When asked what he thought of Sgt. Russell’s crimes, Sgt. Boyle said, “I know exactly what’s going on. There’s been more than a few times I had very unpleasant thoughts dealing with the chain of command.
“Putting myself in that position, dealing with what I was dealing with at Fort Bragg, if I took that scenario and moved it to Iraq, I can’t imagine what that situation would be like. That’s a scary thought.”
Sgt. Boyle added: “Good soldiers shouldn’t have to go through that, especially if they are out in Iraq risking their lives and then to expect there’s not going to be ramifications. That’s like taking a good dog and beating it constantly, and it bites you, and you don’t understand why.”
Bart Stichman, co-executive director of the National Veterans Legal Services Program, said his office sees “a certain number of cases” in which the military has failed to properly discern between PTSD and misconduct.
“We have clients that fall into that pattern,” Mr. Stichman said. “They have PTSD, and they don’t get adequate treatment, and when they don’t get treatment they act out. They use drugs or alcohol, and the military discharges them for misconduct.”
Mr. Stichman added that this presumes that the military perfectly diagnoses PTSD, a disorder that can be difficult to discern. In the meantime, any untreated service member still shows the symptoms, including acting out in ways that can lead to misconduct and other legal charges.
“This is a subset of that, based on a subjective judgment,” Mr. Stichman said of his PTSD cases. “You and I could look at a case and say this misconduct is due to a mental disorder, and someone else will say, ‘Sure, he had a mental disorder, but his misconduct wasn’t due to his mental disorder.’”
What’s being done
The government took aggressive action to diagnose and treat veterans suffering from PTSD in 2007 after a flurry of studies, recommendations and reports addressing veterans’ care, including the bipartisan commission to investigate Walter Reed Army Medical Center, led by former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala.
On Monday, the Veterans Affairs Department released preliminary data showing that the suicide rate of young veterans, most of whom likely served in Iraq or Afghanistan, has risen by more than one-fourth.
The suicide rate among 18- to 29-year-old men who have left active military duty rose from 44.99 suicides per 100,000 men in 2005 to 56.77 in 2007, based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures taken from 16 states.
The active military is seeing the same problem, with the Army cataloging a record number of suicides last year.
“Why do we know so much about suicides but still know so little about how to prevent them?” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki told a suicide prevention conference Monday in Washington, according to wire service reports. “Simple question, but we continue to be challenged.”
Among the many centers that address mental health issues are the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, the Center for Deployment Psychology, the Deployment Health Clinical Center, the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, the National Center for Telehealth and Technology, and the National Intrepid Center of Excellence that’s scheduled to open later this year.