DOD enacts reforms to prevent using “personalty disorder” diagnosis to kick out MST survivors

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The Department of Defense can no longer kick out military sexual assault survivors by simply diagnosing them with “personality disorder” thanks to reforms approved in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.

A diagnosis of “personality disorder” would result in an involuntary medical discharge of a service member – a tactic often used by the Department of Defense to “separate” victims of sexual assault from the military.

“We’ve heard from survivors that after they report the assault and they attempt to seek mental health treatment, they were diagnosed with a personality disorder and are medically-discharged,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York). “So this diagnosis is labeled as a pre-existing condition and therefore effectively cuts off services for the survivor. Many of these same survivors have said that after the assault, they still wanted to stay in the military and were planning on doing so but because of the diagnosis of personality disorder, they were kicked out.”

At a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel last month, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) expressed concern that the risk of misdiagnosis and the threat of involuntary discharge may deter victims of military sexual trauma from seeking mental health treatment while on active duty.

“It makes perfect sense to me that…a person who’s been sexually assaulted would have a higher propensity to have post-traumatic stress syndrome simply because of the nature of the attack,” said Graham. “If you’re a victim of an assault, one of the consequences obviously would be people would be disturbed and they would show…We don’t want to anything other than an honorable discharge. We want to make sure that the person may no longer be able to serve the military but not denied treatment for what happened in the military.”

Dr. Karen Guice, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, assured lawmakers that service members diagnosed with a personality disorder can be discharged only after a complete medical review.

“No one can leave the military, be separated for a personality disorder without a complete medical review so that we make sure that there’s no underlying TBI [trauma-based injury] that’s causing the action or behavior or psychological health issue that needs to be addressed,” Guice testified. “So I think we’ve actually put a mechanism in place to make sure that we’ve safeguarded and that people are not leaving without a second look by medical professionals.”

The Department of Defense has also strengthened oversight to prevent retaliations against military sexual trauma victims.

Section 578 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 would require a general officer to review “any separation due to retaliation within a year of report.” The military adopted the reform and expanded the review time period to a year from case disposition, according to Dr. Nathan Galbreath, an executive advisor of the DOD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO).


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