CONTROVERSY OVER ‘CONDITION NOT A DISABILITY’ DISCHARGES
Navy Department medical personnel are misusing an administrative separation authority called “Condition Not A Disability” on many sailors and Marines whose medical conditions should be screened through the disability evaluation system, an advocate for wounded warriors is charging.
“The use of administrative discharges for conditions that require DES [disability evaluation system] processing simply has to stop,” retired Army Lt. Col. Michael A. Parker told the Department of Defense’s Recovering Warrior Task Force last month at its latest public hearing.
Navy physicians too often fail to submit medical issues for disability evaluation, as regulations require, Parker said. Instead they allow members to be discharged for Condition Not A Disability, a faster and less costly administrative discharge than would occur with referral to a medical board.
The consequence for sailors and Marines is discharge without a disability rating and compensation, or without a lifetime disability retirement that they might deserve, Parker contends.
In an interview, Vice Adm. Matthew Nathan, Navy surgeon general and current co-chair of the task force, conceded there has been “inconsistency among some [health care] providers in what they consider to be separating issues versus a disability issue.” But he added, “In my experience there hasn’t been a pre-conceived design to use this to separate folks.”
Defense Department Instruction 1332.38 lists conditions for which Condition Not a Disability should be used to separate members. They include urinary incontinence, sleepwalking, severe nightmares, dyslexia or other learning disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, stuttering, incapacitating fear of flying, or airsickness, motion or travel sickness.
Navy physicians have used it far more widely, Parker claims. Separation data from the services appear to support his argument. From fiscal 2010 through 2013, an average of almost 1300 sailors and 1540 Marines per year were separated for Condition Not a Disability. Over the same period, Air Force used this authority an average of 22 times a year.
Army data are kept in way that doesn’t allow comparison. It tracks total separations for conditions not disabling including personality disorder, which other service branches track separately. [A 2010 congressional investigation found Army had abused use of personality disorder, viewed as a pre-service condition, to separate soldiers with post-traumatic stress, which should result in a service-connected disability and sometimes retirement.]
But Parker said he knew of only one soldier, and no airmen, separated under Condition Not a Disability for a medical condition not listed in the CDN regulation, suggesting its misuse is largely a Navy Department problem.
Former Navy Hospital Corpsman Todd Bruder says he fell victim to it. A year ago, while assigned to Camp Pendleton, Calif., for field medical training, Bruder broke his right foot during command physical training, a simple misstep in a flag football game. Bruder said he felt “pops” in his foot.
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