Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Very Troubling...

I've thought about writing this post for months.  But, out of respect for my son and his job I decided it was best to leave it alone.  However, after reading this article about the shooter in the Park Ranger killing in Washington, I knew that this just couldn't be left alone.

On Sept. 4th, 2011 my son, along with the other members of the 116th, returned from Iraq to the relative safety of the United States.  They had spent a year there, most working 12-16 hour days with no days off except for the 2 week leave they were allowed during their deployment. 

I can only imagine the fatigue and occasional despair they endured.  I can't imagine working 14 hours a day, knowing I would be doing it for an entire year with not a single day off to look forward to.  How do you wrap your brain around that and not feel like it's going to be the longest 12 months you've ever had to live?

But, there was an end.  They did come home.  But, not like many had hoped and imagined.  Some had injuries and were "forced" to remain at Lewis-McChord Air Force Base in order to have their injuries assessed.  I hated that this was happening to my son.  He had a wife and children in Boise who had desperately missed him and wanted him home.  We had all watched the news as most members of the 116th arrived back in Boise after a short stay at Lewis-McChord, but not my son.

He had been told that if he wanted his injuries to be taken care of, he would have to stay in Washington and have them taken care of there.  I hated that, but thought that after a few weeks, he would have an assessment, could then complete treatment, and would be home within a few more weeks.  That was not to be.

After a few weeks at Lewis-McChord, my son was told that he wouldn't be seeing a doctor until late October - almost 2 months after arriving there.  To me, that didn't seem reasonable.  I decided to see what I could find out about it, without giving my son's name.  I then set on a short journey to discover how our military takes care of our soldiers. I was astounded, shocked, and disgusted. I believe that you should all know what is happening to the men and women who leave their homes and families to serve our country.

I started calling my Legislators and Representatives.  Each one listened to my story, or at least the first few minutes of it, then told me I needed to go to their website, download the proper "form" and my son would have to submit it before they would look at it.  The process would probably take 3-6 weeks.  I know my son.  He's a soldier and he would not complain.  I, however, am a mother and wanted to find out more.

Finally, I contacted Rep. Labrador's office and found the most wonderful woman.  She is in charge of his dealings with the military and was very open and honest with me.  She basically told me that my son, and all the others there were being held "hostage."  Yes, she used that word.  She said this happens all the time.  The military holds the soldiers there as long as they possibly can (without treatment) - in hopes that they will tire of being away from family, then will eventually decide to leave without treatment so they can go home.  Once they sign the release to leave the base, they are no longer the responsibility of the military.  They can choose to be treated at the VA Hospital but that can take years and the chances of them actually getting their medical problems taken care of there (due to the fact that they left "treatment") are almost nil.  She told me what a shame it is that we treat our soldiers this way and how disgraceful it is.

Needless to say, I was shocked and appalled.  How could we possibly, as Americans, allow this to happen to the men and women who volunteer to protect us?  I decided to contact the person in charge of "Family Readiness" for the 116th to see if he could help me.  Again, without giving my son's name or medical condition I told him what was going on.  He began by saying how "smart" my son was to be sticking it out in Washington to get treatment because "a lot of people end up coming home without treatment."  I asked him about why it was taking so long for him to even see a doctor and asked why our soldiers are treated this way.  I told him about the conversation I had with Mr. Labrador's office.  He got really angry and ended up hanging up on me!  I couldn't believe that the "Family Readiness" coordinator would act in such a horrific manner to a family member.

So, I come back to the article above.  The shooter had been stuck on this same base for God-only-knows how long.  Yes, he had a troubled past but I can't help but wonder if he had been hoping for help and treatment as well.  Waiting, waiting, and waiting.  I know that you all understand that I am horrified at the murder of this Ranger.  She had a family, co-workers, and friends.  She had small children.  Yet I wonder.  If we had given this soldier the treatment for PTSD that he needed, in a reasonable manner, would this have happened?

From my experience, I think it may not have.  PTSD is a horrible illness.  I had my own experience with it for almost 20 years after dad was killed.  Horrible panic attacks, horrible thoughts.  I was finally diagnosed and given medication and after several years of taking it, felt like I was going to be ok.

I am proud to have another son who plans on joining the Army when he graduates this year.  I'm tempted to have him talk to someone with PTSD before he joins.  Not to scare him, but to help him understand that if he's deployed he won't come home the same person.  He will be different forever.

We can't send our men and women to kill other human beings, or be linked in any way to those killings, and expect them to not suffer any ill.  It's human nature, we are not born killers and can't be expected to return to normal life and not be properly cared for.

I should mention that my son was not diagnosed with PTSD.  He was waiting for treatment for a physical injury.  Although I think his personality has changed a lot since his first deployment, he may disagree.  I don't care what your job is in a war, I don't see how you can return in the same mental condition that you left in. 

Yes, my son came home. Without treatment, just as the military had hoped.

As a mother, I'm sad.  As an American, I'm disgusted.  How can we stand by and watch this happen to our soldiers?  What can I do to change it?  I'm not sure yet.  But, after reading that this soldier was being stationed at the same base that chose not to take care of my son, I'm going to start doing some checking.  My first phone call will be to Rep. Labrador's office.


jaci said...

CAn I share this on my blog, Jodi? You put into words exactly how I feel. Ft. Lewis-McChord is a terrible place to begin with, and then to hold our soldiers hostage... From the minute I heard the shooter was an Iraq Veteran, I began to wonder these same questions...

Jodi said...

Feel free Jaci. It's a damn disgrace.

Anonyvox said...

A couple of thoughts. I've "got a guy" in the VA here in Boise, and will not hesitate to deploy him on your son's behalf. I can talk to him and see if I can leverage something. He's fairly high up in the chain, and specifically in the mental health care side.

For Adam, Karl Marlantes recently wrote a book called "What it is Like to Go to War" about just that. He's a Vietnam vet and went over there and killed the shit out of people. He talks about it clearly and without hiding from any of it. You should get it for Adam, either in paper form or on, if he'd do better with it that way.

Let me know what we can do to help.

Jodi said...

I guess I should have mentioned, and will now edit this post, that my son hasn't been diagnosed with PTSD (although I believe his personality is much different than before his first deployment, he may disagree). He came home with a physical injury. What I meant by this post I guess, is that no matter what the trouble is, our soldiers are not being properly cared for but instead, are being set aside in hopes that they will go away until they're called for their next deployment. Thanks for bringing this to my attention and I'll correct that now.

kate said...

It really is appalling. We've sent tens of thousands of men and women over seas to fight a war started for all the wrong reasons. They come home wounded, physically and mentally, IF they come home, and then our government doesn't take care of them properly. It's shameful and inexcusable. More people need to know about this, and more people need to be outraged. We need a big-time journalist to write about this. Anyone have any leads?

kate said...

Can I share this on Facebook? Would Jake mind?

Jodi said...

Kate, this was a really hard decision for me to make. I wanted so badly to write about this months ago. When I read the article about this base in particular, I knew I had to say something. I'm hoping my son won't get mad at me for doing so. Like I said he's a soldier, and a good soldier. But, we HAVE to change how they are treated when they return to their families. I hope he would support me in wanting to see these changes made.

These wars, whether you support them or not, and whether you believe in them or not, are not the problem here. There will always be war and we will always send our soldiers to fight. We MUST change the way they are cared for when they return.

Feel free to share.

Dee said...

I share your opinions and feelings and it is sad and shameful the lack of care and compassion that our soldiers receive.

Military people from all wars come home changed and it is a struggle for them to come home to "normalcy" abruptly. Bill had nightmares for years and was not the same person who went to Korea when he returned. Its hard on the families. I had a big adjustment, as do all families.

Things do need to change----help in every aspect is expected/demanded.

Linguist Jake said...

My two cents...

One, the delay in my treatment was due to the fact that JBLM is not designed as an outprocessing station for units as large as the 116th. When we went through there, at the behest of many insiders and outsiders, it put a tremendous strain on their entire system, not just health care. They ended up with about fifty of us to try and help, which was a lot of people to add to the system at once.

Those of us in the WTB were top priority for health care. I just happened to be a top priority with a W last name, so I was at the back of the list of fifty. Add to it the need, in my case, for lots of specialized procedures such as MRIs, and the delay gets worse. The MRI facility at Fort Lewis runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week (My appointment was at midnight), but still cannot keep up with the demand.

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Rep. Labrador's staff member should not have said what she said. I'm not saying this as "a good soldier." I'm saying this as a person with first-hand experience. We were briefed, time and time again, to get treatment at JBLM. Everyone stressed it. Our unit, people on JBLM, everyone. And for some, it was a life-saver. My co-worker, who came back from the last deployment with PTSD so bad that it almost destroyed his marriage and family, is getting the treatment he needs.

Some other people got things as complex as back surgery done in a month. Things are getting much better, but yes there is still room for improvement. One of the guys who got back surgery after this deployment and the previous trip to Iraq told me of the differences. Last time, when they came back through redeployment, he was placed in a building and reported once a day to an office on base. That office, for five months, told him to come back the next day. He spent five months just waiting for surgery on his back, sleeping in old World War II barracks. He was very grateful for the speedy, structured treatment he received at JBLM.

Things can always get better. And maybe some day there will be a surgery that can fix me. But I have answers now, I know what is wrong and I know I have to accept that. JBLM wasn't a complete waste of time, although it didn't give me the answers I was hoping for.

Jodi said...

Thanks for your perspective Jake. I still believe however, that if they were running MRIs 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, and it takes a soldier 2 months to have that done, then we as a country need to fix that. A civilian doesn't and wouldn't wait that long for a procedure, why should our soldiers have to? I think that's what Rep. Labrador's office was trying to say as well. The military doesn't have the time or the resources to fix the people that need it.

Yes, you were told by everyone to stay, but really, what soldier will stay for 4, 6, or 8 months when they want and need to be home? It's disrespectful and a horrible way for our country to treat them.

Our soldiers deserve better than this.

Jodi said...

I should also say that I LOVE our country. I also love and respect our military. It's the government that allows this to happen and they need to be the ones to change it.

kate said...

Jake, thanks for your two cents worth!

Jod, your comment after Jake's says it all. Our soldiers shouldn't have to wait that long when civilians don't. Perhaps the military needs to get out of the medical business and instead pay for soldiers to be treated by practitioners in their home town, while surrounded by loved ones.