May 27, 2013 Updated: May 27, 2013 at 7:35 am
Reader response was extensive to The Gazette's investigative report on an increasing number of soldiers - including wounded combat veterans - who are being kicked out of the service for misconduct, often with no benefits, as the Army downsizes after a decade of war. Here are some of your letters:
Do we need a new motto?
After reading these well-written and in-depth articles on the travesty our government is allowing to be committed on the protectors of our freedom, one would think the nation would be up in arms and revolting in defense of our country's best and dedicated members of the military. One has to believe that this Chapter 10 action is a well-thought-out and deliberate attempt to heap scorn and disrespect on those who placed their lives on the line, not once, but numerous times, to defend this great nation. It is enough to make you puke. In my thirty years of service I would have never thought this could happen.
After listening to the POTUS and his wife exclaim many times their great feelings of love and support for the troops - often stating that the nation would go to great lengths and spare no expense to support whatever our returning injured military needs to transition to peace and civilian life - it is apparent that is just more lies. We know so by their actions. Veterans Affairs is under-funded and so far behind they will probably never see daylight. We know the injured troops are not being helped to the extent needed because there are many calls in the media for public donations to buy items for the injured that should have been supplied by the government.
It's obvious these articles identify inadequate screening of injured GIs is taking place. The number of troubled GIs subjected to Chapter 10 and those that are awaiting treatment and denied treatment is overwhelming proof that the problem is greater then the military's ability or interest in the soldiers' well being. We all know of that motto "No soldier left behind." Do we need a new one? "No soldier left untreated."
An immediate Band-Aid - until a solution is found - is for the newly appointed Secretary of Defense (Chuck Hagle) to issue a stop-and-desist order to all branches of the military for all action to court martial or discharge any previously injured member suffering PTSD or TBI. No one at any level should be able to deny a member's right or access to medical treatment.
If this horrendous treatment of injured GIs is not curtailed, it could very well kill the all-volunteer military and put the ability to defend the country at great risk.
Matthew Fronzaglia, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force, retired, Colorado Springs
Profiteering continues on and on
What a sad, heartbreaking, front page story about wounded Iraqi war veteran Sgt. Jerrald Jensen in the May 20 Gazette. Multiply this tragedy by thousands of young American freedom fighters and it just makes one sick. It seems suspicious that as we exit Afghanistan, another opportunity arises for a select few to gain handsomely by war profiteering that continues one and on and on. My hope is that cooler heads prevail as we consider entering the Syrian and Korean conflicts.
Michael Sena, Colorado Springs
Any other action is wrong
Regarding the less-than-honorable discharge of wounded soldiers:
Start with boot camp. It is not uncommon for a small number of volunteer enlistees to "wash out" even though they are physically capable of completing their training, and intelligent enough to pass their classroom training.
Now consider the soldier on the battlefield. Soldier "A" is a John Wayne lookalike. Soldier "B" is more reminiscent of Radar O'Reilly.
Which one is more likely to earn medals for bravery and courage? Answer: there's no way to tell. High performers are characterized by a high degree of self-discipline, can-do attitude, and a warrior's mind set.
What has this to do with the issue at hand? Simply this: Any traumatic brain injury or PTSD will certainly affect the soldier's self-discipline, mindset and attitude, perhaps even to the level of the boot camp washout. This is no reflection on the soldier's character.
With all due respect to the general interviewed for the articles, to expect a mentally and physically traumatized soldier to continue to perform at a high level of all these attributes is self-evidently wrong. If that were not the case, we could go ahead and enlist all the misfits in our society, knowing they could be expected to "do their jobs."
A wounded combat soldier's "reward" must be based upon his/her performance (including personal conduct) during combat, as judged by their superiors in-theater, not by how they perform during rehabilitation.
Any other action is wrong, and should be punishable under the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice).
I speak as a thirteen-year (non-combat) veteran from the USAF, honorably discharged as an E-7 (Technical Sergeant).
John A Skiba, Yoder
Responsibility in the blame game
"Other than Honorable" was an eye opener about some of our wounded veterans. I certainly hope that some compromises might be made in their cases.
I am bothered though, by all of the blame that is thrown at the Army for the discharging of soldiers for their bad behavior which results in their loss of medical benefits. If the individual soldiers had not acted as they did to 'earn' a bad conduct discharge, then there would not be a problem for them in seeking treatment for their combat-related emotional and physical wounds.
In the blame game, shouldn't some self responsibility be pointed at those thrown out onto the street for their bad conduct? Every individual who joins the military is taught right at the beginning of discipline, responsibility and accountability. Three words that many civilians don't understand.
Some military members can handle stress better than others, but everyone is stressed in combat. I know, as a Marine in Vietnam.
The majority of combat veterans, some who experienced some horrible combat, serve their time honorably and is given, if needed, treatment for their emotional and physical scars. Counseling and help is available if asked for.
Sometimes it is ordered by the commanding officer, based on behavior that is against the required military discipline within a unit.
A bad conduct discharge can result from disobeying orders and as implied in the series some just never showed up for their directed treatment.
Self responsibility, and accountability, has an enormous influence on a person's life. Handle it with care.
Capt. Thomas Mix, United States Marine Corps, retired, Monument
A slap in the face of any veteran
I am a veteran have been in post-traumatic stress disorder treatment for quite a while.
Back in 2009, we started to notice that young veterans were being released from military service at an alarming rate. An order had come down from somewhere in the administration to Department of Defense to reduce the number of standing active and reserve forces. Example: if a National Guard or reservist misses one meeting, he or she is discharged without benefits.
There is no respect for the fact that these men and woman have traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder, which in some cases causes forgetfulness, anger, balance and motor control problems. All of which are being viewed as discipline problems on evaluation reports by commander and NCOs who do not wish to have the higher-ups adversely effect their Enlisted Evaluation Reports or Officer Evaluation Report.
This affects whether or not they get the next promotion or get passed over and discharged. We are losing returning veterans at the rate of one a day - to suicide or overdose, which is the same as suicide in my book: self-medicating with alcohol or drugs to fall asleep. Furthermore, the ones who do make it out with an honorable discharge face miles of red tape from regional offices being under-staffed by budget cuts. The Department of Veterans Affairs has had its hospitals placed under the control of the military. Example: James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago, Ill. What once was a veterans hospital is now more Navy than veterans. But the problem that is really faced by these returning veterans with problems is they are being targeted to cut the budget of both the military and other services. The dishonorable discharge takes them off the hook so to speak; keeps the veteran from getting needed medical and mental health services they need. This is a sad fact of the world we are in today. It's a slap in the face of any veteran who has served and returned injured in body or mind.
William Revis, Colorado Springs
Soldier has just been thrown away
My name is Jessica Santiago and I am writing you this email to let you know how much you have touched my family with your story, "Other than Honorable - Disposable."
Literally, this is the exact same experience my husband and family is going through at Fort Carson right now. My husband has served as a mortician in the Army for the past 11 years. He has deployed three times and went to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to collect remains and help out. During his deployments, he has seen and collected more than 500 remains of dead soldiers and civilians. After his last deployment he came back a different person.
He is suffering from extreme PTSD and has had a few misconduct issues in the past year because his chain of command feels like he is just being weak. They say PTSD is curable and to just let it go. Just today we had a separation board where the Army decided whether he would proceed with the MEB board process to get out with PTSD and benefits or whether he would be chaptered. The board decided to give him an other-than-honorable discharge; so my family and husband now have no benefits and his past 10 years of loyal service with no trouble or misconduct issues has just been thrown away.
I just want you to know that it made us both feel like we are not alone in this. We have been suffering for the past year and a half waiting to find out if he was going to get MEB boarded out of the Army honorably, and they just dropped him like he was "disposable." It feels good to know that somebody out here is fighting for the same cause. Thank you for all the effort you have put into this investigation.
Jessica Santiago, Colorado Springs