Through the stories of ten United States military combat veterans struggling with mental health issues after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and dogged research, National Public Radio (NPR) uncovered an unforgivable and prevalent injustice occurring within the very system in place to assist America’s brave former warriors and vanquishing their demons.
What the group of veterans all shared in common was/is quite disturbing: the U.S. military tried to dismiss them for their mental issues and chalk it up as “misconduct”.
The Army claims it shut the door on the case opened by Staff Sgt. Eric James (their hand was forced when James revealed he had secretly recorded his sessions with his abusive and altogether dangerous therapist) but NPR found out that they came to an awfully-quick, self-serving conclusion (they found the problem was “not systemic”) after failing to interview or even contact the veterans involved. They admitted they mistreated the soldier, James (hard not to — he held undeniable evidence in the form of the audio) and “reprimanded” two of his therapists, but that was it.
In the wake of the James case, NPR and CPR launched their very own exhausting and thorough investigation, and they found that the systemic part that the Army had literally denied was true was in fact the ugly and plain truth itself: they had been pushing out soldiers diagnosed with mental health problems not just where James and the other men were stationed — Fort Carson — but at bases across the country.
This from NPR:
The figures show 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.
Basically, this is the question:
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? Sources both inside and outside Fort Carson suggested one possible answer: It takes less time and money to get rid of problem soldiers on the grounds of misconduct.
In the case of James and others, the therapists would dumb down a soldier’s claims that they were experiencing mental trauma from their military experience, and grade them healthy enough not to be seriously treated, thus turning a sick soldier into a problem soldier — the latter being easier to “get rid of”. Less time. Less money.
The techniques the therapists used are downright frightening and even often times macabre. You can hear them as well as the entire report in the audio below, but take this short anecdote from James’ awful experience in attempting to get the help he needed and deserved:
James tells a therapist that he feels angry and miserable most of the time. He doesn’t trust anybody, and he isolates himself.
“Like, remember I told you I’m like, I feel like I’m coming into a combat zone when I drive on the base,” he asks the counselor. And then he starts trying to talk about some of his scariest experiences in Iraq. “In, like, one month, there was over 1,000 IEDs and multiple ambushes.”
Standard therapy textbooks say that counselors can help patients best when they are supportive, build trust and are empathetic. When patients feel safe enough to share their deepest fears, a therapist can then help them understand their problems and start to get better.
The therapist responds, interrupting him: “Yeah, it was a suck fest … big time. … But it was not an emotionally crippling experience,” she declares. “Because for the last six years, you’ve been able to get up and come to work. Have you had things that lingered and it affected you? Yes. But you’re not emotionally crippled. You’re not a in a corner rocking back and forth and drooling.”