The US military has been engaged in a policy of forcing wounded and disabled veterans out of service to avoid paying benefits and to make room for new able-bodied recruits. Identifying injured combat soldiers as delinquent and negligent has lead to a practice called “chaptering out” which results in those soldiers being forced to leave the military without an “honorable discharge.” Because of this, thousands of soldiers have been chaptered out, losing federally sponsored benefits including health care, unemployment and educational programs.
Dave Phillips, a reporter for the Colorado Springs Gazette, exposed this practice through his story of Purple Heart recipient Sergeant Jerrald Jensen. Jensen, a decorated two-tour Afghanistan war veteran and recovering active-duty Sergeant, was forced from the Army without benefits for what Army officials called “a pattern of misconduct.” Jensen failed to pass a urine test after being prescribed drugs for his injuries. He was also written up for being late to an appointment. Jensen made numerous attempts to be retested but was chaptered out by his superiors. “They told me that I didn’t deserve to wear the uniform now, nor did I ever deserve to wear it,” Jensen told Aljazeera America.
Phillips has followed several stories of wounded soldiers who have been kicked out of the military and left with nothing. “Many have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and some also have traumatic brain injuries (TBI), both of which can influence behavior and judgment,” said Phillips. He estimates that 76,000 soldiers have been chaptered out since 2006 and that number has increased every year since the war in Iraq began.
While the military declined to be interviewed denying any policy that targeted disabled soldiers to be forced out without benefits, an insider from the U.S Army Medical Command confirmed that this does happen. According to Phillips, “These commanders are stuck in this position where if they try to get them out medically, they are still stuck with them, maybe for a long time. If they decide to kick them out for misconduct instead, they could be out in weeks.” Some soldiers like Jensen have had success appealing their discharges but many others are left without any support from the nation they served.
Dave Phillips, “Left Behind, No Break for the Wounded,” Colorado Springs Gazette, May 20, 2013, http://cdn.csgazette.biz/soldiers/day2.html.
Sheila MacVicar, “76,000 Soldiers ‘Chaptered Out’ of Veterans’ Benefits Since 2006,” Aljazeera America, November 9, 2013, http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/america-tonight/america-tonight-blog/2013/11/11/exclusive-76000soldierschapteredoutofmilitarybenefitssince06.html.
Student Researchers: Carter Gaskill and Crystal Lau (DePauw University)
Faculty Evaluator: Brett R. O’Bannon and Kevin Howley (DePauw University)