November 30, 2006
Emily Lenzner, NPR


Six Month Investigation by Daniel Swerdling
Shows Punishment and Lack of Support
for Soldiers Diagnosed with PTSD and Other Emotional Problems

Washington, D.C.; November 30 – Award-winning NPR News journalist Daniel Zwerdling reports on the military’s treatment of soldiers returning from Iraq who suffer from emotional problems, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), in a special half hour investigative report on All Things Considered Monday December 4. Soldiers who have come back from war to Fort Carson, Colorado, told Zwerdling that their officers and lower level supervisors have harassed and punished them and in some cases discharged them for seeking help for what they believe to be emotional problems triggered by their service in Iraq. Zwerdling also interviewed some of the soldiers’ supervisors, most of them sergeants at the base, who admit to the treatment, telling Zwerdling that it’s true, that they are giving these soldiers a hard time, and explain the reasons why. Zwerdling obtained Army documents and talked to witnesses who corroborated the soldiers’ allegations.

While a recent national study from the Government Accountability Office found that most of the soldiers who show potential signs of PTSD were not referred to mental health specialists, the Pentagon claims that providing support to soldiers with emotional issues is a top priority and that resources are being made available to those in need. Interviewed for the report, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs William Winkenwerder tells Zwerdling, “The goal, first and foremost, is to identify who’s having a problem. Secondly is to provide immediate support. And then finally, our goal is to restore good mental health.”

During his five month investigation, Zwerdling closely examined individual experiences of the soldiers he spoke to at the base’s mental health unit. They claim that even when they seek help, the fort’s mental health unit is too overwhelmed to provide the help they need and that when their supervisors learn of their emotional crises, they’re punished. Soldier William Morris explains, “You really don’t want to be that guy going up to mental health when you’re trying to be a career soldier. You don’t want to be that guy, ‘cause as soon as you are, you’re done.”

Former soldier Alex Orum added: “I will continue to encourage any soldier who isn’t sleeping, who is having nightmares, who is having PTSD not to go seek help. Because as soon as they go and seek help, their life is going to get ten times worse.”

Zwerdling also spoke with sergeants at Fort Carson, who supervised the soldiers and corroborate much of the soldiers’ stories. Some say that most of those claiming PTSD are faking as a means of avoiding going back to war. “I think guys are just getting scared. They’re like ‘Yeah, I don’t want to go back and get into all that, you know. So yeah, I got PTSD,’ so whatever. But I mean, it’s a war. You know, it’s a war. It’s not a happy day in Lala Land. People are faced with fears, so they tuck their tail and run,” says Sergeant Gabriel Temples.

Others justify the way they treat soldiers who have emotional problems like PTSD by pointing to their slack and irresponsible behavior and unkempt appearance. Mental health specialists say that soldiers with serious emotional problems triggered by war commonly abuse drugs and alcohol and act irresponsibly. But Sergeant Nathan Towsley, who recently retired from the Army said that such solders simply don’t belong in the Army: “I think some people are just weak. You know, you just have to buck up and be a man and face it.”

Daniel Zwerdling’s half-hour investigation will air on the Monday, December 4 edition of All Things Considered. A preview will air earlier in the day on Morning Edition. To locate local stations/times for both NPR News programs, visit The investigation will also be available for audio streaming online at approximately 7:30PM (ET) at Additional Web features, including photographs of the soldiers and extra audio segments from their interviews will be included at

Anne Hawke produced the investigation with Daniel Zwerdling; the editor is Ellen Weiss.

All Things Considered, NPR's signature afternoon news magazine is hosted by Melissa Block Michele Norris, and Robert Siegel and reaches nearly 11 million listeners weekly. To find local stations and broadcast times, visit