This Is What Happens When Troops Are Kicked Out Of The Military Because Of PTSD

Veterans Benefits
Lance Cpl. Andrew Sedamanos rushes to his squad during Military Operations on Urban Terrain, otherwise known as MOUT, training at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center Twenty-nine Palms, Calif., Nov. 8, 2016. Smoke was used to provide concealment from simulated enemy forces in order for Sedamanos to manuever without the risk of exposure. Sedamanos is a rifleman with Company C, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.
U.S Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Juan A. Soto-Delgado

The documentary series, “Charlie Foxtrot,” recently released online, examines the fact that 300,000 post-9/11 veterans have received less than honorable discharges. To put that number in context, approximately 2.7 million veterans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan during that time. The film’s contention is that many of these discharges are due to the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, and that the military’s handling of these veterans amounts to a charlie foxtrot, using the NATO phonetic alphabet for “c” and “f,” or in common military parlance, a clusterfuck.

The five-part series focuses on several veterans who committed misconduct or attempted suicide after returning from combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. These veterans were not given adequate psychological treatment, and, in most cases, were discharged with characterizations that adversely affected their ability to receive VA treatment. This is undoubtedly a real issue, though the percentage of less-than-honorable discharges that are directly due to psychological problems from combat operations is unclear.

Journalists and psychologists alike have uncovered links between those afflictions and disciplinary problems. Those disciplinary problems lead to discharges, and depending on the type of discharge given, the veteran may see a considerable loss of benefits. Now that vet probably has a more difficult time finding a job due to a less-than-honorable characterization of discharge, and also may not be able to access any VA assistance.

As “Charlie Foxtrot” details, the process for appealing discharges is long and costly. Nicholas Jackson, a soldier with PTSD profiled in the film who received an other-than-honorable discharge after going AWOL, spent five years and $16,000 appealing his discharge characterization. Although Jackson was ultimately successful, many vets have neither the time nor the money to appeal discharges while coping with what may be severe mental health challenges.

One of the most poignant cases profiled in the documentary is that of Brian Portwine, a soldier who killed himself between deployments to Iraq. Reviewing his records, it became apparent to his family that he had been initially been assessed by the Army as a “no-go” for another deployment due to PTSD, an assessment that was visibly crossed out on a form and changed to “go.”

That case is a good example of where the system currently falls short on taking care of individuals while they are still in the service. The military exists to go to war. Commanders up and down the chain have incentives to succeed in what to them is a short-term goal. They need a certain number of trained bodies to take with them on deployment. A broken leg or physical injury is usually a binary diagnosis. A soldier is either good-to-go or he’s not. PTSD and TBI are nebulous, coming in differing degrees of severity with widely varying symptoms. When some of those symptoms involve actions that constitute disciplinary problems in a military environment, it complicates things even further.

Related: Advocacy Group Calls On Obama To Pardon Post-9/11 Vets With ‘Bad-Paper’ Discharges »

When confronted with troubled individuals exhibiting what would normally be a straightforward discipline problem, it is far easier for their leaders to treat them as such. From an institutional standpoint, a discharge is a far simpler solution to troublemakers than months of working with a service member with psychological wounds.

There is also a growing amount of literature showing how PTSD can be reduced by preparation before traumatic experiences and prompt treatment after. Charlie Foxtrot visits Army boot camp and shows that in spite of this, entry-level training in regards to mental health could be generously described as perfunctory.

There is also no screening for those who might be more susceptible to psychological injury. The military keeps up with the cutting edge of weaponry, but is clearly not keeping up with the cutting edge of psychological research.

Related: The Mental Health Care Bill For Vets That No One Is Talking About »

After half a dozen heartbreaking case studies, I expected that “Charlie Foxtrot” was going to simply ask viewers to feel sorry for service members with PTSD and TBI, and perhaps push for the military to soften its policies in regard to good order and discipline. I was pleasantly surprised that the filmmakers’ goal is for viewers to support the Fairness for Veterans Act, which among many provisions, would mandate consideration of mental health in the discharge process, simplify the process of appealing discharge characterizations for those with PTSD, and allow any veteran without a bad conduct or dishonorable discharge to get a mental health assessment from the VA.

Someday, the military may be able to prevent and treat psychological injuries better than it currently does. In the meantime, the Fairness for Veterans Act is a necessary solution for those left without help after being forced out of the military with psychological injuries that might be service-related.

To see the complete series, visit

In this June 16, 2018 photo, Taliban fighters greet residents in the Surkhroad district of Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan. (Associated Press/Rahmat Gul)

While the U.S. military wants to keep roughly 8,600 troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban's deputy leader has just made clear that his group wants all U.S. service members to leave the country as part of any peace agreement.

"The withdrawal of foreign forces has been our first and foremost demand," Sirajuddin Haqqani wrote in a story for the New York Times on Thursday.

Read More
U.S. soldiers inspect the site where an Iranian missile hit at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq January 13, 2020. (REUTERS/John Davison)

In the wee hours of Jan. 8, Tehran retaliated over the U.S. killing of Iran's most powerful general by bombarding the al-Asad air base in Iraq.

Among the 2,000 troops stationed there was U.S. Army Specialist Kimo Keltz, who recalls hearing a missile whistling through the sky as he lay on the deck of a guard tower. The explosion lifted his body - in full armor - an inch or two off the floor.

Keltz says he thought he had escaped with little more than a mild headache. Initial assessments around the base found no serious injuries or deaths from the attack. U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted, "All is well!"

The next day was different.

"My head kinda felt like I got hit with a truck," Keltz told Reuters in an interview from al-Asad air base in Iraq's western Anbar desert. "My stomach was grinding."

Read More
A U.S. military vehicle runs a Russian armored truck off the road in Syria near the Turkish border town of Qamishli (Video screencap)

A video has emerged showing a U.S. military vehicle running a Russian armored truck off the road in Syria after it tried to pass an American convoy.

Questions still remain about the incident, to include when it occurred, though it appears to have taken place on a stretch of road near the Turkish border town of Qamishli, according to The War Zone.

Read More
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.

We are women veterans who have served in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. Our service – as aviators, ship drivers, intelligence analysts, engineers, professors, and diplomats — spans decades. We have served in times of peace and war, separated from our families and loved ones. We are proud of our accomplishments, particularly as many were earned while immersed in a military culture that often ignores and demeans women's contributions. We are veterans.

Yet we recognize that as we grew as leaders over time, we often failed to challenge or even question this culture. It took decades for us to recognize that our individual successes came despite this culture and the damage it caused us and the women who follow in our footsteps. The easier course has always been to tolerate insulting, discriminatory, and harmful behavior toward women veterans and service members and to cling to the idea that 'a few bad apples' do not reflect the attitudes of the whole.

Recent allegations that Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie allegedly sought to intentionally discredit a female veteran who reported a sexual assault at a VA medical center allow no such pretense.

Read More
A cup of coffee during "tea time" discussions between the U.S. Air Force and Japanese Self-Defense Forces at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Feb. 14, 2018 (Air Force photo / Tech. Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton)

Survival expert and former Special Air Service commando Edward "Bear" Grylls made meme history for drinking his own urine to survive his TV show, Man vs. Wild. But the United States Air Force did Bear one better recently, when an Alaska-based airman peed in an office coffee maker.

While the circumstances of the bladder-based brew remain a mystery, the incident was written up in a newsletter written by the legal office of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on February 13, a base spokesman confirmed to Task & Purpose.

Read More