LOUISVILLE - An Iraq war veteran who twice deployed to Iraq is being re-examined by the U.S. Army after a federal judge found that the military may have mishandled his medical complaints and involuntary discharge from the service.
The chief judge of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, Patricia Campbell-Smith, ordered both the Army and attorney for Richard P. Watson of Hebron, Ky., to report back to the court by February on the status and results of physical examinations. Should Watson be diagnosed with an ailment that would exclude him from combat service, Campbell-Smith ordered the military to determine if Watson's discharge should be changed and if he is eligible for disability retirement.
Watson, who enlisted in 2004 and rose to the rank of corporal in the Army in 2007, sued the military in 2012 after being discharged under other than honorable conditions for refusing orders to return to Iraq in December 2007. Watson told the military he had severe vision problems, a claim the Army rejected before charging him with missing movement by design - or willingly failing to deploy as ordered.
Watson's case started in 2006 when he was in Germany after his first deployment to Iraq. During his time in Germany, Watson, according to doctors, experienced the onset of symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis, which he was later diagnosed with. Army and German doctors diagnosed Watson with optic nerve atrophy and optic neuritis of the left eye - the end result of any disease that damages nerve cells.
"They failed to diagnose him," said Watson's attorney, Raymond Toney of Emeryville, Calif. "They failed to follow up."
The Army placed Watson on restricted duty through the end of April 2007. Watson deployed to Iraq for a second time in August of 2007, where an improvised explosive device detonated near him. Fellow soldiers found Watson on Oct. 10, 2007 - 10 days after the explosion - unconscious at his base in Iraq and his rifle roughly 20 feet away.
After a medical exam, the Army put Watson on 14 days restriction and extra duty. Toney said Watson's vision in his left eye deteriorated to 20/400.
Watson took leave on Dec. 2, 2007 before returning to Germany where he was ordered to deploy to Iraq again on Dec. 23, 2007. Watson refused and later pleaded guilty to intentionally missing his deployment. A military judge sentenced Watson to 28 days in a military prison, demoted him to private and ordered him discharged under other than honorable conditions.
After being discharged, Watson petitioned the Army Board for the Correction of Military Records, asking the board to correct his records to show that he was not administratively discharged, and order the Army to process him through its disability evaluation system. The board denied his petition, claiming that Watson presented "no evidence" that he had medical conditions that required his evaluation.
Campbell-Smith concluded that the board erred in concluding that Watson's optic nerve damage diagnosis didn't require a medical evaluation.