PTSD and the Military : Soldiers Go AWOL to Get Help

Photo illustration by Jennifer Clampet / USAG Wiesbaden Public Affairs.

Military health care inadequate:
GI’s go AWOL for PTSD treatment

By Dahr Jamail / December 13, 2009

MARFA, Texas — With a military health care system over-stretched by two ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, more soldiers are deciding to go absent without leave (AWOL) in order to find treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Eric Jasinski enlisted in the military in 2005, and deployed to Iraq in October 2006 as an intelligence analyst with the U.S. Army. He collected intelligence in order to put together strike packets — where air strikes would take place.

Upon his return to the U.S. after his tour, Jasinski was suffering from severe PTSD from what he did and saw in Iraq, remorse and guilt for the work he did that he knows contributed to the loss of life in Iraq.

“What I saw and what I did in Iraq caused my PTSD,” Jasinski, 23, told IPS during a phone interview, “Also, I went through a divorce — she left right before I deployed — and my grandmother passed away when I was over there, so it was all super rough on me.”

In addition, he lost a friend in Iraq, and another of his friends lost his leg due to a roadside bomb attack.

Upon returning home in December 2007, Jasinski tried to get treatment via the military. He was self-medicating by drinking heavily, and an over-burdened military mental health counselor sent him to see a civilian doctor, who diagnosed him with severe PTSD.

“I went to get help, but I had an eight hour wait to see one of five doctors. But after several attempts, finally I got a periodic check up and I told that counselor what was happening, and he said they’d help me… but I ended up getting a letter that instructed me to go see a civilian doctor, and she diagnosed me with PTSD,” Jasinski explained, “Then, I was taking the medications and they were helping, because I thought I was to get out of the Army in February 2009 when my contract expired.”

As the date approached, a problem arose.

“In late 2008 they stop-lossed me, and that pushed me over the edge,” Jasinski told IPS, “They were going to send me back to Iraq the next month.”

During his pre-deployment processing “they gave me a 90-day supply of meds to get me over to Iraq, and I saw a counselor during that period, and I told him “I don’t know what I’m going to do if I go back to Iraq.”

“He asked if I was suicidal,” Jasinski explained, “and I said not right now, I’m not planning on going home and blowing my brains out. He said, ‘well, you’re good to go then.’ And he sent me on my way. I knew at that moment, when they finalized my paperwork for Iraq, that there was no way I could go back with my untreated PTSD. I needed more help.”

SPC Eric Jasinski suffers from severe PTSD.

When Jasinski went on his short pre-deployment leave break, he went AWOL, where he remained out of service until December 11, when he returned to turn himself in to authorities at Fort Hood, in Killeen, Texas.

“He has heavy duty PTSD and never would have gone AWOL if he’d gotten the help he needed from the military,” James Branum, Jasinski’s civilian lawyer who accompanied him to Fort Hood, told IPS. “This case highlights the need of the military to provide better mental health care for its soldiers.”

Branum, who is also co-chair of the Military Law Task Force, added, “Our hope is that his unit won’t court-martial him, but puts him in a warrior transition unit where they will evaluate him to either treat him or give him a medical discharge. He’d be safe there, and eventually, they’d give him a medical discharge because his PTSD symptoms are so severe.”

He’s turning himself in “because he is not a flight risk and wants to take responsibility for what he’s done,” Branum stressed.

“It’s been a year, I want to get on with my life and go to college and become a social worker to help people,” Jasinski said of why he is turning himself in to the military at this time. “I want to get on with life, and I don’t want to hide.”

Kernan Manion is a board-certified psychiatrist, who treated Marines returning from war who suffer from PTSD and other acute mental problems born from their deployments, at Camp Lejeune — the largest Marine base on the East Coast.

While he was engaged in this work, Manion warned his superiors of the extent and complexity of the systemic problems, and he was deeply worried about the possibility of these leading to violence on the base and within surrounding communities.

“If not more Fort Hoods, Camp Liberties, soldier fratricide, spousal homicide, we’ll see it individually in suicides, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, family dysfunction, in formerly fine young men coming back and saying, as I’ve heard so many times, ‘I’m not cut out for society. I can’t stand people. I can’t tolerate commotion. I need to live in the woods,’” Manion explained to IPS. “That’s what we’re going to have. Broken, not contributing, not functional members of society. It infuriates me — what they are doing to these guys, because it’s so ineptly run by a system that values rank and power more than anything else — so we’re stuck throwing money into a fragmented system of inept clinics and the crisis goes on.”

“It’s not just that we’re going to have an immensity of people coming back, but the system itself is thwarting their effective treatment,” Manion explained.

According to the Army, every year from 2006 onwards there has been a record number of reported and confirmed suicides, including 2009.

There has also been an escalation of soldier-on-soldier violence, as the November 5 shooting spree at Fort Hood by Major Nidal Hassan indicates. In 2008 there was also a record number of suicides for the Marine Corps.

Jasinski’s case is representative of a growing number of soldiers returning from the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan who are going AWOL when they are unable to get proper mental health care treatment from the military for their PTSD.

A 2008 Rand Corporation report revealed that at least 300,000 veterans returning from both wars had been diagnosed with severe depression or PTSD.

Jaskinski’s experience with the military has inspired him to offer advice for other soldiers who need PTSD treatment but are not receiving it.

“Do not, do not let a 5-10 minute review by a military doctor determine if you go to Iraq,” he told IPS. “Even if you have to pay out of pocket, go civilian to a doctor… the military mental health sector is so overwhelmed, they won’t take care of you. Go see a civilian, and hopefully that therapist will help you… even then I’m not sure that will help… but you have to take that chance.”

When asked what he feels the military needs to do in order to rectify this problem, he said: “A total overhaul of the mental health sector in the military is needed… we had nine psychiatrists at our center, and that’s simply not enough staff, they are going to get burned out, after seeing 50 soldiers each in one day. We need an overhaul of the entire system, and more, good psychiatrists, not those just coming for a job, but good, experienced mental health professionals need to be involved.”

Source / IPS

Thanks to Fran Hanlon / The Rag Blog

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7 Responses to PTSD and the Military : Soldiers Go AWOL to Get Help

  1. Anonymous says:

    Good information presented here by Dahr Jamail, with a Marfa dateline, no less.

  2. masterspork says:

    It should noted that I do not trust the author. Just like the “GI” lawyer James, they seem to see people dealing with issues like this as a anti-war tool. Once they get want they want the people get forgotten about. Look at the people you just elected.

    Second I had to deal with a case almost exactly like this one. Except that he did not go AWOL and deployed back 6 months later once we got it that he should never have been there. It will talk a lot of time and work but we got him home with all of his rights due to him. So the AWOL thing is never the right answer.

  3. Richard says:

    Oh boy, This war has right answers. Last time there were no right answers, it was wrong to go so far away and kill people you didn’t know for no discernable reason. It was wrong to go to Canada or Sweden and abandon your people, it was wrong to dodge the draft and leave the conscripted service to another poor slob, it was a crime to be young, no matter your choice. Same now, except we have no draft, yet. Yeah, it is wrong to go AWOL, and just as wrong to go far away and kill people you don’t know for a reason that you or anyone else doesn’t know. I’m glad you have the illusion of right, without wrong. People usually sleep well in their smugness. “When you are so sure you are right, you can do terrible things.” Mark Rudd

  4. Richard says:

    Oh yeah, I forgot to add. Once Uncle Sugar is done with you he forgets you in a New York Minute, ask any vet.

  5. masterspork says:

    Look, if your going to treat PTSD then it needs to be taken on one case at a time. But to somehow try to pull heart strings becuase you want to just use it as a tool is another.

    What about the people in EMS that can and do get PTSD from trauma cases. Yet they do not get nearly as much press.

    The case that I was talking about with one of my guys happened almost that way, except that there where several people including myself that worked with him on a daily bases. We got him pulled from doing convoy missions and got him on a flight back to the States to stay. Granted it took 6 months to do it, but we did it.

    Long story short; where was his medic? His squad/team leaders? Because that is the people that helped me get him home. If you see someone having trouble then you need to get involved. If you don’t and still try to write stuff like
    this I have little patience for.

    Also unless you are willing to sit in the jail cell with him and suffer the same punishments, it is wrong to suggest it. This is still a person, not a means to a end for a cause.

    That is why more often then not the Vets look after each other before the government. Your trying to make it sound like I do not know this. Also it is why milblogs are growing in number.

  6. Richard says:

    MS, I’m still not comfortable with your understanding of PTSD, or maybe it is something different than the affliction of Post-tramatic Stress Syndrome that occured in the lives of Viet-Vets. Is there a difference between a “Disorder” and a “Syndrome?” What you describe sounds very much like depression and very little like PTSD or PTSS.
    PTSS was like a time-bomb, when a Vet stepped off the plane in Oakland or Ft. Lewis there was no way of telling if he would suffer the effects of PTS. In fact the government denied it’s existance for a couple of years, of course, they denied Agent Orange effects for years also. Having returned to the world, discharge in hand, they started to pick up the pieces of their life and carry on. Months later, and without any warning they began to suffer from nightmares, night sweats, flashbacks and inexplicable blackouts when they committed violent and abusive acts.

    Are we talking about the same things?

  7. masterspork says:

    I believe it is the same beast, different name. Because I believe that it was from dealing with combat conditions.

    Case 1. Had a case where he lost a fellow solider who he said died in his arms in a convoy attack (2005). He was diagnosed with PTSD by a off post doctor. Was deployed despite this. There was a incident where another person in our unit had a break down and fired his weapon. (He was also dealing with PTSD issues of his own.). They where close and this did not help. Nor did it when the same person was found dead in a lake in December that year. The case number 1 had trouble dealing with along the factor that the voiced his concern that the attitude of the Personal Security Detail (PSD) would not be ready if they had a real attack on them. While I was working with him he said that he was afraid that he another attack was coming and he was seeing it reoccurring in slow motion. We got him pulled off the gunner’s slot into a desk/radio job. Still was having issues and was sent home. Last I ever heard of him because by the time I got back he was out of the unit.

    Case 2. Was a first time being deployed. He did dozer missions where you get n a up armored bulldozer and clear a path to allow other forces to get through. But that means using your dozer blade to detonate any IEDs or disable them. This person had one mission with a possible second where he caused a IED to blow up. He was having some dream issues. Then later (3-5 months) I watched him clear a dirt mound about 15 feet from a Iraq army building. A place where you would not expect to find anything, he uncovered a unexploded Mortar round. He later said that it only made the dreams and anxiety worse. He is doing better now.

    Case 3 is one that is relatively new. I started this one when she was having some concerns about the treatment from the mental health person at her new duty station. She said that she did not want to be on drugs and not be viewed as a lab rat. I asked about her experience there to find out that she came into dead and severally wounded people. She describes the constant reoccurring dreams about them and said that she could still smell the dead bodies. This was in mid Nov and we have been out of Iraq since July 2009.

    Case 4 was a guy that held the record for most IED hits and the most IED hits in one day. Three IED hits in 15 minutes, and a TBI injury too boot. Also had issues with dreams and head pain. Was on many different drugs trying to find out what made it better. Doing better now, but again this is what he said about it openly.

    Everyone gets some from of depression. We had at least 5 + divorces, some with custody battles too boot. Just every other issues that could possibly happen. But I do not see how these above cases could be seen as just simple depression. One thing that people should know that a person with PTSD can and do live normally. It is sometimes they slip up and you notice it. For example while I was at National Training center in California, one guy suddenly woke up and ran to the tent opening like it was it was on fire quickly looking around like he knew want he was looking for. Once he realized where he was he dismissed it as “nothing” and went back to bed.

    I am not too worried about how it was treated in the past, I am concerned about how it is been treated now. It is why that after the Desert Storm syndrome the Army made two post deployment screening to help ID any problems. But the risks is that the person being screened will lie for various reasons. That is why that people need to help talk with those that may be dealing with these issues. Because the ones that often need it the most are the ones that will not ask openly for help.

    I do think we are talking about the same ones. Just that it is not as obvious to the casual glance.

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