Operation Recovery

The Fort Hood Testimony Report

Dan Michaels *

Active Duty US Army, NCO, One deployment

 

Editor’s Note: Dan Michaels* a white active duty soldier and Non-Commissioned Officer in his late forties from the southern US He did not deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan, but previously spent time in Bosnia. His wife, Debbie, is an African-American medically-retired NCO and veteran of Desert Storm, as well as the second Iraq War. She is also from a major city in the South. Debbie had several duty stations prior to Fort Hood. She worked for fifteen years as a nurse and five years in chemical. After working near burn pits in Iraq, Debbie’s health began to deteriorate. While in the process of being medically retired in 2009, Dan got orders to come to Fort Hood and Debbie came along.

Debbie has developed avascular necrosis, and is severely disabled. Debbie encountered numerous barriers to getting her medical concerns addressed after transitioning to Fort Hood, and Debbie and Dan found that many civilian providers were similarly unprepared to care for her illnesses. Due to the amount of advocacy and coordination involved in meeting Debbie’s care needs, Dan assumed greater and greater care responsibilities while also working full-time for his unit and looking after his own injuries. Dan spoke of being fiercely devoted to caring for Debbie’s health, both as a matter of duty as a husband, and as a matter of responsibility towards those who have served in combat. Most of Dan’s unit was in Afghanistan at the time of the interview, and he had stayed behind with his unit’s rear provisional, which was often short-staffed. Dan was grappling with the ways in which his decision to prioritize his wife’s health needs had negatively impacted his career advancement in the Army.

Dan also shared many reflections on his wife’s transition to VA care. He expressed concerns over the quality of care in general, but praised new initiatives like the Veteran Caregiver program. Dan shared his reflections on his own experience with military sexual trauma early in his military service, as well as his efforts to support lower-enlisted soldiers in his role as a Non-Commissioned Officer.

 

I joined the Army because I grew up as an Army brat and wanted to be a part of what I saw around me. And both [my wife and I] wanted to be part of something bigger. We both joined in the early nineties.

We got to Fort Hood in November of 2009 and Debbie had just retired. Our former primary care manager had given her enough pain medicine, he thought, to last us until she got a primary care manager here. We came here under the Exceptional Family Member program. Coordinations were supposedly made so that her records would be transferred from [the last duty station] to Fort Hood. We had spoken with the EFMP coordinators here at Fort Hood before we ever left. They said “Yes, you’ll be assigned a primary care manager immediately upon your arrival.” So when we left [our previous duty station], we felt comfortable that we would go from one PCM to another seamlessly. That was the whole point of the EFMP program: continuity of care.

It turns out that that is not the case. Debbie had fallen down the last two of our stairs and she was hurt badly enough for me to bring her to the ER on post. They triaged her, gave her a bit of Motrin, and sent us home. Two days later, we received a letter in the mail stating that she would not be seen at Carl R. Darnall hospital again. They did not give a reason why. They just stated that she would not be seen. On the reverse side of the letter there were several off-post providers that they recommended. Being in the EFMP program, they are not supposed to accept a soldier’s family at an installation unless they have someone who can treat her condition, or someone in the immediate area who can. They have no one here who can treat her condition. Her primary condition is avascular necrosis. Bilateral hips and knees. There’s a doctor [a provider off-post] who has the ability to care for her, but refuses. Really, the only treatment they can give her is a hip replacement. They don’t want to do it. Yet, I know of two soldiers in my brigade that have the same condition and they have been treated. They are walking. Debbie can no longer walk. She can walk briefly, but if she takes more than ten or fifteen steps, she is on the ground. They have treated these soldiers, but they won’t treat her. They would not treat her when she was active duty. And now she is retired and, again, they will not treat her.

We never got a reason [for her being denied care at Darnall]. I brought the letter to my chain of command. They made phone calls and inquiries. They were given statements such as, “Well, she just needs to go find an off-post provider through Tri-care.” And we worked our way through virtually every provider in this area. But nobody was comfortable treating her. We have seen at least 12 providers in the Killeen area.

[The medicines required to manage her pain are not just prescribed to anybody. But because Michael Jackson had died that Fall, the hospital wouldn’t give anything like morphine or Toradol or anything like that. What we were told [at the civilian hospital], was “Michael Jackson died. You are not going to get any morphine.” There is a big stigma…After we ran out of all the [civilian] providers, we were finally able to get her seen at Darnall [on-post]. And we have a really good primary care manager now. But the fact that it took two and half years for that to happen is unacceptable. Not just because it is Debbie. That is the thing. If it has happened to us, it has happened to someone else, or it will happen to someone else. To have to keep fighting and searching for other providers—She has been accused of drug-seeking. She takes less medication now than when she was active duty. And that is by choice. That’s a big issue army-wide. People are being accused of drug-seeking. And I get there are people out there who will do that. But you don’t throw out the whole vineyard for one bad grape.

My wife’s health issues are all service-connected. They are still debating what causes avascular necrosis. We have a pretty good idea that it is associated with the burn pits that everybody is being exposed to. I had never heard of this condition until I met my wife, but it’s becoming more and more prevalent. The more I talk to people, the more I find out that they were the ones standing there monitoring that burn pit. Plus, the fact that my wife was also [working in chemicals]. She was constantly exposed to different chemicals like super-tropical bleach and a myriad of other chemicals.

Editor’s note: Dan also raised concerns regarding the unknown effects of vaccinations which were administered to, but poorly tracked among, soldiers deploying to the first Iraq War, Desert Storm, including his wife.

She was never somebody that went to the gym a lot. You hear about avascular necrosis among steroid users. She is very slight, slender. But she did have to monitor those burn pits almost daily. And knowing that there were lithium battery fires where she was in Iraq, and heavy metal poisoning—it is effecting a lot of people in their bronchial passages and blood streams and brains.

[When problems started] in 2005, people kept saying that it was in her head. That she was making things up. Because they couldn’t see it on a standard x-ray. And you won’t. Something that deep in your bones, you are gonna have to look at it on an MRI. [She got an MRI] after about three years. It was [civilian clinic] who discovered it. They are actually a major cancer hospital here in Texas. She went there herself.

By the time we met in May of 2008, she had been transferred to the WTU (warrior transition unit). At that time, the WTU just seemed to be a holding area for people commanders didn’t want, people that were somehow physically injured, or what have you. Her PCM referred her for MEB and eventually she was put on a temporary retired duty list so that she could seek treatment. Then, of course, we got to Fort Hood and she could get no treatment whatsoever. So she was 100% retired the following year.

When she first received a diagnosis, her commanders responded the same way a lot of commanders respond to this day. You know, this idea that it is malingering. Just because you can’t physically see what’s wrong with a soldier does not mean there is not something wrong with that soldier. Her commanders were always putting her on day-on day-off staff duty. Twenty four hour shift, go home, then another twenty four hour shift. They treated her like she was the scum of the earth, especially when she had the nerve to speak up for soldiers’ rights. God forbid you do that, or you are bucking the system.

Back then, you are in WTU for a random condition, and you are prescribed medications that prevent you from driving. Yet, you are expected to be at said location at said time and you live in government housing, or worse, off-post. How are you going to get to work? The unit is not going to support you. Now they have the WTU bus. The Warriors in Transition Transportation shuttle. A soldier has to have their medication to treat their condition, and you can’t expect them to drive on that medication. You would have, at best, a bunch of DUIs. At worst, you can imagine what else—you see lots of accidents here.

The doctor prescribed this medication because he or she favors the benefits over the risk. So the medications are not really the root issue. The root issue is the lack of support from the units. I have got soldiers in my squad that I go pick up everyday, because I know there is no way they should be driving on the medications they are on. They have to take them, because if you don’t take a medication you are going to be in trouble for violating a direct order. You cannot have it both ways. You have to take the medication as prescribed, and if you do not, you get in trouble.

Every NCO in the Army should be [supporting their soldiers]. If they are not, they need to be put out. I have got a soldier who is on a limited duty profile. She has a lot of appointments that she has to attend. She is the only one in her section. The majority of our unit is deployed to Afghanistan right now. We are the rear provisional. She goes so far as to publish her appointments in her outlook calendar and share it with her entire chain of command. And when a random soldier comes by and asks for random document, and she’s not there, then the soldiers or others NCO or officers state that she is never at work. Everyone knows that’s not true. But then the command does not back her up. She’s been written up for this, and the commander and first sergeant make sure to do it when I am not around. You should not counsel a soldier without their NCO present.

I know that we need to support the draw down. Everybody understands. So when the order came out, basically to cut the fat, there was no guidance given with that order. Commanders were basically handed that ball and told run with it. People are being put out for the most random things. That is not what the intent of the army was. They are having to back pedal now and clarify that.

And there should be no unit so under-manned that they can’t perform their mission, and at the same time, take care of the soldiers in that unit. Including that yes, units need to deploy, but you do not leave their provisional or their rear detachment so short of personnel that [they cannot function]. As a supply [NCO for my brigade], I am authorized a supply clerk, yet the S-4 took the clerk up to their area and refused to give him back. Now it is just me running this entire supply room. And how is one person supposed to support 75 people? There is no way. They are asking for failure.

When I approached them about it, they tried to make it a non-issue. “Oh, you’ve got it covered. You don’t need a clerk.” I have a wife to take care of. I can’t be there 24/7. That is the whole reason we double up on soldiers. We all know there is stuff that needs to get taken care of. You can’t just live at the office.

Some of Debbie’s appointments, we have to go [forty miles away]. I have to leave with enough time. [Referring to interviewer’s direct interaction with Debbie] You just saw her. It is not easy getting her into a vehicle and packing up her wheelchair to get her to where she needs to be, getting her dressed and fed and everything else. In that aspect, my chain of command is very supportive. But in terms of when I leave—the supply room is shut down. Nobody is getting anything. And you know, I had to finally come to the realization that if I do not take care of myself, if do not take care of my wife, I won’t be able to take care of them. You know?

Editor’s note: During the course of the interview, Dan spoke about his own experience with military sexual trauma earlier in his military career.

In Korea on Camp [redacted], I was actually sexually assaulted by a female soldier. I was on sleep medicine and forgot to lock my barracks room door. I woke up and she was on top of me with her hands around my throat…I knocked her off of me. She ran out of the room. The MP station in the medical clinic was right behind my barracks and when I went there asking for help, I was laughed at. When I called my first sergeant, he said he wished that had happened to him. I had to live in the same barracks that she did. She was in [another unit], but I had to see her everyday. And I know I wasn’t the only one that she did that to. I carried that around until 2010 when I was finally able to get a counselor that took me seriously.

The sad fact of the matter is, is that is still the response of commands. I was letting my former supervisor know that I had to go and see a counselor and at the time I had enough trust in her to tell her why and I went to my first appointment with Lt. Commander [name redacted] on west Fort Hood, and when I came back from that appointment, my supervisor was discussing what I had told her in an open forum in my unit. I brought it to my commander. She took it seriously. And eventually my former supervisor was removed from the unit. They were able to at least address it as a HIPPA violation. A buddy of mine brought me to the chaplain, who at least listened to me without laughing.

Aside from that, it’s been something that to this day—I have issues even with my own wife wanting to touch me around my neck. If she is standing behind the bed, coming to wake me up in the morning, there are times when I’m just jumping out of my skin. I have made leaps and bounds from where I was to where I am now. I had gotten to the point where I wouldn’t let myself even be in this interview right now. I would have never let happen. I wouldn’t go into any business or any room without knowing that there was another exit that I could use to get away from whoever was in the room. Life has gotten much better. It is easier to manage. But [stress from the assault] will not be taken into account [during benefits evaluations], because when it happened it was not taken seriously. It was not put into my medical records. It was not addressed legally, ethically, medically. I could have been given an STD and not have known it, because the medics at the clinic, they just, [long pause] —they treated it as some sort of a joke.

Editor’s note: When asked what the Army could do better to address soldiers’ trauma, Dan shared reflections from Debbie’s return from deployments.

To put it in a nutshell, we spend all this time training our soldiers up. As my wife would phrase it, “Training for the big game.” Then, when the war is over, you are not un-trained. You see it all the time in the news. They never put it on page one, or even page two. Check page six, or check the Army Times. Some soldier has reacted violently to some situation. Something has happened in their household that—this couple could have been married twenty years, never had a single altercation of any form—and a soldier comes back from deployment a different person.

There is a schoolhouse about a block and a half away. And on Sundays during the school year they’ll test their fire alarm. If my wife is asleep when that sound goes off, she is hearing an alarm for incoming rounds. And I can’t count the number of times she’s thrown herself over me trying to protect me from some round that is forever incoming.

They don’t give soldiers a chance to off-load. And when they want to counsel the soldier, they will ask, right when the soldier gets off the plane, “Do you need to talk to anybody?” It is, like, “No, I want to get home to my family.” “Oh, well, okay, we can check the box here now.” Instead of maybe asking in theater, once you make it back to your rear, “Okay let’s talk about what happened.” How do we not forget it, but learn from it and carry on? And that is the biggest thing, is carrying on. You can not just permanently unload something like what these soldiers are experiencing.

I was talking with a buddy of mine this morning during PT. We were discussing that if you ever want a reality check, go by the burn ward in San Antonio. But what goes along with every one of those wounds that you can see is four or five that you don’t see…There are soldiers that respond well to counseling. Listening to my wife talk, I can understand a lot of what she has gone through. But at the same token, I can’t. Because I was not there. It would be nice to be able to have a counselor that was in the environment. Even at the VA—The VA’s gotten a lot better because there are more former soldiers, marines, sailors, in the VA now and that plays a big part. As well as better leadership. I mean, there is still much more to be done, but it is better than it was. The VA has made leaps and bounds from where it was. When we first got here and went to the VA, it was like every nightmare we had ever heard about the VA was true. From dingy grey walls to people being left on gurneys in the hallway. They were there when we arrived. They were there when we left. Over the course of two or three hours. You don’t see that anymore. Not to say they are perfect.

One of the things that needs to be done—and this needs to be in every community, everywhere—you pull up to any establishment and there’s maybe one, luckily two, handicapped parking spots. We are going to have so many more people that require those spots. It used to be years ago that there were always handicapped spots. But now. They are not prepared. Because what we see getting off of the planes and entering the hospitals today is going to turn into something worse long term. And they are not prepared for it. You cannot put a band-aid over a gaping wound.

When my wife applied for benefits, there was understandably a long delay, because there’s a huge bottleneck in the system. At the time, they rated her sleep apnea as a greater disability than her avascular necrosis. Now, don’t get me wrong, sleep apnea can lead to some debilitating situations. But AVN, because that’s a progressive incurable disease, needs to be rated higher—especially if it is in your hips. All they can do is replace your hips. They cannot treat it. There is no treatment. Even now, they don’t want to treat it. They just want to manage it. I could be wrong, but I think if they were to replace her hips after she healed, she would be in a lot less pain. I know two soldiers who have had it done and they are out walking around just fine.

What we really need, across the spectrum from active duty to VA, is continuity of care. You should not have to go re-live all of your experiences every time you go to an appointment. That is why we have medical records. If doctors and PAs would take more time to research their patients before the appointment, instead of trying to function like an HMO operated hospital where you are allotted fifteen minutes per patient—that should not be the case in any hospital, let alone a VA hospital. It makes problems worse because then you are left feeling and knowing that you didn’t get appropriate treatment, that you weren’t listened to. You may have been prescribed an incorrect medication.

Last week, we were to go to kinesthesiology in the VA on a referral for what’s called a rollator. Basically it is a walker, but it has wheels and some hand brakes and there’s a seat. It is to help encourage the patient to walk as much as possible. My wife could probably walk to the mailbox down the street, but she wouldn’t be able to make it back. The rollator would help with that to an extent. The recommendation was put in for an electric scooter. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love taking care of her, but I have my own back problems and neck problems and these things get worse over time. I hope to be able to, but I don’t see myself being able to push her wheelchair twenty years from now. It would give her a little more independence to have a scooter or something of a similar design. That referral was put in by her PCM. Kinesthesiology cancelled that referral without ever seeing the patient. Just cancelled it.

The doctor didn’t even show up for the appointment. I asked the tech why it was cancelled. She could not answer the question. We wound up back at the PCM’s office and the doctor said that it is up to the kinesthesiologist to either accept or deny the recommendation or referral. I got that. That is that doctor’s specialty. But what does it say to the patient when you cancel the appointment and one, don’t tell the patient, and two, don’t give her reason as to why? That’s one way to really lose the respect of anybody. And it was very angering. It’s a depressing situation, because it is kind of a recurring theme. If it has happened to us, it has happened to someone else.

Editor’s note: Dan is unwavering in his sense of responsibility to his wife. When asked how caring for his wife had impacted his own career, he felt he had been left with no choice.

I actually say that [looking out for my wife] has probably cost me my career. Because I’ve had to bring her to her appointments. What I was saying about the other soldier, about, “Oh, she’s never here.” That used to be said about me. I used to be the property book manager for my unit. I managed the property for the entire brigade. And I was proud of that. But I was taking care of my wife and I was also undergoing treatment for myself. I had torn the meniscus out of my knee. So I was, quote, “always on appointment.” And that led to me getting a sub-par review. Which led to me not being picked up for [a higher rank]. So now, I am preparing to retire because I have no other option. I would love to stay in until the army said, “Hey, take the uniform off, grab your lunchbox and go home.” But now that is not to be. I will be retired by October of next year. I won’t be eligible for promotion. I went from being very proud to now, I’m a stagnant soldier. I can’t progress.

Think about if I had gone a different way and said, “Wife, drive yourself to the appointments.” And then something happened to her. Now I’m not taking care of my family. And I still get put out. You can never do the right thing. I know you can’t please them all the time. But when you try to do the right thing all the time, you still wind up getting screwed.

Editor’s note: Dan described the occasion of one of his own injuries, when he tore a meniscus.

I was participating in PT and all I was doing was getting up from doing sit-ups. And the meniscus popped out. They call it a bucket handle tear. I drove myself to the ER. They wanted to do an x-ray, but soft tissue injuries don’t show up. So they say, “Oh, you just sprained it. Take it easy for a couple days.” Then my knee starts swelling up. I can’t walk on it. I go back to the doctor, who hands me a couple Motrin. And so this was in October of 2010. They didn’t even give me real pain medicine, let alone find out what was really going on with me until December 2010.

Monthly, every unit does the unit status report. And it covers equipment, personnel, shortages, goals that are met, goals that need to be met. And if a vehicle is dead-lined or is down for whatever reason, every commander will be up in arms. “Oh, you better bring that vehicle back up.” But when the driver of that vehicle goes down, nobody gives a shit. Think about that. I’m the only driver in my company. Everybody else either can’t drive, isn’t licensed, or is a captain, or a sergeant major, or what have you. They aren’t going to be driving. So, yeah, the vehicle is great, but the driver is screwed. And I asked that in the form of a question to my brigade commander. I said, “Hey, why is it that parts get ordered for that truck that goes down, but when the driver needs fixing, nobody cares?” And he said, “Hey, you are right.” And I said, “Well, can we get on it?” Because I had been back and forth, back and forth to the hospital over and over again. And actually it took my wife, who at this point, was just blind with rage—she called up to my unit and—she was so upset. She spoke with the brigade commanding officer, the lieutenant colonel. And that actually got the ball rolling.

I finally got an MRI. Finally they realized what was going on with me. And then they did the surgery mid-December. Once they finally figured that there’s something actually wrong with this soldier, then treatment happened very quickly. But it’s getting them to do their jobs. You know, we’re back to the fifteen minute rule. Fifteen minutes or less. We’ve had providers who have only looked at their computer screens. Never once looked at my wife. This is a neurologist at the VA. He wouldn’t even speak to us. He would only go through his computer screen and we had hard copy reports of MRIs as well as the discs of those MRIs. He didn’t want to see them. Only what was on his screen. And then he said, “Well, I don’t think you have a TBI. You need to go somewhere else.”

She does have a TBI. And it was a doctor outside the VA that ordered the MRI to determine. It never should have gone that far. It’s hard to say what caused [the TBI]. She had a car accident some time ago, and I know that she was exposed to a blast in 2003. And then she also had a medication-induced seizure from two conflicting medications in 2005 and fell down. We had a two flight set of stairs and she fell down all of the stairs and hit her head on the first floor.

She wasn’t screened for TBI until [the civilian pain clinic]. She was listening to me when I expressed concern. There are times, honestly, that I’m talking to my wife and it’s like I’m talking to somebody who has early onset Alzheimer’s. Because we can have a whole conversation and five minutes later, I find myself in the exact same conversation. First time it happened I thought she was just messing with me. I just went along with it, because I wasn’t sure if she was messing with me. I didn’t even see a hint of a smile or anything. And it happened again. And she is forever misplacing things. She’ll see bright flashing lights when there are none. She also sometimes has issues remembering what happened. And so anytime that she’s had a fall down the stairs or has fallen out of bed, I keep a log of that. And I bring it to the appointments because the doctors needs to know. She won’t remember things like that. Just a number of things. I brought this up to the doctor, the [civilian] PA actually. She happened to be reading a copy of the Army Times and she said, “You know, what you just described sounds a lot like what I just read about.”

I have gotten some good support through the Veteran Caregivers’ program. We don’t have very friendly neighbors. Matter of fact, we have a very racist neighbor to this side of us. Then the neighbor over here, you know, she’s out of the home a lot. People come and go from these houses. We don’t even know who lives over there. People move so often. Not a lot of people around here that we can rely on. There are times I feel like I’m on an island. I feel like I’m having to do everything all by myself. Which, I don’t mind. That’s my wife. I’ll walk to hell and back for her. But, just knowing that I’m able to call their hotline if, even at a bare minimum, I need to talk to somebody or get advice. I know that I can call and request for someone to come, even to help her go shopping. Now this didn’t exist before 2008. I can only imagine what family members and friends of veterans were going through then. There are definitely a lot more resources available now.

Editor’s note: At this point, Dan clarified that at this point, Debbie had some VA coverage and Tri-Care. For acute care and emergencies, she goes to Darnall. For routine care, she goes to the VA. The couple was in the process of transitioning to 100% VA care, as Dan was getting ready to leave the Army.

The VA didn’t used to have case managers. You would just enter the system and blindly navigate and hope that you found your way through. Now they have a case manager at the VA. One of these people who has all the answers. Knows who to talk to and where to go for everything. And he’s prior service. And that really helps a lot because he was able to sit down and talk with my wife and she felt comfortable with him because he was able to describe some of the same things that she experienced. And that is something that I can’t do. It made her feel a lot more comfortable. A more trusting of the environment at the VA. They are more proactive in giving aids to help her living. And things that you don’t really think about. Like the toilet seat. You know, especially for someone who has lost a lot of weight—and my wife, she lost almost thirty pounds very very rapidly—she has a lot of areas that are more bony than they used to be and it is very easy for her to develop a decubitus, a bed sore.

In fact, she had them on the bottom of both feet. You know, you think about—for the better part of the day, I’m not here. And she can make her way from the bed to the bathroom without a problem, but let’s say she was there for five minutes—that can actually cause her harm. So they gave her an elevated and cushioned toilet seat so we don’t have to worry about that anymore. Sometimes trying to get my wife bathed can be like a wrestling match. So a shower seat is going to save my back. The VA has provided her things to make her just a little bit more independent. They were even able to give her some inserts for her shoes that can help relieve—so she won’t get those pressure sores. And they gave her these—I call them moon boots. They are boots that she sleeps in them to help off load her heels from the bed.

My current command, aside from how they have been responding to one of my soldiers—is supportive. It seems very oxymoronic. With the one soldier, they seem to be just gnawing at her, but when it comes to me, they are very supportive. Now, I have an idea that it’s because I’ve forced them to be supportive.

Remember I was describing decubitus? The bed sores and how I document everything? The evening that I came home and found my wife’s feet looking like that—I brought her to the hospital and took a picture. Smart phones are miracle workers. Then the following day when I had to tell my command about follow up appointments, at first they were like, “But—but—” And then I showed them the picture. “You want to take her? I mean, by all means, I’ll give you my address. You can even use my vehicle if you want to take her. If you need me here that bad, you can take her.”

There are times when if I didn’t have the [release] documentation that I do, that I would have been violating HIPAA. Discussing my wife’s health and her conditions with somebody who has the potential to do damage. You know, my unit, my brigade, has a hand in clinics on post. So they could very easily say or do something. Well let’s put it into this perspective, take it away from the unit for a moment—if you’ve ever served in the military in any capacity, you will never receive life insurance from USAA. Ever. You are uninsurable. My chain of command knows stuff about my wife that our own son doesn’t even know.

One change that the military needs to face in terms of the care of the individual soldier and the care of that soldier’s family is—there was a healthcare law passed in 2008 that every employer must allow their employees to attend their appointments within a reasonable amount of time. And in addition to that, you are authorized two weeks of medical leave per year. So the army, as an entity, needs to look at more of a legal standpoint, in addition to a more holistic standpoint. You can’t think about just the mission. You have to think about who is going to perform the mission.

I’ve had commanders who have had a negative impact on the entire unit because they themselves refused to seek healthcare. Two commanders ago, I had a commander who got into a car accident and her back was obviously messed up. You could tell just by the way she walked. She was not the commander we knew before. I kept pleading with her. “Go get checked out. Go, go, go, go.” And then one day it got so bad that—thankfully by this time she had gotten married, and I guess her husband somehow talked some sense into her. So you get some people who try to be, “Oh, I’m so tough. Even though something has happened to me, I’ll suck it up. Rub some dirt on it. Drink some water.” What does that say to that very young new soldier that just came in? “God, what do I have to do? Lose an arm if I’m hurting?” It sets a bad example. We have the soldiers” creed. And it says, “I will maintain my arms, my equipment, and myself.” And everyone seems to forget “myself.”

That is something that I’m trying to instill in my unit. There are a number of things that are in this book, The Phantom Warriors Handbook, I’ve explained to you the difficulties I’ve had in trying to get healthcare for my wife. Now, the installation commander at Fort Hood liked to push “family first.” They actually have a memorandum dated May 20, 2011 Subject: the Family First Corps. Their tenets of command always include family. Such as General Campbell’s command philosophy (reading): “My intent is to establish a corps that can deploy anywhere and execute any mission by instilling a focus on teamwork, comprehensive fitness of our war fighters, and leader development and training. We must remain focused on accomplishing all missions while ensuring the resiliency of our family teams.”

Beautiful words. But sadly, most of them just seem to be buzzwords. How can we call ourselves the “family-first corps” when we have soldiers that have to fight to bring their family member to an appointment? A family member that no less came here with an entire packet recognized under the EFMP program? How screwed up is that? It’s like a slap in the face. And yes, the mission. That is why we joined the army. The mission. But we can’t support the mission if we can’t support ourselves. I’ve spent twenty years supporting the army, and I’ve had one person supporting me. And when I can’t support her, I fail all around. Because it’s in my mind: “Shit. I’ve failed my wife. She’s hurting. This is going on—that is going on—” Now I’m not focused on the mission. Now stuff doesn’t get done. That wheel of misery just keeps spinning. So how do we stop that?

We need more people to actually read that soldiers” creed and the NCO creed. The NCO creed says “Soldiers are entitled to outstanding leadership.” But they are not getting it. And the soldiers have the creed, “I’ll maintain my arms, my equipment, and myself.” But they are not being allowed to maintain themselves.

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