Specialist Town Takes His Case to Washington
That statement angered many soldiers, including Jon Town. "You'd think I'd remember, even today, if I had headaches and hearing loss before the rocket attack," he says. The surgeon general tried to quell veterans' groups by emphasizing that, as stated in the March memos, the comprehensive review was conducted by a panel of health experts and that those experts "did not provide the initial evaluations." This wasn't a case of one doctor reviewing his own work, the surgeon general said.
Both of those assurances crumbled on May 4, when Army Times reporter Kelly Kennedy revealed that in fact there was only one reviewer: Col. Steven Knorr. Knorr was a strange choice to be the sole reviewer. He was far from an objective observer. As chief of Fort Carson's Behavioral Health unit, Knorr had overseen all the original diagnoses and, in his capacity as a psychiatrist, also diagnosed several soldiers with personality disorder.
Months earlier Knorr had spoken out in defense of the Army's practice of not interviewing soldiers' family or friends before labeling their condition "pre-existing." Unlike his staff, he said, family members are not trained to recognize signs of personality disorder, so speaking to them would be of limited value. "The soldier's perception and their parents' perception is that they were fine. But maybe they didn't or weren't able to see that wasn't the case."
In the same interview, published in The Nation, Knorr said there was a simple reason why in so many cases the lifelong condition of personality disorder isn't apparent until after troops serve in Iraq. Traumatic experiences, he said, can trigger a condition that has lain dormant for years. "[Troops] may have done fine in high school and before, but it comes out during the stress of service," he said. Knorr's assertion was a sharp break from the accepted medical understanding of personality disorder and provoked a flood of angry letters from psychiatrists and veterans' leaders.
Veterans were further agitated by a vivid profile of Knorr, by NPR's Daniel Zwerdling broadcast in late May. Zwerdling details a memo written by Knorr in which he advises his doctors that trying to save every soldier is a "mistake." "We can't fix every Soldier," the memo states. "We have to hold Soldiers accountable for their behavior. Everyone in life beyond babies, the insane, and the demented and mentally retarded have to be held accountable for what they do in life."
Knorr's memo, which he posted on his office's bulletin board, warns his doctors not to take soldiers' descriptions of their ailments at face value. "We're not naïve, and shouldn't automatically believe everything Soldiers tell us," the colonel writes. Knorr also urges his doctors to discharge troubled soldiers quickly--as he puts it, "Get rid of dead wood."
"That memo made me sick," says Russell Terry, founder of the Iraq War Veterans Organization. "It's incomprehensible that [Pollock] would choose him to lead the review." Terry says that if she had wanted to do a real review, the surgeon general could have organized a panel of impartial medical experts. "By having Knorr review his own stuff, there's no outside opinion, no one to uncover the misdiagnoses--no one to object."
The surgeon general declined to be interviewed. But in a recent statement, Pollock defended her office's review and showed continued support for Knorr, calling him an "appropriate" choice to spearhead the review.
By May the Army had a nascent PR nightmare on its hands. The story of Pollock, Knorr and the "thoughtful and thorough" five-month review had been picked up by news talk programs on NPR, Washington Post Radio and ABC News. To stem the tide, officials at Fort Carson did something odd: They released a new memo stating that fifty-six soldiers discharged from Fort Carson with personality disorder actually had PTSD.
It was a stunning admission. As soon as they released it, officials tried to downplay it. Col. John Cho, former commander of Fort Carson's hospital, quickly submitted a second statement, saying that the first memo was not an admission of guilt. Soldiers suffering from PTSD could be rightfully discharged with personality disorder if they had that condition too and their PTSD was not "severe," he said. But Army Regulation 40-501, Chapter 3-33, is clear. It states that if a soldier is suffering from PTSD, he must be discharged by a medical board, which can provide him the lifetime of disability and medical benefits denied soldiers discharged with personality disorder.
Fort Carson officials provided an unintentionally comic coda to their admission when they insisted that all fifty-six cases were properly diagnosed, shortly after Cho admitted in writing that his office could find only fifty-two of them. Base officials said the remaining four cases had been lost or misplaced. They could not explain how they knew those cases were properly diagnosed when they couldn't be found. "It's incredible when you think about it," says Pogany. "They're doing everything they can to cover this up--and doing a lousy job of it."
On May 16, Army officials clarified: The four-year review of personality disorder cases trumpeted in the Tallman memo never occurred.