Department concluded that no soldiers had been wrongly discharged. The PD
dismissals have continued. Since 2001 more than 22,600 soldiers have been discharged with
personality disorder. That number includes soldiers who have served two and three tours in
Iraq and Afghanistan.