Are You Proud Of Your Military Service, But Are Now Paying The Price?

Are You Proud Of Your Military Service, But Are Now Paying The Price?

Are you proud of your military service, but are now paying the price?

By Sarah Johnson

Mental health issues and traumatic brain injuries sustained in Iraq and Afghanistan are common place for those who have served. Being blown up from a road side bomb, watching the light flicker out of a comrades eyes after downing bullets, or enduring the never ending sight of war can have a big impact, not just for a day, but for a lifetime for our serve men and women. Unfortunately, many of those who have served are now paying the ultimate price for their sacrifice, minus the funeral and burial process. No, they are not dying. They are suffering with traumatic brain injury, PTSD and more, then being dishonorably discharged, and cut off from their needed and deserved benefits as they exhibit “unsuitable” behaviors and coping mechanisms due to the effects of war.

A recent new study by NPR and Colorado Public Radio, and with the help from the Freedom of Information Act shows that, “…Since January 2009, the Army has ‘separated’ 22,000 soldiers for ‘misconduct’ after they came back from Iraq and Afghanistan and were diagnosed with mental health problems or TBI. As a result, many of the dismissed soldiers have not received crucial retirement and health care benefits that soldiers receive with an honorable discharge.”

Fort Carson was first reported to have been kicking out soldiers as early as 2006 for mental health problems that were causing misbehavior. In 2009 Congress passed legislation making sure that misconducts are not the result of war time trauma and injuries, which would indicate a need for more treatment, rather than expelling the problem from the Army.

The question is raised by author Daniel Zwerdling whose recent NPR piece, Missed Treatment: Soldiers With Mental Health Issues Dismissed For ‘MisConduct’ “Why would commanders kick out soldiers for misconduct, instead of giving them more intensive treatment or a medical retirement on the grounds that they have persistent mental health problems?”

One possible answer glares powerfully, Zwerdling says, “It takes less time and money to get rid of problem soldiers on the grounds of misconduct.”

Zwerdling reports on one man’s journey from war time hero, to DUI villain; was it the alcohol from that night or the TBI from Iraq that is to blame?

Solider Sgt. Eric James came home from his second tour of Iraq and life began to unravel, according to his parents. He suffered a severe TBI when his Humvee flipped upside down. He watched soldiers die, he watched enemies die. Coming home he was angry, he drank incessantly just so he could sleep at night, and got into fights a lot. The resulting behavior, including getting pulled over for a DUI led him to a meeting with officers at Fort Carson, where he was told the army could “chapter” him out of the army for misconduct. This could mean no retirement pay, no medical insurance, and trouble finding a good job outside of his service.

Sgt. James’ journey wasn’t over. He did seek out counseling and therapy. Because of his high level of mistrust, he recorded over 20 hours of therapy sessions with military provided psychiatric providers. After pleas of help to the therapists and counselors were totally ignored, empathically wishing he were dead, he turned over the evidence, to Andrew Pogany, who co-founded the Uniformed Services Advocacy Group, who sent the recordings on to Lt. General Patricia Horoho, the Army’s surgeon general, which prompted a full investigation in to Fort Carson, and Sgt. James’ experience.

The ending of the story for James, is that he was honorably retired with full benefits. For others, there is still work to do, to ensure that soldiers receive the proper care and rights after serving our country.

Senators call on Army to investigate

On Wednesday November 4, 2015 a group of 12 U. S. Senators requested that the Army investigate the dismissal of the 22,000 veterans. In a letter addressed to Eric Fanning, Acting Under Secretary of The Army and General Mark A. Milley, the Chief Staff of the U.S. Army the Senators wrote, “We are troubled by the recent allegations that the U.S. Army is forcefully separating for misconduct service members diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) or traumatic brain injuries (TBI). We encourage you to conduct a full U.S. Army Inspector General investigation into these recent allegations that the U.S. Army is violating the intent of Section 512 of the National Defense Authorization Act.”

The letter goes on to say, “Soldiers who deploy are at an increased risk for mental health issues and the forceful separation of service members post-deployment only further denies treatment and support at a critical time in any soldier’s life. Additionally, fear of dismissal may discourage service members from seeking the medical treatment they require.”

The letter closes with a stern commendation to, “rectify this grave offense to the men and women that serve in our armed forces.”

Local Utah veteran uses experience with TBI and PTSD to transform military expertise into a life line for other returning soldiers.

“People don’t sign up for the military to destroy.” Retired Sgt Josh Hansen U.S. Army shares, “People sign up because they want to help others, and to serve.”

As a 30 years old entrepreneur, Josh Hansen’s life trajectory took a major turn after 9/11. “I can’t do nothing.” He closed up shop and volunteered to serve in the US Military. Serving as an IED hunter (improvised explosive devises), Josh’s job was to find and disarm road side bombs before the military made movement into an area. He lived to tell stories of surviving being blown up eight times during his two tours of Iraq.

The symptoms of brain injury weren’t apparent right off, they came on slowly and grew in tenacity with each passing season. He experienced ongoing headaches, changes in his personality and an inability to concentrate doing simple things like reading. After his first war tour, his coping mechanism became drinking and getting into bar fights. Growing restlessness and discontent with civilian life propelled him to volunteer for another round of service. His last explosion nearly took his life. The vehicle he was in took two hits. Being knocked unconscious, rescue crews med-evacuated him off the front lines to save his life.

Sgt. Hansen recognizes that while, soldiers have to do something, “pretty severe to get discharged,” as was the case in Sgt. James’ story, if soldiers aren’t getting help, he can understand how veterans get lost in self medication and harming behaviors, just to survive. “A lot of guys get into drugs and alcohol to find relief.” He goes on to explain, “It is hard to get help.” For many returning soldiers there is frustration with how long it takes to get help, always having to prove your invisible battle wounds to therapists and doctors, and constantly starting to start over with high turn over rates of VA therapists and counselors.

Despite the obstacles in front of him, Hansen has made it his new mission in life to ensure that no soldier is left behind, not on the battlefield in Iraq, but on the battlefield of life; where the enemy is known as PTSD and TBI (post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury).

A lot of people ask Sgt. Hansen, “Why do you love your country so much that you are willing to fight for it?”

His answer takes us back to the playground. “Have you ever seen a bully picking on little kids the school playground? Well, if you don’t do anything to stop that bully, you are just as bad as him. America is the world’s superpower. It is our responsibility to care of others who are being bullied. And it is our country’s responsibility to take care of the service men and women who are protecting our country.”

His recommendations for returning injured soldiers include; first, getting evaluated for both brain injury and PTSD, so you can truly understand what you are experiencing, and what tools are available to aid in your recovery. Second, get the help you need. Often the time and energy it takes to go to therapy is grueling. But sticking with the appointments and health plan is the only way that improvements are going to be made. Last, recognizing and remembering, “…the old me, and taking time to develop the new me.” Hansen shares, “Now I ask myself, ‘What can I become?’”

Service is individual, the price paid is often monumental.

According to the Brain Trauma Foundation

  • Exposures to blasts are a leading cause of TBI among active duty military personnel in war zones.
  • Veterans’ advocates believe that between 10 and 20% of Iraq veterans, or 150,000 and 300,000 service members have some level of TBI.
  • 30% of soldiers admitted to Walter Reed Army Medical Center have been diagnosed as having had a TBI.

 

The bottom line for returning veterans its that injuries happen. While the battle front is long gone, the long term effects from injuries and trauma will long play into soldier’s day to day capacity to live, work and provide.

George Gehling, Executive Director of the Brain Injury Alliance of Utah implores returning vets who have a brain injury to seek help, “No one with a brain injury should feel they are alone, struggling to deal with the issues resulting from their injury. We’re here to help people improve their lives. If you or someone you know is struggling with brain injury, contact the Brain Injury Alliance of Utah.”

The Brain Injury Alliance of Utah, provides resource facilitation to anyone with a brain injury, free of charge. For returning vets, we provide a place where you know someone will understand the ongoing challenges of living with a brain injury. We help injured soldiers reclaim their life; including help with assimilating back into school and work, vocational help, day to day life management tips, referrals for therapists, attorneys and service providers who specifically serve TBI victims.

The cost of freedom has never been free. We honor and salute you, and your service. In return, we would like to offer you a safe place to find hope again. At last, someone understands.

Veteran TBI Resources