As we enter 2007 and begin to make resolutions to better ourselves this New Year, all Americans should share in one new promise to take care of the soldiers returning home from Iraq. Most Americans put yellow ribbons on their cars and believe in supporting the troops, and fully believe in providing the care needed by those returning home. Unfortunately, many soldiers are not getting the care they have earned.
I spent over 14 months deployed to Iraq fighting in both Baghdad and Najaf as a Captain in the Army's 1st Armored Division. I worked closely with my soldiers during our time in one of Baghdad's most volatile sectors first as a Platoon Leader, later as a Battalion Commander's Adjutant, and later in Najaf during Moqtada Al-Sadr's initial uprising in the spring of 2004.
While I feel blessed for coming out of this deployment physically unharmed, I do know that my experiences have changed me as a person. As a 24 year old man I led men into battle and understand the horrors that accompany war. At the same time I also understand that my experience was much less violent than some of my soldiers and that whatever adjustment anxiety I learned to work through many suffer much worse. One of my soldiers in particular has undergone enormous mental suffering from the combination of our first tour together and his second deployment with the 4th Infantry Division. He fell through the cracks. We need to prevent this from happening again.
I received the following email the week before Christmas:
Hi. It's me. I'm sorry for what happened. When I decided to kill myself, I had no idea how it would impact you. I had no idea it would hurt you so badly. I never realized that my decision would hurt so many people so much. I never meant to cause so much pain. I was just so blinded by my own pain that I couldn't see anything else...I want to ask you to do something for me. I want you to do something to help others when you feel you're ready. You could help others who have had friends or loved ones kill themselves, or you could help people who are suicidal now. Whatever you do, please help the hurting stop. I wish I could turn back time and make things different, but I can't...I guess I should be going now, but tell everyone what I said. I'm depending on you to spread the word. Bye for now, I Love You
The e-mail was sent by my friend, Michael Goss, a man who proudly served in the Army for nearly 9 years. He rose to Staff Sergeant in six years, which is uncommon in the Field Artillery. Mike gained numerous accolades to include three Army Achievement medals and the one dearest to his heart, the Combat Action Badge.
It was during Mike's second deployment to Iraq that he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Mike became obsessed with defeating the enemy. He woke up constantly from nightmares. He saw his friends die. He unloaded a M-16 magazine into a car at a check point, only to discover, to his horror, it was a father and his three daughters. They all died. Mike wrote this on July 14, 2006:
As soon as we cleared the tall brush all hell breaks loose. RPGs and Automatic gunfire. NOW I'm scared. I look past the Humvee with the Soldier crouching behind and see that he's firing at multiple men in the street... I look over a the burning Humvee and see a Soldier moving. I run to him but CPL Bibby's rounds are cooking off in the Humvee. I run anyways to him and pull him out. I hand him over to a Soldier on the back of a Humvee that had a Soldier on the tailgate of the Humvee. He cradles Bibby from under his arms and they drive off fast. I know he's dead I tell myself. I look away as his face seems to look at me. I feel sick now.
These experiences haunted Mike and this led to his PTSD. Mike's Commander in Iraq reacted to his diagnosis by placing Mike on security details guarding his unit's base. It was on one of those details that his command accused Mike of in being in violation of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice for providing a group of children construction materials that he had found in a trash bin. Mike thought he was helping the children, but his command saw it another way and soon he was sent back to the states to receive an Article 32 hearing.
After nearly 9 years of service, SSG received and other than honorable discharge and was being rushed out of the military at Fort Hood and dumped into the civilian world. During the Army's efforts to push Mike through the system they neglected to address the one core issue that surrounded most of these issues, his combat-related PTSD.
All of Mike's fears came true as he was improperly denied medical care at a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital because of his Other than Honorable discharge. VA ignored their own rules by overlooking the fact that Mike received two honorable discharges from previous enlistments, thus entitling him to VA medical care. This left Mike, his wife, and three young children on their own to deal with his invisible Iraq War injury.
The following is from another of Mike's blog's dated August 1, 2006:
Lately my wife and I have been on bad terms. We don't communicate as much, our lives and love is more distant..I need a job, I need security, I need PTSD counseling, I need VA, I need a home....I need so much shit..and the only thing I think I'm losing my family is due to this discharge...I don't look for pity or have I ever...Just wish I knew the answers...She might leave me soon. And then Ill be lost again...
These are the events that led Mike Goss to send the email I received. Mike's lucky, his family and friends have pulled together to help his through this time. It is a continual struggle. I asked Mike for permission to use his story, and I finish in his words:
Sir, asking me shouldn't of even have crossed your mind. You WILL speak specifically about me. We need to fix what's broke, and I have No problem letting people know that I am an example of a broken government and the way they treat their "OWN"...Don't let them do another Soldier like this again!
America's New Years resolution must be to promise soldiers like Mike that this will not happen again!
Vice President of Policy
Veterans for America