Editorial: Troubled soldiers deserve expert evaluation

U.S. soldiers walk with their Afghan translator near U.S. soldiers walk with their Afghan translator near the scene of a suicide attack in Kandahar, south of Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo Credit: AP, 2012

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Soldiers who develop psychological problems deserve better than the bum's rush when they're discharged from the U.S. military.

Those who have risked life and limb and sacrificed their mental health shouldn't be saddled with less than honorable discharges that leave them ineligible for benefits such as medical care, disability payments and student aid to help them successfully re-enter civilian life. But that's what has happened to tens of thousands of veterans, says Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. The New York Democrat has introduced legislation to ensure that mental disorders get the serious consideration they warrant when veterans appeal discharges below the level of "honorable."

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Former Army Sgt. Kristofer Goldsmith of Long Beach is one of those discarded soldiers. The Iraq War veteran said the Army dumped him with a general discharge after combat-related depression led him to try to kill himself days before he was scheduled to redeploy to Iraq in 2007.

He became depressed in Iraq in 2005 after duties that included photographing the mutilated bodies of more than a dozen brutally tortured and executed civilians as Iraqi police exhumed them from a mass grave. Back in the United States, he began drinking heavily and getting into fights. He sought emergency-room treatment and was diagnosed with the preexisting conditions of adjustment disorder and personality disorder. When ordered to redeploy to Iraq, Goldsmith said he tried to kill himself with alcohol and painkillers. He was discharged two months later.

Several unsuccessful appeals of his discharge status propelled the Nassau Community College student to lobby Congress for change. Gillibrand's bill would require military panels that review discharges to include a mental health professional. If a correction is requested in a soldier's mental-health records, civilian panels that review military records would include the opinion of a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist. The goal is to ensure that a diagnosis of a preexisting condition, rather than a service-related problem such as post-traumatic stress, is appropriate. That's the least we should do for people who have given so much.

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