The murderous rampage of Army Maj. Nidal Hasan almost two weeks ago at Ft. Hood has inadvertently reopened a nasty wound and I am glad. People are again talking about the mental health of our returning soldiers, but more importantly, talking about the stigma attached to both active duty and veteran military servicemembers who seek help for their seemingly irreconcilable bouts of rage, depression, anxiety, paranoia, guilt and other symptoms of trauma related to their service overseas. There are snowballing reports of war heroes belittled and shamed by commanders and fellow comrades for daring to fix themselves. They are “set apart” as freaks by those who don’t understand, and who have bought into the institutional mindset that real warriors don’t cry — that is, until someone close to them blows their head off, or puts a bullet into somebody else.
One has to be living under a rock not to see this happening on huge military installations all over this country. Last summer in a horrifying two-part series, The Colorado Springs Gazette wrote about the incredible homicide rate among the “Lethal Warriors,” a single 500-soldier unit otherwise known as the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, stationed at Fort Carson there.
Most of the 10 Fort Carson soldiers accused of murder, manslaughter or attempted murder since 2006 were from this unit. A number of suicides and suicide attempts were also from this unit, which is part of a brigade combat team that took more casualties in Iraq of any one unit stationed at Fort Carson so far, the report claimed.
The take-home hit in the gut was that the guys profiled in the story — some were in jail, others close it — were pretty much ignored by the system. Not not only that, but in some cases they were re-deployed to the warzone despite being hopped up on pain killers and anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds, and carrying rap sheets filled with violent crimes. It’s safe to say they were worse than zombies when they got back home. When they did seek help, they were kicked in the teeth by their superior officers’ scorn — a charge of course, that was denied.
Now comes Dr. Kernan Manion, a contracted psychiatrist with the Marines at Camp Lejune in North Carolina, who was sacked last summer for repeatedly warning of a coming “Columbine-style attack” on base if the mental healthcare there wasn’t improved. Mark Benjamin, a writer for Salon who has been living and breathing these issues for sometime in an attempt to call attention to this military crisis, wrote about Manion and his alarms in this report, published on Sunday.
Last April, two Marines at Camp Lejeune predicted to a psychiatrist that some Marine back from war was going to “lose it.” Concerned, the psychiatrist asked what that meant. One of the Marines responded, “One of these guys is liable to come back with a loaded weapon and open fire.”
They weren’t talking about Marines suffering from a tangle of mental and religious angst, like news reports suggest haunted the alleged Fort Hood shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. The risk they reported at Camp Lejeune was broader and systemic. Upon returning home, troops suffering mental health problems were getting dumped into an overwhelmed healthcare system that responded ineptly to their crises, the men reported, and they also faced harassment from Marine Corps superiors ignorant of the severity of their problems and disdainful of those who sought psychiatric help.
As Dr. Kernan Manion investigated the two Marines’ claims about conditions at the North Carolina military base, the largest Marine base on the East Coast, he found they were true. Manion, a psychiatrist hired last January to treat Marines coming home from war with acute mental problems, warned his superiors of looming trouble at Camp Lejeune in a series of increasingly urgent memos.
But instead of being praised for preventing what might have been another Fort Hood massacre, Manion was fired by the contractor that hired him, NiteLines Kuhana LLC. A spokeswoman for the firm says it let Manion go at the Navy’s behest. The Navy declined to comment on this story.
While military officials and the media examine whether the Army missed warning signs that might have indicated an unhinged Nidal Hasan was capable of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Manion’s Camp Lejeune story is a cautionary tale of what happens to those who blow the whistle on conditions for military personnel with mental problems.
There has been much talk from top brass about reducing the stigma and providing world-class healthcare to our returning servicemembers and vets, and we should have no reason to doubt their sincerity and the sincerity of thousands of officers and servicemembers, doctors and community caregivers. But as you can read here, there is a dam of institutional indifference and prejudice in the way of these noble goals.
As citizens, we more spectators to the vast military establishment than ever before, and it is nearly impossible for us to have any say in what happens in the war zone today. Even through our legislators we are mere silent observers of the Long War. But we should have a say in whether these men and women are put through another meat grinder when they come home. We have a say because if not now, they will eventually live among us, in our own communities, whole or broken, and we must hold the government that brought us these ugly wars, responsible for their care. Their stories are ever-important to that task and we’d be fools to ignore them.