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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Comforting, Yet Discomfiting, New Clue Found in Florida Missing Iraq Veteran Case

From ABC News:

The discovery of a military-style "spider hole" that may have been used by a missing ex-Marine who is likely suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder has restored hope for the combat veteran's family that he is alive.

Eric Hall, 24, disappeared on Feb. 3 in Port Charlotte, Fla. He was staying with his grandmother when he experienced what his family and authorities have described as a "combat flashback." The Marine, who was left with a permanent limp from a 2005 bomb blast in Iraq, began walking around the house shooting an imaginary gun at imaginary enemies.

Hall then took off on his motorcycle, which later was found with engine running lying in the middle of a road in Deep Creek, near Fort Myers, on Florida's west coast.

The local sheriff's office called off its search more than a week ago, but Hall's mother, Becky, and a cadre of volunteers led in part by retired members of the military continue to look for the former Marine in an area densely covered with trees and shrubs. [pictures of the search and the spider hole they found]

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.


On Monday, one of those volunteers discovered what is generally known in the military as a spider hole, a dugout camouflaged hiding place. It measured approximately 2-and-a-half feet deep, 3 feet wide and 6 feet long. Near the hole, which was in a wooded area about four miles from where the motorcycle had been found, was a Reebok footprint matching the shoes Hall was reportedly wearing when he disappeared. There was also a hole in the ground that had been used as a military-style toilet.

Tracking dogs from the Southwest Florida K-9 Search Unit were called in, a spokeswoman for the group told ABC News. Using the scent from an article of clothing provided by Hall's family, the dogs immediately alerted to Hall's track, according to Becky Hall and Ret. Army Sgt. 1st Class Tim Baker, one of the volunteers involved in the search. A truck bed liner was found near the spider hole that could have been used to hide Hall's location during the day.

"What my gut tells me is that he was experiencing Iraq," Becky Hall told ABC News, "that he's still in that mode." ... Hall is thought to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from a June 2005 explosion that killed a fellow Marine and injured Hall's right arm, left leg, hip and the left side of his abdomen, according to his family.

His injuries were so severe that he spent 13 weeks in military hospitals in Germany and Bethesda, Md. He has undergone nearly 20 operations since the explosion and was granted a medical retirement by the U.S. Marine Corps. Before serving in Iraq, Hall served in Afghanistan, according to his mother.

Hall frequently would wake up in the night after having nightmares about combat, his aunt, Marge Baker, told ABC News earlier this month. He had moved to Florida in January with the hope of putting his military experiences behind him. "While it is a disabling [injury], he didn't want it to be the forefront of him," Marge Baker said. "He wanted a job, he wanted to get back into society and be meaningful to society." ...

The behavior Hall has exhibited is consistent with PTSD, which is often associated with combat veterans, according to Nadine J. Kaslow, a professor at Emory University's Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences.

Kaslow described three ways in which PTSD can manifest in men and women back from war: "re-experience," in which a person continues to think intensely about combat situations; "avoidance," in which emotions associated with trauma are beaten back; and "hyper-arousal," in which a person may act abnormally paranoid or jumpy.

Flashbacks can be a common symptom of PTSD, Kaslow said, but added that hallucinations may go beyond the disorder into some type of psychosis.

More from the Evening News and Tribune:

Pain killer addiction, flashbacks and stress were among some of the most significant challenges Eric Hall has faced since returning from Iraq in 2005. At the time of his disappearance relatives said he was having flashbacks and hallucinations. The symptoms were something Eric Hall had experienced before, though “not in this grand of fashion,” said Kevin Hall, his father.

Kevin Hall recalls one instance when Eric was driving his Jeep along 8th Street in Jeffersonville and slammed on his brakes, thinking there was an Iraqi road block ahead. Kevin Hall believes pain medication may have been a contributor to his son’s stress.

Eric Hall had been on medication since he was injured in an explosion in Fallujah, Iraq, in June 2005. He spent 13 weeks in the hospital immediately following the bombing, treated for damage to his right arm, left leg and hip and the left side of his abdomen. A fellow Marine was killed in the same blast.

Around the time he went to a doctor to wean himself off of the pain medication, he was involved in a car accident on the Kennedy Bridge that broke his jaw, Kevin Hall said. After that, he found himself back on the drugs.

“The drug part of it more or less was trying to cover up the mental scars,” he said. “He was excited about going to Florida — it was going to be a new start.” Kevin Hall said Eric Hall took himself off pain medication once he arrived in Florida.

But there are also other factors to consider as well. Eric Hall once went weeks without seeing a psychiatrist. Then just before his scheduled appointment, he received a call saying his psychiatrist would have to reschedule. “Just that little bit of rejection goes a lot deeper than it would to a normal human being,” Kevin Hall said.

Media influences varied for Eric Hall. Kevin Hall said he and his son once watched a TV program that showed scenes from Iraq. It even showed the Fallujah street on which he was injured, he said. “I watched his attitude and mannerisms the next couple of days — it didn’t seem to bother him at all.”

Friends reported he had recently been playing a video game released by the Army as a recruiting tool. He started backing away from it after playing for a few days. “Has it been a typical three years — no,” said Kevin Hall. “We’ve had good times, we’ve had bad times — we knew we were going to have both.”

Many of Eric Hall’s family members are questioning how they reacted to the changes in his behavior prior to this episode, Kevin Hall said. Some are even blaming themselves. “Should we have seen something? Another danger sign?” he asked rhetorically. “You just don’t know how to deal with some of these situations.”

Rep. Baron Hill, D- Seymour, said his office made contact with the Hall family this week, offering to help in the search in anyway it can. Hill believes the federal government is not doing all it can to help keep up with the needs of veterans suffering from mental health disorders, although he feels the situation is improving.

The military is beginning to give such disorders the attention they deserve, Hill said. “The number of suicides as a result of post traumatic stress disorder has increased,” he said. There is not much Washington D.C. can do about it directly, other than increase funding for veterans care, he said.

Recently an additional $6 billion was appropriated to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Within the last few years the Department of Veterans Affairs has started major initiatives related to mental health care, said Laurie Tranter, a department spokesperson. Approximately 3,800 new mental health experts have been staffed at veterans’ hospitals across the country. Additionally, a suicide prevention hotline has been started.

“If they come to the VA, what they need is going to be provided,” Tranter said.

Since the war in Iraq began, approximately 800,000 service men and women have separated from the military, she said. About 300,000 of those veterans have come to the department seeking medical care, of that total about 120,000 came for mental health care. About half have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, she said.

“Back in Vietnam, we were just learning about PTSD,” Tranter said. “Everybody has learned so much about it since then.”


Eric Hall is a white male, 5 feet, 8 inches tall, 160 pounds with blond hair and blue eyes. He was last seen wearing blue jeans, a plaid shirt and a black leather jacket. He has a scar on his left leg and numerous tattoos. Anyone with information locally can call the Clark County Sheriff’s Office at (812) 283-4471.

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