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Army sidesteps questions about discharged soldiers

May 24, 2013 Updated: May 24, 2013 at 8:10 pm
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photo - Wounded Army veteran Kashif Alvaro recovers in a bed in the emergency room at Memorial Hospital Wednesday, December 19, 2012 after suffering a seizure and chest pains. He was kicked out of the Army with no health benefits and now relies on 911 for care. Michael Ciaglo/The Gazette
Wounded Army veteran Kashif Alvaro recovers in a bed in the emergency room at Memorial Hospital Wednesday, December 19, 2012 after suffering a seizure and chest pains. He was kicked out of the Army with no health benefits and now relies on 911 for care. Michael Ciaglo/The Gazette 

The Army sidestepped questions on Friday about whether a marked increase in the number of soldiers discharged for breaking Army rules is connected to their invisible injuries and systemic problems in the service.

The Gazette investigative series "Other Than Honorable," published this week, used Army data to show how the number of soldiers getting discharged for misconduct has surged to its highest levels in recent times.

Those discharged include wounded soldiers, some of whom have served in multiple deployments during a decade of war, who are more likely to break Army rules and then be denied benefits.

The report suggested that a number of factors are at play in the discharges, including a mandatory troop reduction, an estimated 500,000 troops with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries, an overwhelmed medical discharge process and decades-old Army policies that don't always accommodate or account for behavior resulting from injuries suffered by today's soldier.

On Friday, the Army did not acknowledge any of these factors. The Army response instead suggested that rising numbers of discharges are the result of soldiers breaking the rules. At Fort Carson, there was little response to the investigation.

A spokesman for the commanding general at Fort Carson said Maj. Gen. Paul LaCamera likely could not speak to The Gazette because his "schedule is busy and I am not sure if we can facilitate anything before our deployment to Afghanistan."

The deployment is in July.

The rate of discharges for misconduct at the post, home to 26,000 soldiers, has increased 122 percent since 2009.

Army-wide, annual misconduct discharges are up more than 25 percent since 2009, mirroring the rising numbers of wounded soldiers. Among combat troops, the increase is especially sharp. Since 2009, total discharges at the eight Army posts that house most of the service's combat units, including Fort Carson, have surged 67 percent. The Gazette found the discharges include soldiers with multiple tours and those diagnosed PTSD and brain injuries.

The Gazette this week requested an interview with Army officials at the Pentagon. George Wright, the Army's Pentagon spokesman, replied by email.

Asked what Army officials think is causing the rise in misconduct discharges, Wright responded, "The Army is a standards-based organization. Our soldiers must always be ready to answer the nation's call and every single person contributes to the Army's readiness. The Army pays close attention to leader development and instilling the Army values. If a soldier is unable or unwilling to meet the standard, we have a duty to separate them."

Asked if Army leaders are concerned about the surge in discharges, he said, "Every soldier who takes an oath is expected to meet their obligations of living honorably with integrity. The vast majority of our soldiers live by the Army values daily which includes loyalty to one's self, their unit, our nation and our constitution. Separations of soldiers from the Army are taken very seriously, and require a thorough look at all the facts. We have a process that is fair, objective and methodical to ensure that good order and discipline is maintained within the ranks."

Georg-Andreas Pog?y, a retired Army sergeant who helps troubled soldiers, including many of the soldiers featured in The Gazette's series, called the Army's response callous. "It is an insult. It is offensive," he said. "They are just blaming the soldier. It shows the utter disregard for what is going on. They don't have a problem with this."

Many of the soldiers The Gazette interviewed have PTSD and brain injuries from combat. Department of Defense studies show these injuries can lead to decreased performance, explosive anger and substance abuse that can get a soldier discharged. The Pentagon's response did not address this.

"The fact that the Army can respond to these questions with such a lack of understanding of the effects of PTSD and TBI?" said Robert Alvarez, an ex-Marine who works with Pog?y. "No surprise that these wrongful discharges are going on all over the Army."

Pog?y called on Congress to force changes that will protect combat veterans.

"If the Army does not see this as a problem, Congress must use its oversight to force change," he said.

The Gazette has asked Colorado's senators and U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn if and how they plan to address the surge in discharges. They have not responded with specifics.

Earlier this week, Lamborn said in a statement, "Congress, the Pentagon and the VA can and must do more to ensure that soldiers with brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorders are diagnosed and properly treated. We must never abandon our active duty military or our veterans."

Lamborn serves on the House Armed Services Committee and House Veterans' Affairs Committee.

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Contact Dave Philipps

636-0238

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