Operation Recovery

The Fort Hood Testimony Report

Cory Williams *

Active Duty US Army, Infantry, Two Deployments

I am stationed at Fort Hood. I am a soldier on profile. I have been undergoing mental treatment lately, and I have knee issues. I am also pending a Chapter 14-2 Bravo for behavior caused by my mental status.

My profile is for my right knee. I have a 3.88cm ganglion cyst. I went to orthopedics, but they said it’s inoperable due to the location and proximity to everything else. They would have to tear apart my knee to fix it, and they said they would cause more problems than they would fix. My profile’s pretty much a ‘broken egg’ profile. I can’t bend, stoop, do any exercises on my knee, run, or walk. I’ve been prescribed a cane to assist me in my walking. I have also been issued a Texas handicap sticker because of the prescription for my cane.

In the past, when I was in the line unit, before I was on rear detachment, my unit would frequently make me, and other soldiers, do things that worsened our condition. One of the main reasons I was recommended to the MEB process is because the physical therapist and the provider at the Monroe Health Clinic both agreed that due to the nature of my job as Infantry, plus being in the military and the nature of the way the command treats their soldiers, that there was no way my knee could possibly get better while I was doing that. Because any progress I made would be too slow to be noticeable, due to the nature of the work.

One example of this is when my unit was getting ready to deploy. Typically in the military, you do a rotation at the National Training Center. As the rotation was coming up, I had an appointment with my medical provider at Monroe beforehand. I was talking to him about my knee injury, asking how it would affect my performance and my ability to do everything at NTC. And he said, “You’re probably not going to be able to do anything. They’re gonna put you on what’s called white cell, more than likely, which is where you do administrative duties or cleaning duties around the base.” I said, “Why even send me then?” And he said, “Oh, because they need the numbers.”

That’s a huge problem in the military. They not only lift peoples’ profiles that aren’t ready to be lifted, but they frequently deploy soldiers that aren’t ready to deploy, that aren’t mentally capable of deploying and are not physically capable of deploying. They deploy them to bolster their numbers. When I was first put on rear detachment, I went on leave, because I’m Jewish and it was one of our many holidays. I can’t remember which one it was at the time, due to memory loss. I had several NCOs from my line unit come and bang at my door at six o’clock in the morning. They told me to pack my bags, that I’m deploying. I questioned them, saying, “I’m undergoing an MEB process, it’s not even possible for me by regulation to deploy. How can I clear SRP, how can I physically do anything over there? What am I gonna be able to do, when I can barely walk?”

They said, “We don’t give a shit. Pack your bags, have them ready by Monday,” which is when my leave was supposed to be over. Two hours later, two more NCOs from my line unit showed up banging on my door and said, “Have your bags ready by noon. You’re deploying.” I said, “What about the MEB process?” They said, “We don’t care.” I said, “I’m on leave, what’s up with that?” They said, “The commander rescinded your leave because it’s more important for us that you deploy.”

I said, “Since I’ve only been on leave for two days, what about the 15-day leave that all the other soldiers were able to take before they deployed?” They said, “It’s too late for that. You don’t have time to take 15 days, so you can’t do that. You’re deploying, end of story. Be at work by noon.”

I packed my bags with my wife’s assistance, and proceeded to go to work. When I got to work, I questioned everybody about what was going on. The nature of my leave was religious, and I asked why that was being violated. The EO officer said, “I don’t give a shit. They need you to deploy, so you’re going to have to suck it up. Your leave has been rescinded.” So I sucked it up, my leave was rescinded. I then brought my bag to the motor pool, with the help of several other soldiers. My memory is kind of bad, so bear with me here. At this point they took me to SRP, after my bag was secured in the Connex. I’m a rather intelligent person, so I pulled aside the guy that was doing the briefing outside before they let anybody in, and I asked him, “Hey, I’m pending an MEB, am I even going to get past SRP?” He said, “No, you can’t even be here. You need to leave.”

So then, my NCO went to the parking lot and called his platoon sergeant. They talked on the phone for approximately five minutes, and then the NCO decided, “Hey, the platoon sergeant wants us to go inside and sneak you in, and clear everything you can.” At that point, we went in, we did the legal ID card, and all the stuff we could do that didn’t bring up any red flags with medical. As soon as I got to medical, they asked my NCO, “What the hell is he even doing in here? He can’t deploy, his medical status is Red on AKO. He can’t even do a PT test, what makes you think he’s okay to deploy?”

The day after that, they did a PT test for a record for the company—this is a big example of them violating my profile. My profile said I can’t do sit-ups and I can’t run, but they told me to come to the PT site anyway. When we arrived at the PT site, I did the pushups and then they told me, “You need to do at least two events, so now you need to do sit-ups.” I told them, “I can’t. It’s on my profile that I can’t.” They said, “We don’t care. We need a number of people to pass. We know you’re a capable soldier, so we know you can pass.” I passed by one sit-up. The whole entire first minute out of my two minutes doing the sit-ups was me and another soldier holding my feet, trying to bend my knee into a position where I could even do sit-ups, because they couldn’t even count them unless my knee was at a perfect ninety-degree angle. I had lost 98% of the mobility in my knee, which makes that a rather difficult task.

Frequently, throughout my military career, the issue comes up of, “Why didn’t you go on sick call?” There have been several times where I went to get on sick call. But to go on sick call you have to, first of all, have approval from your squad leader and your platoon sergeant. Then you have to fill out the sick call slip. After you have the sick call slip, they have to have it signed by the first sergeant. A lot of the time he’s not even there—or any first sergeant I’ve ever seen—isn’t there early enough to get that signed for the soldier to be able to get to sick call on time. And this becomes now really apparent, now that I’m actually going through the MEB process, and they’re asking me, “What’s wrong with you?” and I’m trying to make my VA claims. They keep asking me why I haven’t been to sick call more.

Beyond that, there’s a huge stigma of, “Oh you’re weak, you don’t need to go to sick call. Suck it up, suck it up, suck it up.” The nature of my knee injury would have never been as bad as it is if it weren’t for that stigma. When I first injured my knee, I got twisted up in the gunner harness of the MRAP. I went to the medic, and he said, “You hyper-extended your knee, here’s a one-week profile.” With that week off, it got a little better. I did ice therapy on my own, and that kind of stuff, when ice was available to me. When we got back to Fort Hood, everybody went on spring break, and those of us that didn’t go on spring break were doing normal PT. While I was turning around doing sprints, I twisted my knee again. And when I went to sick call the next morning, they said, “Oh, you hyper-extended it again. Here’s your one week profile.” After a week my knee had actually gotten worse this time, and I went back there. They said, “It just takes some people longer to heal than others, but we don’t think you need to be on profile anymore.”

At this point, we had Expert Infantry Badge training coming, and that’s something that takes precedence over all kinds of other stuff. It’s a pretty huge skill to those of us who are Infantry. My knee was constantly giving me pain. I sucked it up, as is the norm in the Army. Suck it up, it doesn’t matter if it hurts, you’re a soldier, soldier it out. So we go through the EIB training, which means doing 12-mile marches on my own. I was doing 12-mile marches with the company, frequent other marches with the company, plus all this other extra PT, and going out to ranges all the time. My knee was getting worse very quickly.

When I did the EIB the first time I did it, I was in another brigade, because I was once considered a ‘squared away’ soldier, a soldier who is really on top of his game. I’ve been in the horse detachment. I’ve been in the color guard. I have been studying for the E-5 and the E-6 board, both since I was an E-1, because I had a really good squad leader when I was deployed. So I took EIB as something very important for me to do, and I gave it my all. But they said, “You’re so squared away, we’re gonna send you with the other brigade that’s doing it first, that way you can come back and train our soldiers.” When we were doing the run, due to my knee, I missed my run time by six seconds, so I didn’t pass the EIB standards, and I wasn’t able to get it then. When I went with my brigade, I once again failed the run due to my knee being all jacked up. After that I felt like EIB wasn’t an issue anymore, so I decided to go to sick call. Sick call said, “Tough luck. We cant do anything for you, because it’s a previous injury. You’re gonna have to set up an appointment.”

I immediately called to set up an appointment. But the medical staff at Fort Hood is so overwhelmed that my appointment was a month out. So we were doing a company run a couple of days later, and my knee swelled up to about the size of a grapefruit, and I had to stop running. The whole time I had NCOs calling me a pussy, and saying, “Fuck you, what’s wrong with you? Fucking keep running, don’t you fall out. You’re a piece of shit soldier.” So I started running again, with a severe limp, and I had one NCO come over and say, “Hey, I’ll run with you,” and he told the other NCOs to back off. So it’s not absolutely every person in the Army that acts like that, which tells me this can change. As it stands right now, I would say about 95% of the NCOs in the Army all have that mentality of, “You’re a soldier, suck it up. Why are you falling out? You’re supposed to be better than everybody else, you’re a soldier.”

After I finally got my doctor’s appointment, I found out I had a 3.88cm cyst in my knee, proximal to my PCO, that was pushing pressure on my sciatic nerve and an artery, which causes circulation problems. This explained why my foot kept randomly falling asleep, and why that foot would get colder than my other foot. It explained a lot of stuff. After they read the MRI, the provider at Monroe said, “We’re going to send you to pain management, and see what they can do.” Pain management ordered for it to be drained, which is a pretty standard procedure with a cyst. They stick a needle in, pull the plunger, and it drains the cyst, and there you go, pressure relieved. Well, they went to stick the needle in and they couldn’t get it into the cyst. Due to the length of time it had been there, it had calcified, which basically means it had turned into bone. The only option to get it out at that point is surgical. So they sent me to orthopedics. This whole time I’m doing physical therapy as well. Orthopedics said, “Because of where the cyst is, and because of its size, we would have to completely deconstruct your knee to be able to fix it. So we are not going to do surgery. Surgery is not an option.”

I went back to the physical therapist and they said, “You’re improving, but not as much as you should be. You’re on profile, but your company’s got you doing all these details.” They had sent me to NTC and put me on kitchen personnel the entire time, which is longer hours than most soldiers work. You assist the cooks, wash dishes, wipe the tables down. It’s not the hardest work ever, but it’s the type of work that someone with my kind of injury should not be doing. So at that point, that’s when my primary care manager and my physical therapist both concurred that an MEB was due.

I took a lot of pride in being a soldier, so this all makes me depressed. And the way the chain of command behaves to a soldier that’s quote-unquote “broken” really

causes me a lot of anxiety, too. I’ve already been diagnosed with PTSD, which causes me a lot of problems. I’ve developed insomnia really badly because of that. In October, I was late to work three times in one week. Toward the end of September, I had noticed that my insomnia was getting worse and worse, so I went to sick call. They said, “Tough luck. That’s mental, we don’t do mental stuff. You’re gonna have to set up an appointment.” So I set up appointments, one with my primary care manager and one at the R&R Center. Both appointments were over a month out. So when it happened that I was late three times in one week, the rear detachment unit I was in decided, “Oh well, you’re a piece of shit because you were late, so we’re gonna give you an Article 15.”

I’ve never been in any kind of trouble in the Army, the entire time I’ve been in. The fact that I had that Article 15 worsened my depression, and worsened my anxiety, because I have to look at these people, I have to see my peers looking down on me because, “Oh look at him, he’s a shitbag, he got an Article 15.” I received help for my sleep issues, but that was after the fact. They just said, “Tough luck. It doesn’t matter. Just deal with it. You’re a soldier, soldier it up.”

This caused a domino effect, and I started having problems at home with my marriage, which caused me more depression, more anxiety, more stress, and worsened my PTSD. Little stuff started adding up at work. I started slipping on my annual report, I started getting in trouble for random stuff. I would completely forget that I had an appointment. I would stay up for three days before I would finally fall asleep—and that’s with the medication.

So now, the chain of command has decided that because my behavior was off, they are going to Chapter me out. Since they’ve made that decision, I’ve made progress. I’ve improved my condition. Because I’ve gone through a divorce, the marriage isn’t an issue causing me stress anymore. The MEB clinic has issued me a cane, which helps relieve pressure off my knee, and makes the pain less of an issue. The command climate hasn’t improved at all, but you can only hope for so much.

Another really important thing is that in the line unit, they say that if you get any kind of mental condition on your record, you’re going to get kicked out of the Army, and you’re not going to be able to get a job as a civilian. And while I know none of this is true now, back then it was all I had to go on. That’s what I heard from the people that were in charge of me, the people I had to look up to and listen to. So I always thought it was a bad thing to get mental status, which is why I never received treatment for having ADHD, which now I’m receiving treatment for.

I talked to other people in the military, and this isn’t just me. It’s a regular occurrence. This happens all the time with soldiers all over this post. I haven’t had much exposure to soldiers on other posts, but going through my own experiences and looking online for solutions, I have run across numerous forums and other soldier chat-rooms, where I’ve talked to soldiers at other posts that are going through the exact same stuff that I am. That helps a little bit, it makes me feel better knowing I’m not the only one. But it doesn’t change the fact that this is a severe problem, which needs to be addressed and fixed.

I’m still pending the Chapter, trying to fight that. Everything that happened in the Chapter was within one month, while the rest of my military career before that and afterwards has been really good. They’ve re-done the Chapter packet four times now, because I’ve already beaten it three times. And that should tell you how determined these commands are to get rid of soldiers by any means necessary.

 

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