NPR Reports on Soldiers 'Dishonorably' Discharged from the Army Rather Than Receiving the Help They Deserve for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder...
By Brad Friedman on 12/4/2006, 6:35pm PT  

This story really ticks me off.

Some BRAD BLOG readers may recall the story of Army Specialist Douglas Barber, who committed suicide last January after suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) upon returning from Iraq. We followed up with a letter that Barber himself had written in 2005 describing what some of the troops coming home from Iraq were dealing with. One graf:

We come home from war trying to put our lives back together but some cannot stand the memories and decide that death is better. They kill themselves because they are so haunted by seeing children killed and whole families wiped out.

In his letter, Barber wrote about the struggle that soldiers face in dealing with PTSD when they return stateside: "PTSD comes in many forms not understood by many: but yet if a soldier has it, America thinks the soldiers are crazy." He then goes on to excoriate those in the media who claim to "support the troops" even while they ignore this enormous problem and the administration's lack of funding for VA programs:

Talk show hosts like Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and so many others act like they know all about war; then they refuse to give any credence to soldiers like me who have been to war and seen the brutality of war. These guys are nothing but WEAK SPINELESS COWARDS hiding behind microphones while soldiers come home and are losing everything they have.

Well, were it up to Sean and O'Reilly and Limbaugh, there would be no more NPR either. But thank god, they are still there.

Love 'em or hate 'em, they seem to be the only media outlet to have followed up on a GAO report [PDF] from back in May which they report says "that about 80 percent of the soldiers who showed potential signs of PTSD were not referred for mental health follow-ups" by the military.

While the Pentagon apparently disputes those numbers, according to the report from NPR's Morning Edition today, "Army studies show that at least 20 percent to 25 percent of the soldiers who have served in Iraq display symptoms of" PTSD.

And yet, with all of that, NPR's investigation of the treatment soldiers are (or aren't) receiving in at least one location, Colorado's Fort Carson, reveals a shameful reality. These troops who have been putting themselves in harm's way to serve their country are simply not getting the mental health support they deserve upon returning home. That, even while many of them are run out of the Army with less-than-honorable discharges --- which makes re-adjusting to civilian life even more difficult for them --- in order to mask the problem and avoid having to pay them benefits.

Shameful. The gauntlet such troops are reportedly forced to run in order to receive appropriate treatment is to all of our eternal shame.

I recall while broadcasting from Crawford, Texas, during the summer of 2005 --- even with Iraq and Afghanistan vets inside the tent at Camp Casey supporting Cindy Sheehan's stand --- the creeps who would drive by, honking horns, giving us the finger and yelling epithets as they waved their "Support the Troops!" signs in ignorance.

While I'd like to believe those days are coming to an end --- where the insidious chicken-hawk cowards and opportunists like Rush, O'Reilly, Hannity, and George W. Bush were able to use their microphones to manipulate American citizens into believing those who were against the war were somehow against the troops --- I fear it'll be a long and hard battle to ensure the men and women of our armed forces actually receive the support they are due from this Administration, this military, and those in the future.

The NPR report does not bode well. I can't do it justice here and urge you to read their written report and/or listen to their audio report (linked from the same page) in full. But here are just a few examples of the shameful treatment some of the troops at Fort Carson have had to deal with...

For instance, soldiers fill out questionnaires when they return from Iraq that are supposed to warn officials if they might be getting depressed, or suffering from PTSD, or abusing alcohol or drugs. But many soldiers at Ft. Carson say that even though they acknowledged on the questionnaires that they were having disturbing symptoms, nobody at the base followed up to make sure they got appropriate support.
...
Soldiers at Ft. Carson also say that even when they request support, the mental-health unit is so overwhelmed that they can't get the help they need. Corey Davis, who was a machine gunner in Iraq, says he began "freaking out" after he came back to Ft. Carson; he had constant nightmares and began using drugs. He says he finally got up the courage to go to the Army hospital to beg for help.

"They said I had to wait a month and a half before I'd be seen," Davis said. "I almost started crying right there."

Perhaps most disturbingly, there are the ones who are treated like pariahs by friends, employers, and yes...the Army itself:

Almost all of the soldiers said that their worst problem is that their supervisors and friends turned them into pariahs when they learned that they were having an emotional crisis. Supervisors said it's true: They are giving some soldiers with problems a hard time, because they don't belong in the Army.

Jennings called a supervisor at Ft. Carson to say that he had almost killed himself, so he was going to skip formation to check into a psychiatric ward. The Defense Department's clinical guidelines say that when a soldier has been planning suicide, one of the main ways to help is to put him in the hospital. Instead, officers sent a team of soldiers to his house to put him in jail, saying that Jennings was AWOL for missing work.

And the purges of these troops from the ranks seem to be more than simply isolated incidents...

Alex Orum's medical records showed that he had PTSD, but his officers expelled him from the Army earlier this year for "patterns of misconduct," repeatedly citing him on disciplinary grounds. In Orum's case, he was cited for such infractions as showing up late to formation, coming to work unwashed, mishandling his personal finances and lying to supervisors --- behaviors which psychiatrists say are consistent with PTSD.

Sergeant Nathan Towsley told NPR, "When I'm dealing with Alex Orum's personal problems on a daily basis, I don't have time to train soldiers to fight in Iraq. I have to get rid of him, because he is a detriment to the rest of the soldiers."

Doctors diagnosed another soldier named Jason Harvey with PTSD. At the end of May this year, Harvey slashed his wrists in a cry for help. Officials also kicked Harvey out a few months ago for "patterns of misconduct."

A therapist diagnosed Tyler Jennings with PTSD in May, but the Army's records show he is being tossed out because he used drugs and missed formations. Files on other soldiers suggest the same pattern: Those who seek mental-health help are repeatedly cited for misconduct, then purged from the ranks.

I wish I could personally do much more to support the troops. But at least I actually mean that when I say it. I wish the same could be said for Rush, Sean, O'Reilly, and friends, not to mention the worst of the villains here: George W. Bush, his complicit administration, and those who would still support them.

ADDENDUM: RAW STORY's Nancy Goldstein ran a fine 4-part series on this madness in late October, early November. Some terrific reporting. Here are the links to all four parts in the series headlined "Mind Games"...

+ PART I - The things they carry
+ PART II - To Hell and Back: Spinning the Downward Spiral
+ PART III - Full Metal Lockout: The Myth of Accessible Health Care
+ PART IV - Big Money: The Compensation Angle