The Colorado Springs Independent has a good follow-up piece to a recent visit by Army Surgeon General Kevin Kiley and Maj. Gen. Robert Mixon to troubled Fort Carson, Colo. Last week, the DoD Task Force on Mental Health arrived to conduct closed-door meetings with soldiers.
Army brass admitted to the need for change in the wake of NPR's December investigation, which showed some soldiers were not given access to mental health services, and in some cases were thrown out of the military for regulation violations (such as self-medicating with alcohol or drugs) rather than receiving treatment for their PTSD:
"I think we've learned some lessons out of that from here and from some other locations," Kiley said. "We are a learning organization. It's our intent to be quick on the turnaround." ...
Fort Carson officers at all levels are already in the process of receiving special training to identify mental-health issues early, with an eye toward ensuring soldiers receive the care they need. "We're not going to tolerate biases against soldiers that seek help," Mixon said.
These are good steps, but are late in coming for some troops.
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From the CSIndy:
About a dozen Fort Carson troops in recent months have been discharged for disciplinary issues such as substance abuse, a symptom of the disorder.
The same day that Kiley spoke to reporters, Tyler Jennings walked off the post for the final time. A negotiated deal allowed the 24-year-old Purple Heart recipient an honorable discharge instead of facing court-martial on a long list of charges, including drug abuse and failure to show up in formation. The black mark of "commission of a serious offense," which Jennings did not specify, will remain on his record. He will lose his college benefits and must repay the $15,000 bonus he received when he signed a six-year re-enlistment contract.
Jennings says he turned to alcohol and drugs to help forget the gory images of war, including that of a fellow soldier who shot himself in front of the platoon. After crafting a noose and contemplating suicide, Jennings sought help.
But he says he didn't get it on post. Instead, he says, he was called a "shitbag" and only found treatment for his PTSD with a volunteer therapist off-post.
He's not very optimistic that the Army can make the necessary changes, saying that "its emphasis on the tough-mindedness of troops" stands in the way.
[Jennings] thinks more should be done to help soldiers who are no longer mentally prepared for combat to leave the Army with dignity and honor.
"I had nearly hung myself, and they kept piling offenses on me," he said. "This shouldn't have gone on for months on end. But it did as they built a case on me. That's the Army's own form of malingering."
While NPR's report sharpened the focus on the events at Fort Carson, CSIndy had already begun reporting last spring on an alarming number of incidents where troops were not receiving help for their combat-related PTSD symptoms.
- NPR Offers Perplexing Update on Fort Carson's PTSD Handling Today
- Army to Expand Efforts to Educate Officers on PTSD
- Update on Fort Carson's Treatment of Soldiers Seeking Help for PTSD
- DoD Mental Health Task Force Update
- Fort Carson Visited by Congressional Staffers Today, Tomorrow
- IAVA's Paul Rieckhoff on NPR's Fort Carson Investigation
- Senators Call for Army Mental Health Services Investigation
- Reminder: Fort Carson Investigation on NPR Today
- NPR: Major Military PTSD Troop Abuse Investigative Report Coming Monday
- SFO Bay Area: Attendees Needed @ DOD Task Force Mtg. Tomorrow
- Rep. Meehan: Working to Reduce Stigma, Provide Services for Veteran PTSD