Wave of mental problems
follows GIs home
By Mark Benjamin
United Press International
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., May 13 (UPI) -- Soldiers at Fort Carson
report a wave of serious mental problems among troops back from the "war
on terrorism," according to interviews with soldiers, their families and
a therapist working with them.
The torment seems linked to troubling behavior -- including a
suicide, violence and heavy drinking among a number of the 12,000 troops
arriving back in Colorado Springs, nestled in the eastern foothills of
the Rocky Mountains, 60 miles south of Denver.
They say the Army frequently fails to diagnose or properly help
suffering soldiers. In some cases -- particularly in elite fighting
units -- soldiers hide problems fearing damage to their careers, turning
instead to alcohol and sometimes resulting in domestic violence.
"The pattern I'm seeing is that they are not being evaluated very
thoroughly," said Kaye Baron, a clinical psychologist in Colorado
Springs. Baron treats soldiers in her private practice and helps the
Department of Veterans Affairs evaluate the mental health of soldiers
leaving the Army.
Baron said the Army is not properly diagnosing or treating soldiers
who have mental problems. Instead, some are pushed out of the Army,
making them feel worse.
"Why is the military discounting the problems? Why are they disposing
of people? Do they not have the resources? Are they in denial? Is it
corruption? I'd like to know," Baron said. "My belief is that we should
honor these soldiers and acknowledge that these people are going to be
Among the incidents:
Two soldiers deployed from Fort Carson apparently committed suicide
in Iraq, according to soldiers and data compiled by United Press
International. Another two Fort Carson died in Iraq in incidents
reported as "non-combat-related" weapons discharges -- a term employed
by the Pentagon to refer to accidents or suicides.
In March, Special Forces Chief Warrant Officer William Howell shot
himself in the head in front of his Monument, Colo., home just three
weeks after returning to Fort Carson from Iraq. Before taking his own
life, Howell beat his wife and threatened her with his .357-caliber
revolver before putting the gun to his own temple and firing.
Interviews showed other frightening behavior:
"I wake up sometimes with a fat lip," said the husband of one soldier
during an interview with the couple at a restaurant north of town. Since
returning from Iraq last summer, his wife not only punches and hits him
in her sleep, she recently "freaked out" during the day, punching and
biting him in the belief that he intended to kill her.
Soldiers interviewed at Fort Carson insisted on anonymity for fear of
retribution. They said they knew that the Army charged one Fort Carson
soldier, Staff Sgt. Georg-Andreas Pogany, with cowardice last year after
he apparently asked his chain of command for help with what he said was
a panic attic in Iraq. That charge was dropped, but his legal status,
career and medical care remain in limbo.
Like Pogany, some soldiers at Fort Carson are worried that some of
the emotional turbulence may be long-term side effects from Lariam, an
anti-malaria drug heavily used among troops deployed from the base. The
Food and Drug Administration warns that Lariam may cause long-term
depression, psychosis, aggression, anxiety, panic attacks and sleeping
problems, and it warns about reports of suicide among users. Combat
stress -- post-traumatic stress disorder -- also can produce those
symptoms. Howell, the Special Forces soldier who committed suicide, took
Lariam in Iraq.
One Special Forces soldier at Fort Carson said mental problems are
occurring even in elite units returning from war, but soldiers will not
admit it. "Everybody has it," this soldier said. "If somebody says they
don't have it, they are lying."
"In Special Forces, you are supposed to be in an elite crowd. When
you are in that type of field, you don't show any weakness, even when
you are being torn up." He said he can't sleep and drinks too much. "We
all came back with drinking problems," he said of his unit. He said his
temper is frightening and that he sometimes has the urge to tackle
problems "the way that I did over there" -- by killing.
Fort Carson spokesman Richard Bridges said Fort Carson would not
respond to any questions on this article and would not allow a reporter
on the base. The Department of the Army referred questions to Army
Forces Command in Atlanta. Jack Coffey, a spokesman for Army Forces
Command, did not respond to requests for comment made by phone and in
Bridges has told reporters that soldiers must receive seven hours of
counseling for a deployment. None of the soldiers interviewed by UPI
said they had received seven hours of counseling. The Special Forces
soldier said he had received his first mental health debriefing months
after returning from war.
Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource
Center and a retired Army Ranger, has visited returning troops in the
United States and Europe. Post-traumatic stress disorder rates among
troops from the first Gulf War ran around 6 percent, he said, but he
estimates PTSD among veterans from Iraq at 14 percent and climbing. With
well over 100,000 troops returning from Iraq this year, Robinson
predicted a "wave" of serious issues among troops back home.
"We have not seen but the froth of the wave of people who will come
back with mental problems," he said.
A soldier at Fort Carson with the 52nd Engineer Combat Battalion said
he is suffering from anxiety attacks, sleeplessness and intense anger he
said he did not have before serving in Iraq. He said the Army has
diagnosed him with a major depression disorder. "I don't feel
depressed," he said about the Army diagnosis. "But I guess I don't have
to feel depressed to be depressed."
He claims that in Iraq a physician's assistant -- not a psychiatrist
-- handed him anti-depressant drugs and sleeping pills. He also claims
he was threatened because of his anger problems. "When I went to Combat
Stress they told me that if I had one more outburst they would (put) me
out (of the Army) with a personality disorder," the soldier said.
The wife of another soldier in that unit complained that her husband
had become increasingly violent since returning from Iraq and recently
tore off the top of the stove. "He threw the stovetop at me. He's always
had a temper, but not like this," she said.
The mental issues at Fort Carson appear similar to problems across
the country apparent in interviews at other bases, media reports and
At least seven soldiers, including Howell, returned from Operation
Iraqi Freedom and committed suicide, according to the Army. At least 23
soldiers committed suicide in Iraq and Kuwait during 2003. Another two
soldiers have committed suicide there this year.
Two of the suicides in the United States occurred at Walter Reed Army
Medical Center in Washington, the Army's flagship hospital. Soldiers
there recently report at least two other suicide attempts among soldiers
back from Iraq. Walter Reed spokesman Jim Stueve referred questions to
the Army Surgeon General. The Surgeon General's office did not comment.
Army Reservist Lt. Brandon Ratliff, a veteran of Afghanistan, shot
himself in the head last month after he lost a promotion promised to him
by a city agency in Columbus, Ohio. At least six others who served in
Operation Enduring Freedom, the broader "war on terrorism" including
Afghanistan, have committed suicide after returning.
Other returning soldiers have turned their anger outward, with
frightening and sometimes bizarre consequences.
Police say Master Sgt. Kenneth Lee Schweitzer walked into a bank in
Keokuk, Iowa, in April, fired a large-caliber handgun into the air,
demanded cash, and then drove to the local police department and
surrendered. Schweitzer, an Iraq war veteran from the 101st Airborne
Division, reportedly told police he wanted to be put in jail because he
"just couldn't take it anymore." He reportedly chose a one-story bank so
he could safely fire his weapon toward the ceiling.
Also in April, a soldier in the 82nd Airborne Division based at Fort
Bragg, N.C., was charged with felony child abuse in the severe beating
of his 2-year-old daughter. Authorities said alcohol did not appear to
be a factor, the Fayetteville Observer reported. He had been in Iraq for
a month earlier this year. It was not clear why his tour was so short.
Soldiers who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom have allegedly
committed a total of four homicides since returning:
- In Columbus, Ga., four Fort Benning soldiers are charged in
connection with the killing of a fifth a few days after returning from
Iraq in July; police said one soldier stabbed the victim dozens of
times, even piercing his skull.
- In Tampa, Fla., a soldier who returned from to MacDill Air Force
Base last spring was charged with killing his girlfriend six weeks
later. A police detective described the scene as gruesome, with "blood
from one end of that apartment to the other" and the victim stabbed in
the thigh, right arm and left eye and shot in the left arm, left cheek
and left ear, according to the Denver Post.
- A third homicide is cited in an Army advisory team report on mental
health problems among U.S. troops in Iraq. It occurred four months after
the soldier's return, the report says: "The soldier allegedly shot and
killed a man who was vandalizing his vehicle and committed suicide soon
thereafter. Both soldiers had a history of psychiatric treatment." The
report notes "the possibility that (Iraq)-related factors" played a
- Most recently, an Army sergeant back from a year in Iraq is charged
with drowning his wife in April near Fort Lewis, Wash. His family told
reporters that he had changed in Iraq, where he drove heavy equipment.
The Special Forces soldier interviewed near Fort Carson predicted
more problems as returning soldiers have trouble readjusting to civilian
life. "Give it two months, when all these people are back," he said.
Baron, the clinical psychologist in Colorado Springs, worries that
some soldiers' problems may last a long time. She estimates she has
evaluated more than 700 veterans over the past 18 months, including
around 50 back from Iraq in the past few months.
"This war is going to cause a detriment to our society," she said.