Trible (tamtrible) wrote in little_details,

medical causes of low weight; military discharge without benefits

I'm trying to work out a scenario for a character's backstory, for a roleplaying game in a near-future US setting. Same character as here. There's some fudge factor because of the near-future part, but if I get something plausible under present-day US circumstances, I should be good overall (though I might want to avoid invoking DADT, as that's likely to change one way or another within the next decade or so).

So. Our Heroine is a 16-year-old who ran away from a bad foster home when she was 12. Our Mentor is a large homeless ex-military guy who basically took her in as an apprentice. He taught her everything she knows about picking pockets and conning people, and possibly also knife fighting. Neither of them is into drugs, other than the *very* occasional drink or joint in social situations.

He has some sort of disability that makes him unable to really hold down a regular 9-5 type job (but still lets him pick pockets and run scams), probably PTSD from combat. As I am currently envisioning his past, he was a farmboy-type (big cheerful lunk, not well educated, though not stupid, either) who joined the military (either the Army or the Marines, haven't quite decided) right out of high school, more or less because everyone expected him to. He freaked out badly after he first saw combat (as much as anything else, it was actually killing someone for the first time that did him in). Obviously, he was discharged (exact flavor of the discharge to be determined), and he ended up unemployed and homeless. He discovered he had a modicum of talent for stealing and con jobs, and it was the only income source particularly available to him (and within his capacities) which did not require him to hurt others or involve him in the drug or sex trades. He has never hurt, or acted in a threatening manner towards, his young ward. He is also as generous towards her as his circumstances permit--for example, when they first met, he gave her his only coat because she looked cold.

She was always on the skinny side, even before she ran away, but I'd like her to be painfully thin (almost anorexic-looking) and essentially sexually immature from malnutrition when our story starts. But she needs to not be substantially impaired by this (that is, she still needs to be able to knife-fight, pick pockets, and talk people out of their money), and I'd like her to reach a more normal (though still thin) weight once she has better access to ample, regular meals and a reasonable modicum of medical care (possibly also magic or divine healing, the game is Scion...)

The problem is, if I went with the most likely scenario for the end of her mentor's military career, that he was medically discharged for his PTSD, he'd be getting ~$400/mo in benefits (an ex-military friend of mine tells me--~40% disability), which I think would be enough, at least with the added income from their combined larcenous activities, to at least feed both of them adequately. Especially since he's definitely the kind who'd cut his rations well before he'd cut hers.

So, I think I need at least one, if not both, of the following:
1. A medical reason why she would be so severely underweight. I searched "medical cause underweight".
The only thing that looked at least moderately promising, at least of what I saw, was hyperthyroidism, but that may have too many other effects for my purposes. I do *not* want to go with any kind of eating disorder or other purely mental/emotional problem. I also don't want anything that is untreatable, or would (if treated) leave her with any particularly severe short- to medium-term effects (though I don't care what would happen when she's 60, by then she'll likely be either a god, or dead...). I would prefer something that either has a fairly trivial treatment once discovered (such as parasite removal), or can be treated simply by feeding the kid more/better/differently. Also, I'm aiming for something that would have been causing problems for the last 4 years, not something like a fever which might have left her very temporarily badly underweight.

2. A reason her mentor would not have been getting any money from the military, or at least have gotten rather less. I searched "military discharge other than honorable", and asked an ex-military friend.
I think I'd need either a less-than-honorable/bad conduct/dishonorable discharge, or some sort of administrative hijinks to ignore or underclassify his level of disability from PTSD. But I don't think the kind of guy I've characterized above would be going around punching superior officers or whatever. I also do *not* want to invoke drug or alcohol problems.
I don't mind a record, even a substantial history, of relatively minor infractions, but most of the do-not-pass-Go infractions don't really fit his character, and I think you need one of those to get anything other than an honorable or general discharge, either of which would leave him with a disability pension. The only exception I can think of would be desertion (after his freakout), and I think the PTSD would count as a mitigating factor on that one. So I think I'm left with an administrative screwup of some flavor, or some offense I'm not thinking of right now. If there's something that'd work for the Marines but not the Army, or vice versa, please mention that.

I'd also, well, appreciate anyone's ideas on either refining the scenario, or increasing the plausibility, or any relevant background info anyone feels like sharing.
Tags: usa: military (misc), ~medicine: illnesses to order, ~medicine: starvation/malnourishment

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