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.