The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.


October 20, 2006

Name: NCO at Campbell       
Posting date: 10/20/2006
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: TX

Recently I read an article that centered on how males don't seek help for mental problems and the like for fear of reprisal from other males. I never realized how true that was until I came back from Iraq and started thinking about it. Look at the facts, and I say facts, because this is truth, no nonsense, no b.s. to it: When soldiers try to get help, especially when they tried to in Iraq, they were shunned, mocked, and treated like a lesser person. And I'm not going to lie and say I didn't do it, because I did. I shunned and mocked with the best of them.

The Army has tried to create this mindset where soldiers should feel that if they need help then they are weak, and that goes up the chain of command. It seems as if the mental health professionals are there just for looks, not actually there to help people. When a soldier does decide to get help, it's automatically assumed that he is falsifying his condition or just trying to get out of a patrol. But is that really the case?

Then when we redeploy back to the states, we have all these soldiers who needed help but didn't get it. When we go through the whole redeployment process we're told about Military One Source, where you can call and seek help, and get six free visits to a civilian psychiatrist/counselor. Now is that private? As with everything else in the military, everything gets out, everyone finds out about what you're doing at some point. All soldiers know that regardless of what you're told about something being private, such as your seeking help for a mental issue, it's not. It will get back to your chain of command and go downhill to the lowest NCO, to the lowest soldier that works beside you. And the soldier seeking help will never get it, will then say he's alright, that there isn't any problem with him.

Now is this right? It's not. This is something the military needs to change. But it probably never will, and you'll see down through the years, where the number of homeless vets increases, the vets that are jailed, violent offenders --  it all comes back to soldiers not being able to get help, no matter how much they wish to.


I am so glad to FINALLY hear someone from the Army recgonize this as a problem. I have had numerous discussions with Soldiers from E5s up to O5s regarding this matter. So many of them have mentioned that they just have to suck it up - they cannot risk losing their security clearances or prospects of promotion by "admitting" they need to talk to someone. This is so wrong. Sure our military personnel need to be "strong" in order to carry out their missions but they are humans with compassion and feelings. I will never be able to imagine what our men and women have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan but I do know from talks with several of them that they MUST be allowed to have counseling without fear of any type of retribution or thoughts of being a failure.

It also took the Fire Services and Police department too many years to provide help for their people after traumatic incidents. That is why so many police officers either swallowed their guns or drank till they were no longer usfull to themselves or to the organizations that they served. I saw too many of my coworkers become drunks, and some take the short cut to life. Even after Flt 800 there were counselors and help for the people that were involved, except for the military personnel that were there. I can only answer for the Air National Guard, but when I asked if they had any help I was told no.

Although I have never served or fought, my thought is that since war is insane, among other things, it would be more surprising if people came back from it without psychological problems than it is if they do.
What is sane about trying to kill people you have never met and have no personal quarrel with? Not to mention those trying to kill you who don't even know you or anything about you?
What is sane about a life-or-death situation where there seems no rhyme or reason as to who lives and who dies? Where those who survive feel guilty, many times, about doing so? Where the experiences you go through are so horrific and so out of the mainstream of life,if you will, that you can really only talk about to people who have been through it?
I do remember that when I worked as an aide at a psychiatric hospital, we used to say to each other that there was no point in talking about it to people who had not done it, and no need to do so with those who had - and they didn't want to hear it anyway, as they had their own tales...
I have no standing to suggest much of anything, but sure hope you veterans can find a way to be more supportive of those who seek help - war is not just hell, it's crazy.
Last, my heartfelt thanks to all of you who have served and are serving. You give up so many rights to protect those same rights for the rest of us, and you don't get to vote on the mission - you've already promised, on our behalf, to go. I don't know the right words to honor this.

It is very disappointing that counseling is still seen as a weakness, it shouldn't be. But I do think this is something that the military, although obviously not successful yet, is at least trying to change. I can't tell you the number of seminars, billboards on base & e-mails I've seen or received discussing counseling services, support groups, information on PTSD, etc. I mean the very fact that they make you go through a post-deployment briefing to tell you about these resources and to help set realistic expectations of coming home is something new and an effort to normalize the discussion. I know it is not enough, but I think (I hope) that leaders like yourself, as well as command, are getting educated on how normal all this is , and how important, and can help encourage their men and women to seak help out.

We just buried a young marine vet of Iraq '91 August 22. His body died then, but his heart died before, in Iraq. What really killed him wasn't the drugs, but the emotional pain. Of course, he's a marine, he can take it. At least that was what he told himself all the way up to day he died . . .

I spent 1 year Naval Reserve, 4 years active AF, and 17 years with a moble unit in the AF Reserves. While in the reserves, I worked as a correctioal officer, prison counselor, and classification officer.
I saw plenty of vets with severe drug problems. We had two different drug programs that were very successful. Also, we were able to work with the judges to have a sentence reduced so that a vet could attend a very successful VA in-patient drug treatment program. This was followed by drug programs, and other treatment, while on probation.
What really astonished me was the number of vets in jail with drug problems. Why weren't their problems treated before they committed crimes? Where was the VA?
I am now retired, now. I am sure there are vets still coming to jail. This is a tragedy!

I know what you mean about fear of reprisal. Many of us have gotten hurt during field exercises or PT and chose not to go to the doctors due to fear your 1SG will ridicule you infront of the unit. (yes this happened to me) Staying in the field with 104 degree fever due to fear you will be called a cop-out.

I feel your pain; I've been thru it!

Do what you think is right for you and your family. if you need help, whether mental or physical go Get it. Don't fear reprisal from anyone because that person will not be the one looking after you.

Not asking for help when you need it is no solution. without some healing you will be depriving yourself of the life you deserve. Given all you've had to live through know that you are brave enough to ask for help when you need it. Stay safe.

I feel a little peculiar suggesting this, but have you considered Hospice? They are usually easy to find in every town, they do a lot of volunteer work, and in my town at least they have good, well-trained, open-minded people. They were pretty good with the death-related stress in my situation. They were also good about refering me to other resources in the community. I doubt this is an option for you in the field, hower. Conclusion: stay alive, get out, and then find your way. Also, being in a war tends to screw-up everybody, wether they admit it or not. I have yet to meet a single member of my generation that served in Vietnam that I would consider unscathed. Many became unemployable, homeless, or just plain nuts. Alcohol killed a friend, but I think it was Vietnam. (He didn't get his name on that wall.) Still, bad stuff doesn't have to stay bad stuff. You can get some distance on it, get some perspective, and find that your experiences give you strength and resilience. It works for me, at least sometimes. I try to grow, to accept life, to find the parts I like, and go that direction. I think the military mind has a reason for not admitting there is a problem. The reason: if you factor in the true cost of war, it looks unbearable.

Thank you for your service and for calling attention to this serious issue. I am a Vet and a lawyer who represents federal civil service employees including National Guard Techs. One of my NG Tech clients was activated and sent to Kuwait where he developed Major Depression. The Army’s solution was to diagnose him and treat him with Prozac– so far, so good. Unfortunately, Prozac affects cognition and judgment and is (or should be) dispensed with the caution that “driving or operating dangerous machinery or participating in any hazardous activity that requires full mental alertness is not recommended.” How many infantrymen and truck drivers are taking prescribed psychotherapeutic meds while continuing to perform their regular duties? My client continued performing his military duties for several months before he was released from active duty and returned stateside. One thing that apparently hasn’t changed since the Vietnam-era I served in– Army brass is morally and ethically bankrupt. This is yet another dirty little secret of Rumsfeld’s war. Soldiers with mental disorders are just as injured as those with physical insults and its beyond time that they were treated with the same compassion.

And you know, it's not just this way with mental health, but with health in general. I've had a fracture in my left hip for two years now and I'm just now getting a profile for it. Isn't it sad that we, as soldiers, feel like we can't say, "Hey, I'm hurt, I need a break," without being afraid of being riduculed? "She/he's just faking it. She/he just wants to get out of the upcoming APFT," etc. And then your chain of command treats you as a lesser person for it. You get shit-detail on top of being mocked while you do it. They say, "Go to sick call when you need it," but they don't really mean it. My husband, also military, had pnumonia for nearly a month and a half before his platoon sergeant "found time" for him to be able to get checked out. So, to all of you leaders out there who might pause to read this, pay attention to soldier care. Remember, we're the ones who watch your back while you catch a few zzz's. We're the ones who make sure your tent gets put up and we make sure we pull your ass out of the turret when the damned HMMWV gets rolled over in a blast. A soldier doesn't fight for ideals and orders from higher. A soldier fights for those brothers in arms and those leaders who take care of him/her. Take care of us, and we'll take care of you.

I work with folks in the service a lot, and I got to know a new bunch of guys recently & one of the first things that came up in conversation was doing PDB's. It seems the expectation is that you lie and say everything is cool. But, it's not allways cool, and the question is what to do, cause like a lot of things in the .mil there's too many mixed messages.

I didn't much like hearing this, but I understand it, and the conflict that the idea of needing help somehow makes you less of a warrior. Which is utter crap in my opinion and experience.

The idea that I've come up about this is that a warrior is a lot like a race car. If you don't change the oil periodicly, it's going to run like crap. In this case, dealing with what's happened is like changing the oil. The fact of the matter for me is that I've found dealing with PTSD issues has made me stronger, more able to handle it when things get hard, and afterwards.

Getting help is a lot like getting geared up, it's getting the right equipment to get the job done. It's just not smart to treat it any other way, and it's too damn bad the leadership can't figure this one out.

THIS IS THE WORD from an old vet. IF it is cut, bleeding or just hurts (physically or mentally) go get it treated. Make SURE they put it in YOUR MEDICAL RECORD (this is very important). If they want to talk bad about you then let them do it. There is nothing more disgusting then someone bad mouthing someone in NOT getting treatment. They do nothing but put everyone's safety at risk. There are a ton of Nam vets back here that didn't get it put in their record. NOW these guys cannot get treatment for it unless they want to pay for it out of their pocket. This is way wrong. You are fighting for US in OUR military WE deserve to pay for your treatment for anything that happens to YOU during your military service. Ask the Disabled American Veterans at WWW.DAV.ORG they will tell you the same thing.
MOST OF ALL REMEMBER," IF it is cut, bleeding or just hurts (physically or mentally) go get it treated. Make SURE they put it in YOUR MEDICAL RECORD."

PASS THIS ON TO EVERYONE YOU SERVE WITH. If they don't believe you give them WWW.DAV.ORG they will tell them.

NCO, you're at Campbell, AD, so my experience may be different than yours...

I'm a 1SG back from Iraq almost a year now, in a Army National Guard unit that was activated and deployed.

We had VA and Guard people all over us for 6 months at least when we got back. I've been through 4 Post Deployment reassessments. The VA in NY anyway is shopping for customers.

I would say 10-20% of our guys have signed up with VA, gone through physicals, got checked out, and put in some kind of claim for injury.

Some full-timers are afraid that info shared with VA will get to commands, units, etc., and get them tossed out. I don't think it happens, I haven't seen it. People can talk, but if it doesn't get entered or addressed in annual medical, they can't do anything.

I already had a permanent profile. As a 1SG dealing with the gamut, soldiers with real, partial, imagined, pretended, or "golden ticket," I know many of us get pretty jaded.

I know I thought some were phoney, and they were real; more often I believed when they were baloney. I always figured, that's up to the docs, medical staff, commanders. They make mistakes, but we have to do our best to help them do the right thing.

Like earlier posters, you have to be the one to take care of you. If you're broke, the Army needs to fix you or take care of you, or give you whatveer accommodation (perm profile) that lets you do your job. You let stupid people -- even leaders -- convince you to walk away or hide your problems, you let them win.

One last point. I have some difficulty with military stuff since being back, but it's MINOR compared to PTSD. Doesn't mean it isn't real, or important, but I can function.

I visited the VET Center, the counselors there were great, but like anything, better for some than others. VFW and AL can be good, too.

Don't minimize. Check out the help that's available. Find someone senior in your command (enlisted, officer, chaplain, other) who gets it and honors your service by respecting it, and you, enough to care about how you're doing.

A lot of Joes THINK everybody will think they're a wimp, or a wuss, but listen up: wars are the toughest of things, everybody reacts differently, you served your country and your country owes you to make sure you do OK. You'd be surprised. Many of your Senior NCOs and officers are affected too, and know the best thing they can do is create an atmosphere where soldiers can talk about what they've been through, and what's getting "stuck."

Just one Top who gets it

We are veterans helping veterans. Contact your GWOT Tech in KY. (Every state has one) Look for them at under the Vet Centers. I spent 22 years in the Infantry and understand what its like outside the wire.

I wish more military personnel would get counseling after returning from deployments. I have had two serious relationships with men who have been in Iraq or Afghanistand. The first was in Iraq during the first Desert Storm. He was so jumpy that if you bumped his foot in the middle of the night he grabbed the gun next to the bed and was ready for battle with his now imaginary foe. It was just the level of alertness he was on constantly. This led to an alcohol and drug problem which he did receive counseling for with AA and NA. He, like so many others, would not have the VA provide counseling, even if other medical care was given by them. It wasnt until he overdosed that he ended up in AA/NA and has been clean for 12 years now. The other relationship with a man in the Air Force was more recent and after his deployment in Afghanistan. He worries about everything. He worries that the kid in the grocery store will have a gun or that someone in a large crowd will target him, because soldiers are the targets. We also discussed not getting married because he is afraid that his experiences will ruin it, such as seeing many of his friends die, watching others committ suicide, abuse their families, and have wives that run around on them while they are deployed and it all leads to divorce. These guys need help coping.

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