Soldier Tyler Jennings says that when he came home from Iraq last year, he felt so depressed and desperate that he decided to kill himself. Late one night in the middle of May, his wife was out of town, and he felt more scared than he'd felt in gunfights in Iraq. Jennings says he opened the window, tied a noose around his neck and started drinking, "trying to get drunk enough to either slip or just make that decision." (NPR)
1 in 5 Iraq vets are coming home with a serious mental health problem like anxiety, depression, or PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Experts believe that over time, the number will reach almost 1 in 3.
How has the military responded to these wounded warriors? A new investigation by National Public Radio looked at troops diagnosed with mental health disorders, and concluded that "officers at Ft. Carson punish soldiers who need help, and even kick them out of the Army."
Five months before, Jennings had gone to the medical center at Ft. Carson, where a staff member typed up his symptoms: "Crying spells... hopelessness... helplessness... worthlessness." Jennings says that when the sergeants who ran his platoon found out he was having a breakdown and taking drugs, they started to haze him. He decided to attempt suicide when they said that they would eject him from the Army. (NPR)
The last thing Iraq veterans need is to face a new battle with the military here at home. Ordering troops with severe PTSD to continue their duties is like making a person with a broken leg run a marathon. And punishing them for their disease is a total outrage.
It's time for the military to step up. Just last week, they finally released new guidelines for troops suffering from mental health problems in theatre. It's a good start, but just issuing another memo isn't going to make difference.
As usual, the change needs to happen on the ground. A mandatory counseling session for all service members coming home from a combat tour would go a long way towards reducing the stigma of mental health treatment. And would help soldiers like Tyler Jennings get help before it's too late.