Important program set to air on NPR's All Things Considered on Monday, Dec. 4:
Award-winning NPR News journalist Daniel Zwerdling reports on the military’s treatment of soldiers returning from Iraq who suffer from emotional problems, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), in a special half hour investigative report on All Things Considered Monday December 4.
Soldiers who have come back from war to Fort Carson, Colorado, told Zwerdling that their officers and lower level supervisors have harassed and punished them and in some cases discharged them for seeking help for what they believe to be emotional problems triggered by their service in Iraq.
Zwerdling also interviewed some of the soldiers’ supervisors, most of them sergeants at the base, who admit to the treatment, telling Zwerdling that it’s true, that they are giving these soldiers a hard time, and explain the reasons why. Zwerdling obtained Army documents and talked to witnesses who corroborated the soldiers’ allegations.
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This isn't the first time such incidents have come to light. The Colorado Springs Independent (CSIndy) and CBS News ran a series of articles in July on the soldier abuse problem.
First, from CSIndy's "Patterns of Misconduct:"
Less than a year ago, Jennings was a hero, a Purple Heart recipient who'd re-enlisted for six years. But stationed on a remote highway outpost near Ramadi, he faced a daily onslaught of insurgents' roadside explosions. He saw a sergeant he knew "folded in three like an accordion" behind the wheel of a Humvee, alongside a soldier literally split in half and decapitated. He watched in horror as Pfc. Samuel Lee, a 19-year-old from Anaheim, Calif., committed suicide, shooting himself in front of his platoon.
Once back at Fort Carson, Jennings says he suffered panic attacks, jitters, sleeplessness and flashbacks. He turned to drugs, alcohol and sleeping pills to ease his afflictions. When urine analysis tests came back positive, the Army began to process his discharge for "patterns of misconduct."
But the therapist he obtained off base says Jennings resorted to drugs as a way to cope with the horrifying memories of war, the people and places that trigger those memories, and his sense that an attack may be imminent, even in Colorado Springs. "It makes sense [that] one would turn to substances to treat the stress that goes with all the bad memories," says Gerald Sandeford, Jennings' licensed counselor.
Sandeford has diagnosed Jennings with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, which is among the mental health conditions affecting one in three troops returning from war.
"They're trying to throw me out of the Army because of this," Jennings says.
Other soldiers spoke of intimidation, too:
Ryan Lockwood, a former 2nd Brigade Combat Team private, returned from Ramadi in August 2005 after a yearlong tour. The 22-year-old says an Army captain issued an ultimatum after he displayed symptoms of PTSD.
"He threatened that if I tried to get a medical disability for my PTSD, he would make my life a living hell," Lockwood says from his home in McHenry, Ill.
From the second CSIndy piece, a brief graf on the rising rate of drunken driving arrests on Fort Carson. Self-medicating with drugs or alcohol often goes hand-in-hand with PTSD; I can't help but wonder if all of the military's 'sweeping it under the rug' and intimidation might have been a contributing factor as well:
Georg-Andreas "Andrew" Pogany, a former Fort Carson soldier who leads Operation Just One, a group that helps Iraq war veterans obtain confidential, free counseling, says local agencies should be gathering data to see if PTSD is causing a rise in social ills. "We know it is out there," he says. "But how will they know how and where to target resources -- how to help these soldiers -- if they aren't taking the time to track what happens when soldiers return? How will they prevent problems before they escalate?"
One of those problems is drunk driving. The base acknowledges a rise in arrests, but does not necessarily connect the problem to PTSD -- although many doctors and therapists say alcohol abuse can be a symptom of untreated PTSD. ... Yet the drunk-driving arrests continue.
In the six months through June 30, Fort Carson had logged 75 drunk-driving arrests involving soldiers on base -- putting the base on pace to top arrest totals in each of the past three years. In fact, the 2006 total to date already surpasses the total arrests for soldiers and civilians on base in all of 2003.
CBS Evening News kicked in "Stressed-Out Soldiers:"
CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports that at least in one large military base in Colorado, soldiers are saying members of the Army Command are simply paying lip service, at best, to PTSD -- hindering their treatment and upending their careers. ...
Kaye Baron is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Colorado Springs, Colo. Each week, she counsels up to 25 soldiers and their families who are either unwilling or unable to face their problems while on base. "I think it's a very big problem," says Baron. "They could potentially lose their promotion potential, or just feeling like they're not able to advance in their career. That it's kinda over for them."
Lt. Col. Eric Kruger, Commanding Officer of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team at Fort Carson, says he's concerned that soldiers aren't seeking help due to fears of fearing ridicule or reprisal. "It's a tremendous concern," he says. "You don't want a soldier not to seek help for anything. They're our No. 1 asset. Leaders have to engage that every day -- and in my experience here, we do.
Please help us track OEF/OIF combat-related PTSD incidents in ePluribus Media's PTSD Timeline.
UPDATE 12-05-06: Read post-show comments.