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Report: Combat troop discharges increase sharply

May. 19, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Maj. Gen. Joseph Anderson, who was Fort Carson's commander until March, defends the Army's practices of discharging soldiers.
Maj. Gen. Joseph Anderson, who was Fort Carson's commander until March, defends the Army's practices of discharging soldiers. (Michael Ciaglo/The (Colorado Springs, Colo.) Gazet)
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COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. — The number of soldiers discharged from the Army for misconduct has risen to its highest rate in recent times, and some are wounded combat troops who have lost their medical care and other veterans benefits because of other-than-honorable discharges, according to an investigation by the Colorado Springs Gazette.

The newspaper reported Sunday that the investigation based on Army data found that annual misconduct discharges have increased more than 25 percent since 2009, mirroring the rise in wounded. Among combat troops, the increase is even sharper.

Total discharges at the eight Army posts that house most of the service’s combat units have increased 67 percent since 2009.

“I’ve been working on this since the ’70s, and I have never seen anything like this,” said Mark Waple, a retired Army officer who now tries military cases as a civilian lawyer near North Carolina’s Fort Bragg. “There seems to be a propensity to use minor misconduct for separation, even for service members who are decorated in combat and injured.”

The figures studied by The Gazette include soldiers who have served multiple tours and have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. Some troops were cut loose for minor offenses that the Army acknowledges can be symptoms of TBI and PTSD.

“I see it every day,” said Lenore Yarger, a veterans advocate near Fort Bragg. “We have gotten very efficient at getting people to fight wars but are not prepared to deal with the aftermath.”

The Gazette found that several soldiers who tested positive for drugs were deployed anyway because the Army needed combat troops. But when they returned, they were discharged for the offense.

In other cases, the soldiers were discharged after suffering severe brain injuries in combat.

Kash Alvaro, a wounded combat soldier at Fort Carson near Colorado Springs, suffered from regular seizures from a traumatic brain injury after a bomb blast in Afghanistan. He was discharged in January 2012 for a pattern of misconduct that included missing medical appointments and going AWOL for two weeks. But because his other-than-honorable discharge barred him from veterans benefits, he soon became homeless and relied on the local hospital emergency room for care.

“It was like my best friend betrayed me,” Alvaro said from a hospital bed. “I had given the Army everything, and they took everything away.”

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, disagreed that the military is using minor misconduct to discharge veterans as the Army faces required budget cuts and orders to reduce the force.

“I can tell you that 10-plus years of war has placed significant stress on many of our service members, sometimes manifesting itself in their health and even their discipline,” he said. “We go to great lengths to try to rehabilitate those who don’t meet or maintain required standards prior to initiating separation.”

An Army spokesman said the military branch does not track the number of soldiers wounded in war who were later kicked out.

Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Joseph Anderson, who was Fort Carson’s commander until March and is set to become commander of Fort Bragg, said the Army’s priority is caring for soldiers. He said the number of injured who are discharged is not a significant figure.

Still, he said, distinguishing injuries from misconduct is nearly impossible.

“It’s the hardest thing,” he said. “We physically, literally struggle with it every day.”

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