Specialist Town Takes His Case to Washington
'This Would Be Wrong'
July 25. By 10 am, it's standing room only at the Cannon House Office Building, the hearing room swimming with men in uniform, veterans with camouflage accessories, protesters in bright pink sporting handwritten placards demanding justice for soldiers. A row of photographers crouch beside the CBS News camera; reporters for ABC News, NPR and the New York Times have set up shop behind the soldier at the witness desk.
Not surprisingly, Town didn't sleep the night before. His headache is still raging; his eyes look a bit bloodshot. But his blond bangs are combed, and his favorite red-striped Old Navy shirt is gone, as is the brown ball cap and reflective sunglasses, replaced with a well-pressed navy suit and crimson tie. Town holds his dog tags in his hand and rubs them nervously between his thumb and forefinger as he looks up at the committee, his voice defiant and jittery.
"I want to state that I did not have a personality disorder before I went into the Army, as they have stated in my paperwork. I did not suffer severe nonstop headaches. I did not have memory loss. I did not have endless, sleepless nights. I have posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury now due to the injuries I received in the war, for which I received a Purple Heart," he says. "I shouldn't be labeled for the rest of my life with a personality disorder, and neither should my fellow soldiers who also incorrectly received this stigma."
Filner looks down at the specialist with paternal eyes. When the applause dies down he says, "Thank you, Mr. Town. You did not sign up to have to do this. But you are helping a lot of people, and we thank you for your courage."
Two hours later Surgeon General Pollock's psychological consultant, Col. Bruce Crow, sits at the witness desk. Pollock herself was called to testify; her name appeared on the original witness list. But today she's nowhere to be found, a fact that angers several of the Congressmen. Speaking in her stead, Crow says, "Questions have been raised about whether Army psychiatrists and psychologists are misdiagnosing soldiers with personality disorder instead of correctly diagnosing PTSD or traumatic brain injury." If they are misdiagnosing soldiers, says Crow, "this would be wrong."
Pollock's consultant says that the surgeon general is reviewing the cases of 295 soldiers discharged with personality disorder. Pollock will conduct the review, says Crow, by having "a team of senior mental health providers" look over the soldiers' paperwork.
Filner shakes his head, baffled. "The first panel shocked me," says Filner, referring to Town's testimony. "You guys shocked me even more." The allegation "that there's a systematic and policy-driven misdiagnosis of PTSD as personality disorder to get rid of soldiers early, to prevent any expenditures in the future, which were calculated in the billions of dollars...it's a pretty serious allegation." Crow looks back at Filner. He says nothing. "And if you think that we're going to believe an evaluation of 295 cases, whichever ones you happen to pick--that we're going to believe what you say--I'll tell you now, I'm not going to believe it. So why bother?" says the chairman. "Let's have an independent evaluation."
When the hearing ends, Crow exits. Several Congressmen walk toward the gallery to shake Town's hand. The hearing went well, says the soldier. He was glad to hear support on both sides of the aisle for the Bond/Obama amendment to freeze 5-13 discharges and its companion legislation in the House, HR 3167, put forward by Congressman Phil Hare and others.
Now that Town has gotten his VA benefits, his eye has turned toward the national issue of 5-13 discharges. That is where there's a lot of work left to be done, he says. Town points out that still today, not a single person has been held responsible for the 5-13 discharges--not Surgeon General Pollock, not Colonel Knorr, not even the Army psychologist who diagnosed his personality disorder, Dr. Mark Wexler.
And there hasn't been any effort to go back through the files and find the thousands of Jon Towns who are struggling right now without benefits or the media spotlight. "The Army needs to go back and find these guys," says the specialist. "They need to show up and say, 'We apologize--and we're here to rectify the situation.'"
Until that happens, he says, his work is not done.