Pre-Existing Conditions

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

Deep in the heart of the postwar hell that awaits many injured and emotionally shattered vets lies a memo so toxic with cynical irony it deserves to be posted on, the U.S. Army’s official teen-entrapment Web site.

“We can’t fix every Soldier. 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.”

Got that, Soldier?

These are the words — first outed by NPR’s Daniel Zwerdling in May — of Col. Steven Knorr, a psychiatrist and chief of the Behavioral Health Unit at Fort Carson, Colo., to his staff. Knorr is the officer who oversaw the discharge of thousands of soldiers, many suffering brain damage and other IED-related physical and psychological injuries, on the specious diagnosis “personality disorder,” a “pre-existing condition” the Army shrinks pulled out of their hats, which meant the GIs weren’t qualified for disability pay or even medical care. Billions of taxpayer dollars were saved.

The irony is in the word “accountable,” a bully word in the hands of the U.S. military, which sees itself as a veritable accountability machine, imposing it on others — the enemy — with a righteous fury that acknowledges no overkill, and imposing it on its own rank and file once they are no longer useful to the cause.

One no-longer-useful soldier — among the 22,500 discharged in the last six years with a pre-existing personality disorder — is Army Spc. Jon Town, who, according to a recent investigative piece in The Nation and other media accounts, was knocked unconscious by a 107-millimeter rocket while serving in Iraq and was awarded a Purple Heart.

But the Army has ruled that the hearing loss and headaches he has suffered ever since were the result of a pre-existing personality disorder, a diagnosis, like most if not all other such diagnoses, divined without input from family members or anyone who knew Town before he enlisted and passed the Army physical. No need, see. These guys all had dormant conditions that family members wouldn’t have noticed anyway. Only trained Army docs can determine their existence, after which they have no choice but to deny the poor schnooks disability pay and medical care.

The phenomenon I have been tracking for a while now, stunningly redirected down the chain of command in the Knorr memo, is the lack of accountability at so many levels of the business of waging war. The betrayal — the trashing — of used-up GIs, the official abandonment of any responsibility for their emotional and physical health after it has been spent on the battlefield, the dumping of their problems back onto society at large, is a particularly irresponsible evasion of duty. But it is hardly the only responsibility dodge in the con game sold to the American public as the war on terror.

This pact with the devil comes wrapped in many gaudy causes: security, honor, revenge, democracy. It’s about none of these, of course. It’s a calculated war of oil, hegemony and “national interest” as perceived by a powerful few and waged, under media cover (badly shredded and starting to give), with an almost giddy barbarism, as exemplified by the Blackwater debacle.

Hmm, who could have guessed that the amplification of U.S. troop presence with some 48,000 private soldiers, a.k.a., mercenaries, armed to the teeth, amply paid to provide security and, oh yeah, allowed to operate like thug gods — with complete immunity from Iraqi law and maybe American law as well — would lead to abuses?

But there were abuses, alas. Blackwater hotheads established a reputation for opening fire wherever, whenever — one of them, drunk, was just showing the world of Islam how Americans celebrate Christmas — and the Iraqi parliament finally lost patience. So some of the Blackwater guys were questioned at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad . . . in secret. No Iraqis allowed! They weren’t even told what was said.

At this point I repeat the wisdom of Col. Knorr: “Everyone in life beyond babies, the insane, and the demented and mentally retarded have to be held accountable for what they do in life.”

Knowing what we know — that these words are selectively applied in the U.S. military and could stink up recruitment efforts — I apologize in advance for my rudeness in juxtaposing this memo excerpt with the words of David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

Discussing the military’s recruitment difficulties, Chu oh so delicately told Mom and Dad to cut the umbilical cord already: “I think it’s important for all citizens to support the choices of young people, and this is one of the ironies we’ve seen in this extended conflict; that the young people are willing to step forward, but the more senior members of our society — not to indict my own generation — are less willing to applaud that choice when they do so.”

Well, OK, but shouldn’t the kids know about pre-existing conditions?