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May 27, 2007

Comments

I've got to stop reading this blog sober. The density of horribly painful news is just too high for that.

The real tragedy is that had he just complied with the letter, he would almost certainly not made it through medical screening. I lost several guys who had previous deployments but PTSD during mobilization, and those guys wanted to go. Assuming the article is accurate and the medical records reflect he was on meds and suffering from PTSD, he would most likely not go. I think the average loss at medical screening for mobilization is 20-30%. My company is stll short two guys because of two we lost to med screening, and we will be halfway done before we get replacements.

jrudkis: The real tragedy is that had he just complied with the letter, he would almost certainly not made it through medical screening.

Please, find some other way of rephrasing this so it doesn't sound like you're saying that it wasn't a real tragedy that this poor guy was killed.

Easy folks. Let everyone grieve in their own way.

It's only what I read but if it is true that people are sent back to Iraq on heavy pain medication and barely able to walk then "mere" PTSD might not be sufficient to avoid redeployment these days.

I think the average loss at medical screening for mobilization is 20-30%.

This is only your personal estimate and not a statistical summary that would get quoted as official, but the topic you're talking about sounds potentially very important. What does it mean?

20-30% of PTSD victims don't go back to iraq? 20-30% of soldiers who undergo medical screening, but not the ones who aren't sent for medical screening?

20-30% sounds like a lot, but 2 guys out of a company doesn't sound like so much.

What can one possibly say?

Sigh..

20-30% is the loss based on all reasons at mobilization, not just PTSD. It was the planning number we were given to work with, but I don't know the basis of how it was developed. I think it was just the historical number for mobilized reserve units for soldiers unable to deploy for whatever reason. Soldiers may have heart problems, inability to get a security clearance, or inability to perform. The soldiers that I had with PTSD were pushing hard to deploy again, but were screened multiple times, and eventually were dropped. Other soldiers were mobilized with physical limitations and were unable to wear body armor, for example, and were similarly released from duty.

Thank you, jrudkis! That sounds like a reasonable estimate for all causes. Stuff happens. I'd seen estimates of 30% for PTSD among soldiers back from iraq, higher of course in combat units. It seemed real implausible that all or even very many of them would be lost to the next deployment.

PTSD is a term encompassing a spectrum of symptoms and causes. Taken very loosely, I can see 30% needing time to readjust and have counseling and even medications after being here a year. Many people need that from non-combat related stress, like divorce. And a lot of the stress here is related to home, not the war (at least not directly). We have divorce, financial problems, family problems, family deaths, etc., that impact many soldiers much more profoundly than having intermittent mortars and rockets hitting the compound. Also, anyone who has a substance abuse problem and deployed is automatically labeled as PTSD, regardless whether the substance abuse was preexisting (really talking about alcohol, since we discharge any other type of substance abuse). We have not had anyone close to us die, so I can't comment on what that impact will be on us, and hopefully never will.

From what I saw at mobilization, anyone on medication or in active counseling was not deployed. Presumably they are at the far end of the spectrum. Soldiers who had symptoms after the last deployment, but were no longer on medication or counseling, could be deployed, but not necessarily. Soldiers who refused counseling but for whatever reason caused concern were command refered for additional sessions. The doctor's call was never over ridden by the command with regard to any medical issue(which frustrated me with one soldier who I felt was faking a phantom elbow problem that is still not diagnosed 3 months later). The command could have done so against the advice of the doctor, but never did. The reality was that any soldier who really did not want to go could have easily gamed the system and not deployed.

Other units and other posts may do things differently, but that was my experience.

jrudkis,

I don't want to challenge your statement or in any way negate your personal experience but your post simply doesn't make sense. If the army was simply letting people out who could demonstrate any kind of stress or physical impairment (the phantom elbow etc....) it wouldn't be the army. The army is stop lossing and calling back and extending the service of anyone and everyone they can. There have been abundant stories of elderly national guard being called back and NPR did a big story about soldiers in Texas being, essentially, rounded up and ordered to return to Iraq without any real medical review at all. Given that many, many, soldiers don't want to go back the notion that the army isn't overriding their wishes, and their doctors wishes, just seems a bit off.

And I also think its really unfair to look at the situations that have developed of soldiers committing suicide or suicide by cop (which this case was) and say that "if they reallydid not want to go" they could "have easily gamed the system" and "not been deployed." Apparently and somewhat bizarrely they *didn't know that* and ended up dead. Either a fairly large number of soldiers don't know what you think is common knowledge or they think otherwise--that they will be forced to go back.

As for your statement that the soldiers under your command in Iraq (I'm reading your post as saying that you are serving there now) are more affected by stress at home than they are by serving in a war zone, I find that a pretty narrow and blinkered view of the stories that soldiers are telling once they get back. You say that from the perspective of soldiers in Iraq:


"Many people need that from non-combat related stress, like divorce. And a lot of the stress here is related to home, not the war (at least not directly). We have divorce, financial problems, family problems, family deaths, etc., that impact many soldiers much more profoundly than having intermittent mortars and rockets hitting the compound."

But of course while they are in Iraq they are suffering the stress of disordered and disrupted home lives against the background of the work they are trained to do. Naturally the focus of their anxiety is split between home and work. When they return to the US as far as I can see from reading and listening to soldiers stories the remembered war compounds their problems settling in to their "new normal"--which, in any event, can't be entirely normal if they are going to be pulled back to the theater of war.

I guess I don't see where your dismissive attitude gets us. Soldiers clearly don't want to return to Iraq--stop loss was constructed to prevent soldiers who don't want to re-enlist from staying home. Some proportion of those soldiers might have a legitimate medical excuse which, apparently, they believe is being ignored. Others might not want to go back but have no legitimate medical excuse and be looking for one. The whole thrust of the army's recruitment and retention policies is based on the fairly clear understanding that they can't replace soldier attrition *other* than through fairly draconian laws and rules to drag people back to fight when they don't want to. This poor guy didn't want to go back, thought he would be forced back, and ended up dead. Second guessing him and telling him and us that he made an error in judgement and all would have been sweetness and light if he'd refused to go back is just wrong. He didn't feel he had the power to control his own situation and, in fact, he didn't. And he died.

aimai

Jrudkis: Thank you for commenting here. Your first-hand analysis and anecdotes mean a lot to me. I really appreciate you taking the time.

I’ll have a beer or 10 for you tomorrow after I honor our fallen. You and all of those I know of currently or formerly serving. Godspeed sir, and come back safe.

aimai: "As for your statement that the soldiers under your command in Iraq [...] are more affected by stress at home than they are by serving in a war zone"

jrudkis: "And a lot of the stress here is related to home, not the war (at least not directly)."

"A lot" =/ "more."

"I guess I don't see where your dismissive attitude"

Mind-reading and attributing an emotion/attitude not objectively in the text.

OCSteve @ 3:51 - Dithyrambically seconded.

Powerful post for Memorial Day weekend. Good work.
Last year I noticed another twist on the acronym IED. How about Intermitent Explosive Disorder? If you think an Improvised Explosive Device is hard to spot, try spotting the other kind of IED.
Children with PTSD -- the Mother of all IED's

The real tragedy is that had he just complied with the letter, he would almost certainly not made it through medical screening.

Other units and other posts may do things differently, but that was my experience.

jrudkis:

I'm having difficulty reconciling these two statements. Did the soldier in question actually belong to your unit or your post? If not, why would you make such unqualified statements regarding his disposition while being aware of how much army procedures vary by unit and post?

"If not, why would you make such unqualified statements regarding his disposition while being aware of how much army procedures vary by unit and post?"

As a rule, people aren't shy about making unqualified statements around here (or most blogs). However, the statements you quote from jrudkis are, in fact, qualified: "almost," and "may" do exactly that.

Gary,

His comments were qualified, but not in the sense of which I was thinking.

Consider the difference between systemic and accidental failures. If the army calls back a PTSD-disabled soldier, that maybe because (1) for at least some units, the army has a policy of calling back everyone who can hold a rifle, regardless of what the regulations say, or (2) something went wrong in this particular case, such as a paperwork mishap, an incompetent psychiatrist, a vindictive commander, etc.

I read jrudkis' "almost certainly" qualification as referring to accidental failures, ala case 2. I.e., giant organizations are never going to get everything perfect, and jrudkis is covering his bases by making that clear.

If that reading is correct, then the original statement only makes sense to the extent that jrudkis is willing to assert that the policy in his unit is representative of the army as a whole. Based on the second statement I quoted, he does not appear to be willing to assert that.

Some qualifiers are more equal than others.

My question was no doubt unclear and I may be reading far too much into jrudkis' original statements. Nevertheless, the question of whether the army is systematically sending PTSD sufferers back into combat is important, and you'll forgive me for trying to examine potential inconsistencies in the denials made by an agent of the US army.

"...and you'll forgive me for trying to examine potential inconsistencies in the denials made by an agent of the US army."

"Soldier" is perhaps better than "agent," but yes.

Just to be clear, I am supposed to be a secret agent, so lets keep this hush hush...we don't want another Plame incident.

The base we mobilized through is a major active duty base pushing thousands of soldiers through. It is a mix of all services and active/reserve. The policy I am referring to and the doctor's making the decisions are the same for everyone there. I used qualifiers because I have read the same stories as everyone else, and don't know their full circumstances, but I do know mine.

I also have been wearing a uniform in one manner or other for 21 years, and have a pretty good feel for the army. No unit wants to deploy with a guy that is unstable because he is a liability that can get you killed, fragged, or imprisoned. Since being here we have already referred one guy for psych evel because of inability to control his temper in garrison, and we won't take him on missions. He has not deployed before, and while we identified him as being a pain in the neck before deploying, we did not have concerns about potential violence till we got here.

Now that we are here I do have pressure to keep soldiers, because it will take at least 90 days to get a backfill. And most likely much longer. The pressure is not stated, and frankly I could send them all home one at a time, but then I would be unable to accomplish my mission. And it is an important piece of training the Iraqis that must be done.

With regard to why the guy in the story did not know that he would probably not deploy, I would guess it is because most people with psychiatric problems don't think they have them. The story indicates he did not want to go to counseling until his wife got him to go. Additionally, he seems to be a one term enlistee who was mobilized from the IRR or reserves, and probably does not have the experience to know that no one wants to deploy with someone unstable.

jrudkis: in case I haven't said it recently, thanks for your service. You too, G'Kar, and anyone else who's reading.

Hilzoy,

Thanks I appreciate that.

Jrudkis: I agree with Hilzoy about that, for you and G'kar and all the rest. No matter how much we disagree on some things, I respect your service, and wish you both success and well-being at it.

This was a very moving story. There are, no doubt, many more like it.

From what I understand, similar stories could be told about every war, or at least every modern war, that we've been involved in. Even in WWII, which seems to engender such positive nostalgia, more than a few folks came back haunted. Most found their way back into the quotidian grace of normal, everyday life. Some never did.

And, you know, here in the US, we've always had the best of it. In every modern war we've been involved in, other folks always had it much, much worse. Imagine that.

When we send people to war, we demand of them that they kill people, destroy things, and generally do things that would never be sanctioned in any other context. Then, they have to come home and be "normal" again. It exacts a very high price, especially when there is so much debate about whether we should even be there in first place.

War messes people up.

On this Memorial Day, let's give our respect and thanks to everyone who has put aside their normal daily life and taken on the burden and risk of military service.

On this Memorial Day, let's also hope and pray (if you're so inclined) for peace. I think we can all agree, the fewer damaged young men and women, the better.

Thanks -

Yet another victim of the militarisation of the police.

That time line haunts me.

At 12:25, a negotiator talked briefly by telephone to Jamie, who indicated he might come out; “I’m going home,” he said. Then the police cellphone’s battery died.

At 12:34, Jamie was reached again by telephone, but the volume was low and the negotiator could not make out what was being said.

At 12:45, the police cut power to the house and began shooting more tear gas through the front and the back of the house.

At 12:47, an armored vehicle called a Peace Keeper pulled up to the house.

Yeah, there was technical difficulty with the phones that held up negotiations, so obviously the rational response was to fire tear gas and assault the house with a fucking armoured vehicle. And the cops were surprised when the trained soldier responded to directly aggressive actions by readying his weapon?

Idiots. Fucking idiots. They should all be ashamed of themselves, and whoever ordered the tear gas attack should be fired, if not tarred and feathered and put in stocks in the nearest public square. He's a disgrace.

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