The NPR investigation at Colorado’s Ft. Carson has found that even soldiers who feel desperate can have trouble getting the help they need. In fact, evidence suggests that officers at Ft. Carson punish those who need help, and even kick them out of the Army.
Soldier Tyler Jennings says that when he came home from Iraq last year, he felt so depressed and desperate that he decided to kill himself. Late one night in the middle of May, his wife was out of town, and he felt more scared than he’d felt in gunfights in Iraq. Jennings says he opened the window, tied a noose around his neck and started drinking vodka, “trying to get drunk enough to either slip or just make that decision.”
Five months before, Jennings had gone to the medical center at Ft. Carson, where a staff member typed up his symptoms: “Crying spells… hopelessness… helplessness… worthlessness.” Jennings says that when the sergeants who ran his platoon found out he was having a breakdown and taking drugs, they started to haze him. He decided to attempt suicide when they said that they would eject him from the Army.
Army files show that these were soldiers in good standing before they went to Iraq, and that they started spinning out of control upon their return.
“You know, there were many times I’ve told my wife — in just a state of panic, and just being so upset — that I really wished I just died over there [in Iraq],” he said. “Cause if you just die over there, everyone writes you off as a hero.”
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.
Referring to soldiers with PTSD, recently retired sergeant Nathan Towsley told NPR that “I don’t like people who are weak-minded.” He said he’d never be caught going to a therapist. Since that interview, he’s acknowledged that he’s depressed and has trouble controlling his anger. He has just started therapy.
Jason Harvey was diagnosed with PTSD. In May, he slashed his wrists and arms in a cry for help. Officials at Ft. Carson expelled Harvey from the Army a few months ago for “patterns of misconduct.”
After Liz Kaplan’s son, Adam, returned to Ft. Carson from Iraq in late 2004, therapists diagnosed him with PTSD. They said his illness was triggered partly by an incident in Iraq: He accidentally caused the death of a fellow soldier as he blew up the doors of a suspected weapons cache.
But Liz and her husband say that after their son started doing drugs — which studies show is common among soldiers with PTSD — officials at Ft. Carson failed to give him the help he needed. Liz threatened to chain herself to a statue at the base’s entrance until officials answered her family’s pleas to help her son. (In the end, she didn’t.) Adam Kaplan was eventually court-martialed on drug charges and sentenced to 15 months in military prison.
Files on other soldiers suggest the same pattern: Those who seek mental-health help are repeatedly cited for misconduct, then purged from the ranks.
Most of these soldiers are leaving the Army with less than an “honorable discharge” — which an Army document warns “can result in substantial prejudice in your civilian life.” In other words, the Army is pushing them out in disgrace.
Do people understand what’s going on here? This is the biological model of mental illness writ large, and is now so pervasive that those who have never riffed on mental illness before just somehow happen to spew the “constitutionally defective” party line — soldier was made that way – pay no mind to the military combat, science tells us it’s in your genes. How many thousands of these cases will we have here in the years ahead? How will we treat them? Pharmacology. And how will we treat them?
The stigma, it burns.
PTSD is controversial because it doesn’t blame the victim, it’s the “something happened here” diagnosis, the only social model of mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Vietnam vets worked hard to get it in there. Tools of Big Pharma are taking it out.
I wonder what kind of world it will be when nothing done to a person can drive them insane. Who wants a world like that?