Listener E-Mails: Military Mental-Health Services

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The following are excerpts from some of the scores of e-mails that NPR has received from U.S. troops and their family members, urging us to investigate specific allegations about the lack of mental-health care at military bases across the country. Please note: We have not investigated and/or confirmed all of the details. We print them here simply to give a sense of how upset some listeners are about the quality of services that they or their family members are receiving. At the writers' request, we've deleted their names or other details that might identify them.


'Sadness, But Not Surprise'

This morning I listened with great sadness to your story about the soldiers at Ft. Carson. Sadness, but not surprise. I'm an Army vet, and served in the First Gulf War. I am all too aware of the macho mentality common in military units, especially combat units.

My son finished a tour in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division this fall.... They were overworked to exhaustion, on top of dealing with the stresses of combat. Now back in the states, the same issues are arising that your reporter saw at Ft. Carson. Little is done to really deal with their psychological issues. Alcohol abuse is rampant. I can only guess about other substances. A mixture of bravado and a real concern to reestablish a training regimen before the next deployment (slated for July 07) has overwhelmed any effort (I heard of none) to help the soldiers with their stress.


'Horrid Treatment'

I want to tell you about the mistreatment and horrid treatment of returning Army National Guard (including regular active Army) vets at Fort Lewis (Washington state) and Fort Irwin in California. Fort Carson in Colorado isn't the only post [where] this mistreatment and abandonment happens.


'Soldiers Not Getting What Is Owed'

I just served to years at a national deployment center working [on] the Soldier Readiness Processing for National Guard and Reserve soldiers coming and going to the Middle East.... I don't want to get anyone in trouble, or have the word get out that I leaked information. But the medical aspect (which is based out of Fort Knox, Ky.) really needs to be examined!... Soldiers are not getting what is owed for disabilities and/or medical care.... The quality of care from Ireland Army Community Hospital there is sooooo poor.


'Witness to Prejudice'

I was recently honorably discharged from the Marine Corps after three tours in Iraq. When I got back from my first deployment, I told my chain of command I needed to talk to somebody. I waited for them to get back to me with an appointment time, but they never did.... After asking a couple more times and not getting a satisfactory answer, I called the naval hospital on base and made an appointment myself. When I told my chain of command I made the appointment, I was brought to speak with my platoon commander. He asked me what I needed to speak to someone for, and when I told him, he said "Well, I'm not gonna tell you you can't go, but just don't tell anybody." It was a constant hassle to justify going to my appointments. Since then, I've been witness to prejudice and fear of acknowledging mental problems and PTSD, from the lowest private all the way on up to officers who have been in the Marine Corps for more than a decade.


'Not an Issue That Can Be Simplified'

I'm an active-duty psychiatrist, and despite the fact that I'm cognizant of both sides of this issue, my primary role it to care for the troops with the problems. I don't want any potential patients to question my desire to help them.

Your report on the obstacles to mental health failed to consider the full scope of the problem.

First, these negative behaviors (late to formation, no-showing for work, violence, alcohol consumption, etc.) are consistent with but not diagnostic of PTSD. There are many other explanations, including simple bad behavior. Additionally, there are many, many troops who suffer from the symptoms of PTSD who do not misbehave (the norm), nor is it feasible to excuse all negative behaviors on the basis of PTSD.

Second, the military job is brutally straight forward — kill the enemies of the United States. There is very little room to act as a long-term mental-health service. If a troop can no longer perform their duties in the fashion required, they are no longer fit for military service. Care can still be received via the VA system. It is true that many of these young men and women are going to require life-long care, [but] the Army is not designed to provide it, and the necessity of good order and discipline preclude tolerating behavioral aberrations, whether they are PTSD-related or not. The impact on these people is not the fault of the Army, it's a result of war. It's one of the costs of war that should have been considered prior to sending these folks into harm's way. If someone is to be blamed, the powers that chose to wage war would be a better target....

The real crux of this issue is the fundamental tension [between] providing care for the young men and women who have served in the combat zone, and continuing to meet the demands of the military mission. The people of the U.S. may be disheartened by the perceived failure to take care of our troops, but they would be downright terrified by the other end of that spectrum.

This is just not an issue that can be simplified to the extent you attempted to in your report. The resultant picture of out-of-control, PTSD-stricken troops and officer[s] who ignore and punish them is not accurate. This picture is a disservice to those who have the symptoms of PTSD and continue to successfully maintain themselves in the manner expected of them....

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