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reading of the report and the revocation by this man of his first statement, which evidently was signed under duress, does bring to my mind emphatically several instances of which I have personal knowledge. I do not know whether any other members of the committee have had the same experience, but I am sure that many Members of Congress have had the same experience regarding men in hospitals, men who have been wounded or incapacitated in some degree, and are being pressed continually to sign statements in order to effect their release from hospitals.
I hope you will carry back to the Marine Corps and to the Department my thought, and I wish that it might be implemented by other members of the committee, with respect to this continual demand on men who are in hospitals to sign statements which are prejudicial to themselves.
I have a case that I am currently taking up with the Navy Department of a man who was brought back from Guadalcanal and who is being pressed to sign a statement that the physical disability he is suffering from at the present time was the result of a condition prior to his enlistment in the Marine Corps. It is very bad when they sign statements and later when they present their claims to the Veterans' Bureau they have to deny the accuracy of those statements. This brings it out very forcefully. I do not know what the policy of the Marine Corps is on that.
STATEMENT OF COL. JOSEPH W. KNIGHTON, UNITED STATES
Colonel KNIGHTON. Mr. Chairman, I have here a written statement that I would like to submit for the record.
(The statement referred to is as follows:) The purpose of this bill is to authorize William Kovatis, formerly of the Marine Corps, to receive appropriate medical attention without granting him any other benefits, privileges, or rights.
The records show that William Kovatis, born August 11, 1921, enlisted in the Marine Corps on April 12, 1940, at Washington, D. Č.
While serving at the Marine Barracks, Naval Ammunition Depot, Hingham, Mass., Kovatis was tried by deck court January 1, 1941, for absence without leave for a period of 14 hours. On April 9, 1941, while a sentry over Government property, he stole property having a value of $49 and appropriated it to his own use. He was tried by general court martial on June 12, 1941, and was sentenced to confinement for 12 months and dishonorable discharge. The confinement was served at the naval prison, Portsmouth, N. H., and he was dishonorably discharged on May 18, 1942,
While serving his sentence, Kovatis was detailed to the prison bakery and instructed by the baker, first class, in charge not to touch any switches or run any machinery. On November 3, 1941, he threw a switch which caused the agitator in the dough mixer to revolve. He then slipped on the wet floor, and in an attempt to break his fall, his left wrist was crushed in the dough mixer, rendering his left hand useless.
On February 19, 1942, Kovatis satisfactorily completed two-thirds of his sentence and became eligible for discharge in accordance with his sentence, but was not discharged because of being under treatment for the above injury. On March 7, 1942, he signed a statement to the effect that he stuck his left hand in the dough mixer in direct disobedience of orders, that he refused to submit to further treatment, and that he demanded release from the hospital upon completion of his sentence.
Kovatis was released from the hospital and returned to the prison on March 7, 1942. On March 9, 1942, he signed the following statement:
"1. On Saturday, March 7, 1942, while a prisoner in the United States Naval Hospital, Navy Yard, Portsmouth, N. H., Lieutenant Commander Miner, a
medical officer at the hospital, came down to the lock ward where I was confined with a statement wrote out in longhand and he asked me to rewrite the statement (and sign it) regarding the accident I had in the prison bakeshop stating that I had disregarded orders and put my hand in the dough mixer. He further stated that that was the only way I could get out of the hospital, and that the senior medical officer had sent him down with the statement.
“2. I now wish to withdraw that statement made on March 7, 1942, as I only signed it in order to get away from the hospital and return to the prison.”
A board of medical survey convened at the naval hospital, Portsmouth, N. H., on April 22, 1942, recommended that Private Kovatis be discharged as unfit for the service. The board found that the probable duration of his disability was permanent and that it was the result of his own misconduct, since the revolving of the agitator was the primary cause of the patient's condition.
The Commandant of the Marine Corps on May 11, 1942, recommended to the Judge Advocate General of the Navy that the man be discharged in accordance with the terms of his sentence, which was approved by the Secretary of the Navy.
While the disobedience of orders was the primary cause of the injury, it appears to the Commandant that there were other contributing factors of an accidental nature. The fact that Kovatis refused further treatment at a time when it necessitated his being retained as a prisoner beyond his normal period of confinement should not be considered too strongly against him and preclude further medical treatment which he may need and which the bill will provide.
The Navy Department has been advised by the Bureau of the Budget that there would be no objection to this legislation, and has recommended enactment of S. 393.
Colonel Knighton. May I add a little more about this case? The surgeons at the hospital wanted to operate on the man and give him orthopedic treatment, but he consistently refused. In other words, he had completed his prison sentence, wanted to be released, and he did not want any further treatment. The records of the commanding officer's office of the hospital and also the man's record bears that out. It was just the case of a hard-headed boy who did not want his arm taken care of. He wanted to be released, and as a result his hand is practically useless. He has a deformed hand, and under laws applicable to the Veterans' Administration, that Administration will not take jurisdiction of any case where a man has received a dishonorable discharge, which he received upon discharge.
Now, had he received an honorable discharge, he would have gone right to the Veterans' Bureau and they would have taken care of it. That is this particular case. Although he is supposed to have repudiated his statement, the record does show that he definitely was told by the baker in charge not to touch any of the machinery in the galley. It is not merely just his statement. In order to be released from the Naval Prison at Portsmouth, he made a statement which was a true statement on March 7 but which he repudiated on the 9th. So, insofar as this case is concerned, I am sure there was no duress.
Mr. GRANT. Colonel, I think perhaps this case is a little different, but I have a case here something like the one to which the chairman referred, a case which does not involve the Marine Corps but concerns a young man who was retired in the last few days from the service after 3 years in the Army.
After going through all his preliminary training, he served about 4 months in Bermuda. He came back and went through an officers' candidate school and was commissioned and served about a year in the South Pacific.
Down there he had a fever and his sinus bothered him. He got a little eye trouble. He came back and they exacted some such statement and gave him a discharge after he had appeared before a retirement board, that his disabilities were all prior to his entry into the
service some 3 years back and not even aggravated by his 3 years of service. It seems to me that it takes the service a long time to find out that a fellow is unfit for service if it takes 3 years. He had served outside this country for almost 3 years and a half. Then they bring him in and kick him out and say that his troubles were older than his 3 years in the service.
Colonel KNIGHTON. It does seem that way. If you will let me have the name I will look into the case and give you all the facts. Each man appears before a board of medical survey. The Marine Corps or the Navy really have no jurisdiction except to recommend approval or disapproval of the finding of the board of medical officers.
Mr. Grant. Is this board supposed to be composed wholly of doctors?
Colonel KNIGHTON. The board of medical survey is composed solely of doctors. The retiring board is not. It is composed of line officers and medical officers.
Mr. Grant. This retiring board I was speaking of was composed practically of all doctors.
Colonel KNIGHTON. Our retiring boards, sir, have line officers on them by statute.
Mr. Grant. I do not mean to imply that this man was in the Navy. He was in the Army.
Colonel KNIGHTON. I am sorry, then. I am speaking of the Navy and the Marine Corps retiring boards.
Mr. GRANT. I think the general question raised is still the same Colonel KNIGHTON. I agree with you, sir. However the reviewing officer relies heavily on the findings of the medical officers. If they find that the condition existed prior to the man's entry into the service, it is usually accepted. In some cases you will find that a waiver was granted to permit the man to be commissioned. If the condition was aggravated due to service, the officer would be eligible for retirement.
Mr. Grant. These questions and the matter of waiver were not even raised when he was commissioned because following his commissioning he was sent out to the South Pacific for a year and served out there.
Colonel KNIGHTON. I cannot speak for the Army. Mr. BRADLEY. I am speaking of a boy whose case I have in my office right now, and I am personally acquainted with him. He is a marine and served a year or more in the South Pacific. He was on Guadalcanal and has been sent back home with a heart ailment, and the Navy medical officers say his condition was aggravated by service, but it originated prior to his enlistment in the Marine Corps.
Now, there are hundreds of these cases, and the only reason I have mentioned it is that I wish you would carry back to the Marine Corps the idea that Members of Congress are very much exercised about these things because they have similar cases.
This boy, they say, has a heart ailment. If the doctors were not good enough to discover that heart ailment when they accepted him for combat service, they ought to keep their mouths shut later. That is the view of most laymen in Congress. I will give you the name of the boy.
Colonel KNIGHTON. I would like to have it, sir.
Mr. BRADLEY. I have the case up with Surgeon General McIntire now, and if they discharge this boy under a caption like that, I am going to have to do something about it.
His name is Harry J. Gorman.
Mr. Ward Johnson. I do not think I can go along with the statement that if the doctors could not find the trouble when the boy went in, they should not take that into consideration because some of these fellows do a lot of misrepresenting to get in.
Mr. BRADLEY. How about taking a boy in the Marine Corps with a good heart and putting him in combat service, and after he has gone through the hell of Guadalcanal they discharge him and say that something he has wrong with his heart existed before he got into the service? Then there is something the matter.
Mr. Ward Johnson. They admitted that it was aggravated by service.
Mr. BRADLEY. The service connection still remains in doubt. I think that Congress wants to give the men who fight for their country the benefit of the doubt, if a doubt arises, rather than utilize that doubt against him.
Colonel KNIGHTON. I will check on his case.
Mr. GRANT. I have in mind the case of a man who was commissioned in the service. He told the examining physicians that he had heart trouble, which they on two or three repeated examinations did not find and denied it existed. Later on they told that fellow that he did have heart trouble after all.
Mr. BRADLEY. What Mr. Grant and I mean is that they get technical after a man has been disabled. When they were not technical before, it does seem that is not just the American thing to do, especially concerning a man who has served the flag.
If they resolve the doubt in favor of the Government when they take him in, they ought to resolve it in his favor after they have thrown him aside and he cannot fight any more.
Colonel KNIGHTON. Many of those cases come over my desk and have in years gone by. We have been very, very liberal with them. Naturally, when a board of medical survey makes a certain recommendation, and three doctors state that the physical condition actually existed prior to enlistment, that it was not aggravated while he was in the service, it is difficult for the Commandant of the Marine Corps to find otherwise.
Mr. BRADLEY. This case, just to bring it back-and I have raised several children myself; I have a few, and we all know that they have various childhood diseases, diphtheria and scarlet fever, which may leave some aftermath. Usually those diseases do not, but medical doctors say that they could leave something. This boy had a fheumatic fever when he was a youngster. They found out that when he was 10 or 12 years of age he had rheumatic fever, so now they say it is always possible, if you have had rheumatic fever, that there might be some condition aggravated in your heart later on in life. So they say his present condition is the result of rheumatic fever, not the result of what he went through on Guadalcanal. Therefore, it just does not look right.
Colonel KNIGHTON. I will call you back on his case, or write you a memorandum, sir.
Mr. WARD JOHNSON. I move the approval of this bill. Mr. GRANT. I second the motion. Mr. BRADLEY. It will be reported favorably by the committee. (The subcommittee thereupon proceeded with the consideration of other business.)