In a shocking new report from NPR and Colorado Public Radio, investigators claim that the Army has dismissed tens of thousands of troops with TBI or PTSD issues on the grounds of "misconduct." Perhaps most alarming of the findings is that, despite Army officials’ claims to the contrary, the practice is likely continuing to thrive in Army bases all over the country.
The investigation was launched after Sgt. Eric James, an Army sniper who served two tours into Iraq, secretly recorded his therapy sessions at Fort Carson. Despite James' emphatic concerns for his own mental health during these sessions, his recordings reveal that not one, but two separate Army psychiatrists aggressively downplayed the sniper's claims right to his face, often interrupting and even scolding him. Later, James was notified that he'd be dismissed for a DUI—a charge that resulted from his own self-medicating with alcohol—and barred from receiving crucial post-discharge Army benefits.
As NPR and CPR found, James' circumstances weren't exactly rare. James would eventually come forward with his recordings and spur an Army investigation of Fort Carson. His two psychiatrists were punished, but Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, the Army's surgeon general, insisted that James' experience was not typical. NPR and CPR, however, dug deeper and found that nine discharged soldiers with cases much like James' weren't even contacted by the Army during their so-called investigation.
Of these cases was the one of James Holmer, a Bronze Star recipient who deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq three times. Holmer had a possible TBI injury in his record when he returned home and started experiencing debilitating depression and anxiety. In 2012, he was found sleeping in truck on the side of the road and was charged for a DUI. Three days later, the Army began processing a less-than-honorable discharge for Holmer but, in accordance with a 2009 law, also sent him to a therapist at Fort Carson.
Soon after, Holmer received and email that had been accidentally forwarded to him. The email was from his therapist to another Fort Carson officer. It read: "At this time, while [Holmer] may have a significant [behavioral health] condition, I'll be able to clear him. I believe it would be in our best interest to assist in expediting the process." In other words, the therapist recognized that Holmer was in need of TBI treatment but instead would clear him for a misconduct dismissal. As NPR punctuates, the email was signed with a smiley face.
THE ARMY'S RESPONSE
James and Holmer's stories are only some of the few NPR and CPR discovered that indicated a distinct effort by the Army to dismiss soldiers with combat-related mental and behavioral issues. As reported elsewhere, many suspect that misconduct discharges are being used as a cheap and efficient way to reduce the ranks during peacetime, but the Army insists that this isn't the case. Lt. Col. Chris Ivany, who oversees mental health in the Army, told NPR that while many dismissed soldiers do have early indications of PTSD or TBI, many of the diagnoses are not final and are hence not necessarily related to misconduct charges.
Peter Chiarelli, the former Army Chief of Staff took an even harder line, suggesting to NPR that indications of combat-related mental or behavioral issues do provide legitimate grounds for a dismissal. "Does it [misconduct discharges] make sense if they're going to be nondeployable for a long period of time, and if we don't have good diagnostics and good treatments, yes it does make sense. Because I need deployable soldiers inside my ranks," he said. "The Army has a mission and that's to fight and win our nation's wars. When people have any kind of an illness and are not deployable, they're not going to be available to do that."
There are some reports from Fort Carson that the base’s therapy protocols for treating suffering soldiers is improving, but NPR's final case study of a 20-year veteran who led troops three times in two theaters suggests otherwise. As the report ultimately concludes, the practice of "separating" ailing soldiers via trumped up misconduct allegations may still be thriving in Fort Carson and beyond.
Mr. Jordan and The Jordan UCMJ Law group have successfully represented numerous individuals in the Army and the Air Force who have suffered from PTSD and TBI. It is always an important mitigating factor for sentencing. It always provides context for any underlying misconduct. Lastly, if a service member is facing a separation board, it is a great mitigation point to bring to the board members for purposes of characterization of service. PTSD and TBI is a real problem in our nations military. It is not generally an excuse for a crime. However in some cases it has shown to be a very real contributor to several different kinds of violent crimes and can even provide a mental capacity defense in rare cases. PTSD and TBI are serious. If you have it and you are facing UCMJ action, please let your attorney know.
Are you a military service member facing a court-martial or an adverse administrative action? If so, it is possible to fight to protect reputation and future. Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law is a 10-year Army veteran who has built his reputation on providing aggressive and effective legal counsel for military personnel stationed all over the world. Even in the face of the most serious of charges, he can ensure that his clients' voices are heard and that the best possible outcome is placed within reach.
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