Army Ignores, Punishes Soldiers with Post-Traumautic Stress
NPR’s story by Daniel Zwerdling on the Army’s treatment of soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder is getting quite a bit of play in the blogosphere.
The crux of the story is that while “Army studies show that at least 20 percent to 25 percent of the soldiers who have served in Iraq display symptoms of serious mental-health problems,” the service culture basically tells those inflected to suck it up and act like men.
Almost all of the soldiers said that their worst problem is that their supervisors and friends turned them into pariahs when they learned that they were having an emotional crisis. Supervisors said it’s true: They are giving some soldiers with problems a hard time, because they don’t belong in the Army.
[Specialist Tyler] Jennings called a supervisor at Ft. Carson to say that he had almost killed himself, so he was going to skip formation to check into a psychiatric ward. The Defense Department’s clinical guidelines say that when a soldier has been planning suicide, one of the main ways to help is to put him in the hospital. Instead, officers sent a team of soldiers to his house to put him in jail, saying that Jennings was AWOL for missing work.
Alex Orum’s medical records showed that he had PTSD, but his officers expelled him from the Army earlier this year for “patterns of misconduct,” repeatedly citing him on disciplinary grounds. In Orum’s case, he was cited for such infractions as showing up late to formation, coming to work unwashed, mishandling his personal finances and lying to supervisors — behaviors which psychiatrists say are consistent with PTSD.
Sergeant Nathan Towsley told NPR, “When I’m dealing with Alex Orum’s personal problems on a daily basis, I don’t have time to train soldiers to fight in Iraq. I have to get rid of him, because he is a detriment to the rest of the soldiers.”
While this is cold-hearted and outrageous from an intellectual standpoint, it’s hardly surprising. Many will recall this famous scene in the movie “Patton:”
Patton: What’s the matter with you?
Soldier Who Gets Slapped: Well, I… I guess I… I can’t take it anymore.
Patton: What did you say?
Soldier Who Gets Slapped: It’s my nerves, sir. I… I just can’t stand the shelling anymore.
Patton: Your *nerves*? Well, hell, you’re nothing but a God-damned coward.
[Soldier start sniveling]
Patton: Shut up!
[Slaps him, once forehanded, then backhanded on the rebound]
Patton: I’m not going to have a man sitting here *crying*! In front of these brave men who have been wounded in battle!
[Soldier snivels some more, and Patton swings a vicious forehand slap, knocking his helmet away]
Patton: *Shut up!*
[to the doctors]
Patton: Don’t admit this yellow bastard. There’s nothing wrong with him. I won’t have a man who’s just afraid to fight *stinking up this place of honor!* You will get him back up to the front.
Patton: You’re going back to the front, boy. You may get shot, and you may get killed, but you’re going back to the fighting. Either that, or I’ll stand you up before a firing squad. Why, I ought to shoot you right now, you…
[pulls his service automatic. At that, the doctors leap forward and hustle the soldier out of the tent. Patton keeps shouting at the soldier’s back]
Patton: God-damned bastard! Get him out of here! Take him back to the *front! You hear me? You God-damned coward!*
[Takes deep breath]
Patton: I won’t have cowards in my army.
This was a real-life incident. “Soldier Who Gets Slapped” was named Charles Kuhl. Patton’s reaction was not a momentary lapse in judgment, either. He actually sent a memo out to the 7th Army on the matter:
It has come to my attention that a very small number of soldiers are going to the hospital on the pretext that they are nervously incapable of combat. Such men are cowards and bring discredit on the army and disgrace to their comrades, whom they heartlessly leave to endure the dangers of battle while they, themselves, use the hospital as a means of escape. You will take measures to see that such cases are not sent to the hospital but are dealt with in their units. Those who are not willing to fight will be tried by court-martial for cowardice in the face of the enemy.
While the Army’s culture has changed somewhat over the years, it still has very little tolerance for what is perceived as weakness. Soldiers who go on sick call for something less severe than a large caliber gunshot wound (What? A .22? Rub some dirt in it, you wuss.) or cancer are not held in high esteem.
Shaun Mullen found out first hand:
The notion that “you have to be a man” and not admit to pain or emotional distress runs deep in the military psyche. While I did not expect my sergeant to kiss my boo-boo or read me a bedtime story, my one (non-combat) injury while serving in the Army was treated with disdain and ridicule.
To some extent, this is a leadership and command problem that needs to be addressed. Largely, though, it is the mentality required of warriors. If there’s no crying in baseball, there sure as hell can’t be any in a foxhole.