2006-2009: Soldiers in Colorado slayings blame horrors of Iraq – downplaying PTSD at Fort Carson, CO continues three years af

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ptsd_outnumber_400 This story is related to Tom Barnes’ post Iraq Combat Horrors Drove 4th Infantry Division Soldiers Over the Edge? – A.P.

In his 2007 expose, Return to Fort Carson Raises More Questions, NPR reporter
Daniel Zwerdling called public attention to reports that [Non-Commissioned] Officers at Fort Carson, Colorado were mistreating soldiers who returned from war with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The stories prompted investigations way back as early as 2006, and commanders at the base launched a training program to help every soldier in trouble, a training program that is now over three years old. Upon reflecting on his return to Fort Carson over two years ago, he noted that there remained Gaps in Mental Care for Fort Carson Soldiers that was way back in 2007. Now, 2009 the social consequences of what the Army has done or failed to do have come Home to War with a massive surge in troops and young Veterans getting violent not in Iraq or Afghanistan but right here at home.

This has been a long time coming, but now it is here. When are we as a nation and people going to force our government to get serious about the endless multiple military deployments and the habit of the Pentagon downplaying the mental and physical costs of exploiting our patriotic volunteers?

The only half ass reaction we continue to get out of DOD is yet another defensive study to cover up and detract from the real problems suffered by real people sent into combat too many times.

It is way past time for studies, there’s been enough studies, the VA does studies, the DOD does studies, Congress does studies, Rand corporation gets government contracts to do studies but none of them address the hidden agenda to downplay not only PTSD in our Armed Forces but the impact that multiple deployments during a time when military ops tempo is at historic highs.

Enough with the studies and defensive maneuverings of the Pentagon already, and let us get on with doing something about PTSD in the military. Stop studying the impact of back to back deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and start doing something to end them.

Robert L. Hanafin
Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired
Veterans Advocacy Editor
VT News Network &
Our Troops News Ladder
     Treat Troubled Soldiers, or Discipline Them?
May 24, 2007

Over three years ago, an NPR investigation found that leaders at Fort Carson, Colo., were punishing some soldiers who returned from war with serious mental health problems – and were preventing them from getting the treatment they needed. In some cases, officers kicked the soldiers out of the Army. Those stories sparked ongoing investigations of the post, including one by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators and another by Pentagon officials.

corey_davisCorey Davis was a machine gunner in Iraq featured in NPR’s December 2006 investigation on mental health care at Fort Carson. He told NPR that he began "freaking out" after he returned to the base; when he sought help at the base hospital; he says he was told he’d have to wait more than a month to be seen.

Way back in early 2007, commanders at Fort Carson responded by launching what they described as an important new program: They required every leader, from sergeants up to generals, to attend a training course on how to spot and help soldiers who potentially have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Officials say more than 2,200 leaders have taken the course so far, most of them early this year. But when NPR returned to Fort Carson for an update later in 2007, the most significant changes appeared to be rhetorical (as in lip service).

More troubling was the fact that independent mental health specialists who work with troops told NPR over three years ago that Fort Carson’s heralded new 2007 training course might even make things worse. And it seems as though the commanders’ stated goal of helping every soldier conflicts with the military’s demand for discipline [and essential need to get combat troops back on multiple deployments as quick as possible, and as many troops as possible. VT, ed.]

Fort Carson officials said way back when that they’ve been trying to teach leaders about the importance of mental health problems linked to combat since the United States invaded Iraq, but the workshop is the most important new strategy designed to make sure that every leader gets the message. [In other words, the Army promised to teach military leaders what mental health stigma was and how to overcome it – right? We don’t think so! VT, ed.]

On the face of it, the training program looked like a progressive step forward.
"One of the things that are extremely important in our jobs is minimizing the stigma associated with PTSD," the director of Fort Carson’s medical center, Dr. John Cho, told dozens of military supervisors at a recent session. Dr. Cho told them that NPR’s reports had taught the base that there were "a number of sergeants" who "did not allow their soldiers to come to our hospital" to get proper psychiatric treatment.

[We at VT and I would have to say that even Veterans for America (VFA) and Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) have and are continuing to look at this that PTSD stigma at Fort Carson was never limited to only Non-Commissioned Officers. As a Retired Officer, try convincing me that no Commissioned Officer at Fort Carson in command of a combat unit went out of their way to downplay PTSD or even order a Soldier to not go to the Base Hospital or their Army career was over. VT, ed.]

In fact, during these long ago visits to the post, NPR spoke with a half-dozen Sergeants who expressed contempt for soldiers with PTSD. They said such soldiers were "weak," called them "s–bags," and said they didn’t belong in the Army. [We have to question the ignorance of why NPR limited their insight and investigation to only Sergeants. Why didn’t NPR approach any junior officers, Field grade officers, or Commanders? There is the real story! VT, ed.]

In the 2007 workshop, a psychiatric nurse, Laurel Anderson, led the audience through a presentation of about 40 minutes designed to get leaders with those types of ignorant attitudes to change. "Combat stress should be viewed as a combat injury," she told them, clicking through slides. PTSD is "a bona fide psychiatric disorder." But as she progressed through the slides, Anderson’s message seemed confusing.

On the one hand, she told them several times that "admitting to a mental health problem is not a character flaw," and that "it’s not OK" for soldiers to not get proper help. As leaders, she told them, "Do not ignore the warning signs – excessive drinking, marital problems, domestic abuse, suspected drug use, declining work performance. Make sure you are aware of those signs and symptoms. They are often the first ones."

In fact, studies from past wars predicted that 20 to 25 percent of troops with PTSD might abuse alcohol or drugs, and that significant numbers might commit domestic violence and other destructive behaviors. But, on the other hand, Anderson then seemed to minimize the problem by speaking the Pentagon and Army war fighting mindset.

[That was three years ago, with what we now know as the Stolen Valor views on PTSD as advocated by the American Enterprise Institute, and mental health politicians like Dr. Sally Satel. VT, ed.]

"The fact is," she declared, "most soldiers who have PTSD do not beat up their families, they do not take drugs – they just don’t do that. The Army is always going to be a disciplined organization with no room for that kind of conduct. The truth is, the Army has one mission: Kill the enemy. Its mission is not long-term care."

[Here we have an Army representative, one of the supposedly top in her field sounding more like she is bucking for promotion (even as a DOD civilian) than she is sincere about dealing with PTSD. VT, ed.]

The long term results of ignorant attitudes like Dr. Sally Satel and Gung Ho Psychiatric Nurse Laurel Anderson are that negative views of PTSD are reinforced and thus the stigma associated with PTSD are reinforced. Today that result has led to Soldiers in Colorado slayings and related violence here at home pointing to the horror of war. We’ve done nothing but gone full circle with the Army and DOD once again going on the defensive with yet another study or distraction.

Part Two will provide our readers an update on where the situation at Fort Carson stands today to include Commanders returning troops with PTSD to combat, and the most recent Pentagon and Fort Carson defensive response to the Stigma of PTSD.

Robert L. Hanafin
Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired
Veterans Advocacy Editor
VT News Network &
Our Troops News Ladder

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Readers are more than welcome to use the articles I've posted on Veterans Today, I've had to take a break from VT as Veterans Issues and Peace Activism Editor and staff writer due to personal medical reasons in our military family that take away too much time needed to properly express future stories or respond to readers in a timely manner. My association with VT since its founding in 2004 has been a very rewarding experience for me. Retired from both the Air Force and Civil Service. Went in the regular Army at 17 during Vietnam (1968), stayed in the Army Reserve to complete my eight year commitment in 1976. Served in Air Defense Artillery, and a Mechanized Infantry Division (4MID) at Fort Carson, Co. Used the GI Bill to go to college, worked full time at the VA, and non-scholarship Air Force 2-Year ROTC program for prior service military. Commissioned in the Air Force in 1977. Served as a Military Intelligence Officer from 1977 to 1994. Upon retirement I entered retail drugstore management training with Safeway Drugs Stores in California. Retail Sales Management was not my cup of tea, so I applied my former U.S. Civil Service status with the VA to get my foot in the door at the Justice Department, and later Department of the Navy retiring with disability from the Civil Service in 2000. I've been with Veterans Today since the site originated. I'm now on the Editorial Board. I was also on the Editorial Board of Our Troops News Ladder another progressive leaning Veterans and Military Family news clearing house. I remain married for over 45 years. I am both a Vietnam Era and Gulf War Veteran. I served on Okinawa and Fort Carson, Colorado during Vietnam and in the Office of the Air Force Inspector General at Norton AFB, CA during Desert Storm. I retired from the Air Force in 1994 having worked on the Air Staff and Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon.