Operation Recovery

The Fort Hood Testimony Report

Curtis Sirmans

 US Army veteran, Cavalry Scout, one deployment

 

Editor’s Note: Curtis is an African-American veteran in his late-twenties, originally from suburban Georgia. He had recently moved home from Fort Hood at the time of his interview in 2012, after serving nearly six years in the Army as a Cavalry Scout, including one deployment to Iraq.

 

I joined back in 2006. The whole purpose of me joining was I was interested in seeing some actual combat in Iraq. I just wanted to get that experience under my belt. And I guess you could say I thought highly of the military back then. I was 21.

I was interested in going in pretty much my whole life. And then I finally got in. I had a medical thing that I had to get waived, that burned up some time there. And after I finally got it straightened out, I went in two months later… I pursued the process by constantly nagging my recruiter, you know, staying on him about getting in because I had to get a waiver.

…To be up-front, back then, I wanted to kill someone, pretty much. That’s what I felt, at the time. And it sounds crazy, but that’s where I was at. It was [for] purely personal experience.

…I got medically separated out of the Army because of arthritis, nerve damage, a series of things that are wrong with my ankles. And through the whole process of me trying to get help with the pains that I was having, before they finally gave me the red flag and said you’re good to go, I had to fight to go to sick call. My leadership, at every level, would give me all kinds of crap about going to get help, and getting out of work, to go seek medical attention. And the doctors gave me a limited duty profile that says I can’t to x-tasks, because of my injuries, and I got even more crap from that. And it was a constant struggle of, “Hey I got a profile,” and then I would get treated differently because of that. That’s my personal experience.

The first thing is, “Well, you know what, you’re a shitbag. You’re not as bad or as broke as they say you are or your profile says you are.” They constantly poke holes in your argument like, “Well, I saw you walking fine a few days ago,” or something ignorant like that. Or, “You’re a shitbag, you’re a bitch, you’re a pussy,” there’s a rap sheet of names they could throw at you to deter you from using your profile or not doing work.

This stigma is pretty detrimental to soldiers improving themselves or helping their situation out, whether it be mental or physical. The stigma needs to go away because it’s not helping build the unit at all. It’s just making soldiers get worse physically because they’re not gonna get seen they’re just gonna keep running on their injuries. And then mental health, we know how that works, it just snowballs until something happens. And this can be prevented if the stigma would go away.

Army-wide, it’s pretty much the same thing. It’s the huge stigma that’s put out there towards soldiers who have issues, who have to go to the doctor, or go seek mental health. They give you all kinds of crap about it, and they treat you differently.

And that deters a lot of the newer soldiers from getting help. And then it comes down to the leaders, they put the stigma on the soldiers. And the young, impressionable soldiers, they pick the same stuff up, and they throw it back at their peers. So it’s like this big cycle of stupid. It never ends. And all these people, who needed medical attention, or need to go speak to mental health, they never get that help that they need, then their problems just snowball. And the medical stuff is brutally obvious, to the point that it’s like, really? Lots of times, injuries just go un-treated, and they blatantly should be taken care of. It’s right in your face, but people just don’t get stuff taken care of, until it gets so bad they can’t do anything.

While I was still in, when I first needed to get care for my ankles, while I was at Fort Hood, the first person you’d see on the ladder of medical treatment is the Physician’s Assistant. Usually they’re a captain, or a lieutenant. And these guys, their main goal is to send you back to your unit as quickly as possible. So you’re gonna get some half-assed treatment. There’s no way around it. They don’t really care, I think they’re ordered to do that. They’ll just rubber-stamp you. They’ll give you a two-day profile, a three-day profile, you know, “No running.” Something to, I guess, make your life a little bit easier, but it’s not a real fix. So nine times out of ten, you’re gonna end up needing to come back to this Physician’s Assistant.

And I’ve seen some Physicians Assistants who are pretty dismissive to people, and they have some serious injuries. It depends how long your injury lasts, it’ll kind of determine how the whole thing goes. If it’s something serious, you’re gonna have to keep going back. Hopefully you’ll get moved to a different PA, who’s gonna help push whatever you’re trying get straightened out forward, because lots of times it’s almost like a game. It’s like, “Here’s a one-day profile.” “Here’s a three-day profile.” If you come back, “Here’s a week-long profile.” Maybe you get some pain meds. And that’s about all they’ll do for you.

…If you come in there enough times, they’ll say, “Well, here. We’ll go that extra step and give you x-rays.” And you’ll wait some time for that. And then, the biggest killer—which I’ve seen some seriously broken soldiers have to deal with—as you keep coming in there for these little rinky-dink week-long profiles, or three-days, in between those trips, if your profile expires, you’re on your own, because your chain of command won’t respect your medical problem unless you have the paperwork, i.e. the profile, to have you covered from doing whatever got you hurt in the first place. And even if you have a bone sticking out, or something ridiculously obvious that’s like, “Hey, this soldier needs to not do this activity or work,” nobody cares unless there’s paperwork on it.

In my case, later down the line, the doctors ran through the gamut of different treatments for my arthritis and my deformed bone in my right ankle, and my bone spurs. And they said, “Hey, there’s nothing else we could do for you,” ’cause I continued to keep making those trips to sick call, “but we’ll give you as much Vicodin as you want.” And that started me on a trip on Vicodin, for almost two years now.

Editor’s Note: Curtis clarified that he was prescribed enough Vicodin that he developed a physical dependency.

And I’ve seen the same thing happen to some other folks too. The pharmacist will give you a quick run-down about how the stuff is serious, and what-not. And then, certain docs, PAs, they’re hesitant to give you the stuff because some soldiers will abuse it. So they’ll give you a run-down. And then, they’ll find out that I’ve been taking it for a long time, and they’re like, “Well, if it’s not doing anything for you, you should probably get off of it.” I hear that a lot.

But I mean, it’s kind of on the soldier to be responsible with the stuff, if it’s prescribed to them. So the Army will cover their end by telling you that it’s potentially addictive, and don’t abuse it, follow the prescription to the T. But at the same time, I mean, it’s kind of a double-edged sword there, ’cause this stuff is addictive, there’s no way around it. At the same time, though, they’re hesitant to give you other treatments that could help you out. It’s really a problem.

And then plus, you can’t always see the same PA, so you might end up with a different one that doesn’t want to give you any more. So one doctor will give you as much as you want. Let’s say that prescription runs out, and you go to get more, and another one tells you, “I’m not giving you anything.”

There is a lot of [problems with withdrawal], I was told that in my unit by a couple people. So then, it turns into you buying it from your battle buddy, who’s messed up too. There’s a lot of that.

I’ve seen other people on all kinds of stuff because of nerve damage, spine injuries. I’ve seen a lot, when I was in a Med Board platoon. All they said is, “Don’t take that stuff before you come to work,” even though it says on the bottle you’re pretty much supposed to be taking them all the time, because of the ailment.

They diagnosed some of the things that’re wrong with me, and then some other stuff, I told them about. And they said, “That sounds like nerve damage.” For example, I have a burning sensation in the bottom of my feet when I walk. They said, “Hey, that sounds like nerve damage.” But they never pursued it. They said, “You have flat feet,” and left it at that.

So when I got out, and kept poking at the VA to get them to, “Hey, tell me what this is,” they gave me the run-around. I used a TriCare referral, and then I finally got someone to diagnose this, and they said it was nerve damage. So I missed out on getting Med Boarded out for that, because that would’ve gotten me medically cleared, as opposed to separated. So I lost out on money because the Army didn’t want to look into my problem.

A different PA on the Air Force base by my house, they told me I got screwed. Because flat feet and nerve damage are obviously two different things, and if I told them the same thing I told this other doctor, and one looks into it and another doesn’t, and they find nerve damage, it’s like really, somebody needs to do their job here.

So now, because I got screwed like that, I’ve only got six months of health care, when I was supposed to get it for the rest of my life. And it runs out in two months. If they would have diagnosed it like they were supposed to, I would have free health care for life. That’s just a small detail, but that’s how it’s played out. Once that runs out, alls I’m going to get is health care with the VA that’s service-connected. And at the moment, the only thing that’s service-connected is my left and right ankle.

Two months left. I managed to get surgery lined up. I had to drive all the way across the state to get that straightened out. I’ve got appointments on both sides of the state, and I live right in the center of the state. I got some issues in the disc in my back. And I’m finally getting somebody to look at that. They sent me to a neurologist on the other, opposite side of the state.

Everyone that was ahead of me in their medical separation process kept telling me, “Yo, go to get a referral from your PA to go see a civilian doctor off-post.” And I got that advice, and I took it up. And what the civilian doctor was telling me was totally different from what the Army doctor was telling me. The Army doctor wants to give me as much drugs as I want. And the civilian doctor’s like, “Hey, man, I can cut you next week, you know, give you surgery, give you this, give you that, I can give you better meds,” he gave me a list of options. And the Army doctor is like, “Pssht. There’s nothing else I can do for you.” That’s exactly what he told me.

Now that I’m home, and I’m talking to a real doctor, they’re going to fix two problems at the same time. So it’s way better treatment now that I’m going to a civilian doctor, outside of the Army.

The only thing [command] knew is what I told them, and what paperwork I presented to them from my PA. And they didn’t really care about the details. All they wanted to know was how much work could I do. And as time progressed, my profile kept getting better, and more inclusive there, so that meant the less work I could do for them. And they would try me all the time. Because most soldiers fold to pressure. When someone of higher rank comes and tells them what to do, usually a soldier will do it, unless they think for themselves and assert themselves, saying that, “Hey, my doctor says I’m not supposed to do this, that, or this.”

…The commander is doing his own thing in his office. But the main issue is your first line supervisor, usually an E-5 sergeant, he’s the one in your face trying to get you to do some kind of work, and you have to present that document to him. And then, half the time he’ll try to ignore it. That’s why I started to carry around the general’s command policy on profiles, so I have to give them both of those documents at the same time, and so that will clarify some of the nonsense. And if you do that to them enough times, they get it, don’t mess with this guy.

But if you don’t go that extra mile and be confrontational with these NCOs, then you’ll have issues, and you’ll end up doing some work you’re not supposed to be doing. And I’ve seen soldiers who already have severe conditions get hurt even worse, because they were pretty much forced to do stuff they weren’t supposed to be doing. And of course, nothing happened to the NCO who made them work.

By the time I went to Under the Hood, and was with IVAW, and I learned more about how this whole process works, they would get a laugh at it, because I was quick to pull [the policy] out when someone would tell me to work. So I became that sarcastic guy, who’s always pulling out command policies to get out of work. And they would laugh at it. But you see, the soldiers who didn’t know the actual policy, and tried to pull out a profile, and some NCO just acts as if that thing doesn’t exist, or they read in between the lines, then the stuff will get overlooked, and NCOs will just brush them off. So for me, it came down to the point to where they would leave me alone, but they would stay on the newer soldiers.

…Lots of times, I’ll talk to a soldier—a new soldier, mainly, they’re the main ones who are like this. I talk to them about, “Hey man, your profile says you’re not supposed to be doing that. You should sit down and relax. You know what I mean? You’re not gonna get paid any more or less by doing this extra work.” And then they say, “Well, I don’t want to look like a shitbag.” I hear that constantly.

These new soldiers have this idea that they have to try to out-do everyone else, and it’s not necessary. So they kind of bring it on themselves, but I see other kids who are really hurt, and they’re being pulled to do stuff they’re obviously not supposed to be doing. This stuff wouldn’t fly on any other job on the planet. Well, unless you’re in prison or something. But I’ve seen guys on crutches be pulled to sweep a Motor Pool, where we park vehicles at. And they’re serious. Or, guys who have back injuries, when they’re walking funny, are told to climb on top of 13-foot tall tanks and do maintenance, and it’s like, “Huh? Do we have to argue with these NCOs about everything? Are they ever gonna just step in and use common sense, and look out for their soldiers?”

Editor’s Note: Curtis spoke about whether his medical issues were kept confidential in active duty, and how profile interpretation played out with different leadership.

If you wanted to get out of work because of your medical issues, you are gonna have to tell your NCO everything in detail, and you’d have to have the same level of openness with your doctor as you would with your NCO, to get out of work. Because you’ll tell them your problem, and they’re gonna try to dissect it, and they’re gonna use their limited medical knowledge to figure out what you can and can’t do.

And it’s ridiculous because you already had an Officer who wrote it up saying, “You’re not supposed to do this.” You got some 23 year-old E-5 trying to go over the Officer’s head or saying he knows more than this Physician’s Assistant. And this is not an individual thing, this is the norm. It’s ridiculous. Sometimes, you might have to go back and forth between some E-5 about your personal medical business, and you’ll end up having to do the same discussion the next day, when some work comes up. It’s ridiculous. With the same NCO. They try and make you feel bad about it, too. They do this all the time. It’s like, “Come on, man! You know you can do this. It’s not gonna hurt you that bad.” You hear that a lot.

I was on a permanent profile, for more than a year… In my case, I went through a bunch of temporaries. A week, a week, two weeks, three weeks, a month, a month, and I’d keep getting these renewed as they ran out. And eventually it became permanent, that’s how it worked for me.

I can elaborate on [pressure to violate profiles]. It’s a two-fold thing. Of course, prior to deployment you want to get as many people as you can. But generally the case is this: there’s some work that has to be done. And it has to be done, no matter what, so it doesn’t matter how many soldiers you have available. And then, lots of times, NCOs are like, “Well, I don’t want to do it, but this private or specialist right here, he may be broke, but he can do the work so I don’t have to do it.” And that’s when they extend all that energy to try to get you to break your profile, so some NCO’s not outside doing some nonsense detail. That has a lot to do with it. And it’s ridiculous.

Now, on the other side of the coin, prior to a deployment, they need X-amount of people to deploy. And it doesn’t matter whether this person has no arms or legs, they just need a number. So that’s when they really start hopping through hoops to ignore profiles and what-not, because they need to get people on the plane. There’s a story, of this one guy. He was having mental health issues, and he was going to a shrink prior to the deployment. And two shrinks, two different shrinks, said that this guy was not supposed to deploy, because of his issues. They made him go anyway. His captain signed off on that one.

And he ended up killing a contractor. And nothing happened to his commander, who ignored his shrink’s diagnosis or recommendations. So this guy has been sent off to some mental health facility, and somebody’s dead because of people just overlooking profiles, people not listening to doctors. They figure, “Well, this numbers game is more important than the soldier’s well-being.” And that’s an extreme case. But other deaths have been attributed to that, too.

It’s everybody who has authority [violating profiles]. Up the chain. Because sometimes they know, clearly, this guy’s on a profile, but we need numbers for this detail, for this training, or the deployment. And then the more severe the situation—like, if it’s deployment, some Officers are gonna sign off on that one. If it’s a detail, some E-5 is gonna push that one. But it’s everybody who has rank. A good number of them just don’t respect profiles.

And it’s not just a profile, people aren’t looking out for their soldiers, period. Some people can’t even get a profile, because of whatever issue. I’ve seen that happen too, and that’s really bad. Like, they’re backed up, so you won’t be able to see the doc for two weeks. But your leg is screwed up and you’re walking funny, so you’re just gonna have to suck it up and run on a eight-mile run, when you can’t even walk right. I’ve seen that happen too. And nobody cares. It’s just ridiculous.

I would hand out copies [of MEDCEN-01] to my platoon, to let them know, since they were all on profile. They were all getting kicked out of the Army for medical reasons. And because there were only so many soldiers who weren’t on that deployment, because we were the stay-behind guys, because we were getting out, they kept telling us to do work, all kinds of work that was coming out of nowhere, silly, frivolous work that had to be done. And since there were no able-bodied soldiers around, they were all in Iraq, they tried to make us do it.

Some soldiers got hurt because they were doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing, and nobody cared. We had a lot of NCOs who were in the same spot as us, but they were in charge just because they were the only ones with rank. And they said, “I’m not gonna ask you to do anything that violates your profile, because I’m not gonna violate mine.” But those guys were few and far between. The big guys who were left behind, who were running the show, they didn’t care. They just went, “Hey, the work has to be done.” Lots of times they’ll say, “Hey, you’re gonna stay here until the job is done. We’re not gonna let you go home.” And usually a new soldier will give in, and just do the work. But us older cats are like, “We’ll play your game with chicken, because we live at work.”

Editor’s Note: Curtis reflected on what he thinks would need to be done for policy against profile violations to be enforced at Fort Hood.

The post commander, specifically on Fort Hood, he would just have to reiterate the policy. Because when he reiterates a policy, it goes on commander’s notes, at every level of the chain. And that means all the leadership will go back over a policy. Saying, “Hey, I’m stressing this policy, and I need it to be followed.” Just like when any other word comes down from a three-star general. And that will be on the forefront of everyone’s minds, understanding that, “Hey, this kind of stuff will not be tolerated. This is serious.” And the way it usually works is, when the general comes in, all of his policies get handed out again, and then it just stays that way until he gets relieved. And then, when the new general comes in, all of his policies get handed out again, usually it’s the same policies, it’s just a new signature on it. And things fall through the cracks. But reiterating the policy, just randomly out of the blue, that would help.

And then, punishing people who don’t follow that policy. Bringing accountability into the situation. ‘Cause as it stands now, there is none. Unless a soldier stands up, and calls his Congressman, I’ve seen results from that. Or calls the inspector general, there’s a lot of that. And that’s the only way that you raise that accountability, is when pressure is applied. Whether it be from the commander, or from an outside source. It has to be a good mixture of both. Usually this thing of reiterating a policy, this happens after a lot of people get hurt at the same time, or somebody dies. So whenever somebody dies in the Army, here we go again, they’re gonna bring up some policy that’s already been in place for some period of time. Usually, it’s domestic violence, sexual assault, or DUI. That stuff comes up all the time. The policy gets read back to us, and the commanders are told to, “Make sure your soldiers understand the policy.” So lots of times, we’ll sit in a conference room, and they’ll read us the policy verbatim, and then we’ll talk about it, to be sure that everybody understands it. Now that’s what needs to happen with MEDCEN-01.

…The thing is, they don’t reiterate that particular policy. And yeah, you’re gonna break years of stigma—you’re un-doing years of this bad thing of ignoring profiles. But it takes just a little bit for the tide to turn a little bit. It’s a step in the right direction, to bring that to the forefront of everyone’s mind. Especially when, you know, soldiers always have profiles. There’s always somebody who’s hurt. It’s just saying, “Look out for this guy, and respect what his doctor’s wishes.” That’s all it is.

The Physician’s Assistant [issued my profile]. Every battalion has a PA. And they do a sick call every morning, and then tell your doctors what’s up. And they’ll assess the situation, and you’ll get your profile. It’s not guaranteed, it depends on the severity of what is wrong with you. I’ve seen guys get turned away, when clearly they should’ve gotten a profile. Or, these new soldiers aren’t assertive with talking to Officers. So they don’t get their point across about how bad they are. Everybody tries to play tough guy, when they should be spilling the beans about what’s wrong with them, so they can get that profile, or get the meds, or whatever they need. A lot of guys don’t even want to go to sick call.

That’s challenge number one, is to get people to man up, go tell your boss, “Hey, I need to go to sick call.” He’s gonna cuss you out, because you’re gonna miss work to go to sick call. But, really, do you want to get fixed or not? Do you want a break? Or do you want help, or not? And I had to counsel a bunch of soldiers about this, and tell them like, “Look man, the only person who cares about you is yourself. The only one who’s gonna take care of you is you. So don’t worry about what everybody else thinks, and go take care of yourself.” I’ve been telling people that for a long time, and some people listen—and it helps your case, too, once you go for benefits, after you get out.

…Generally, everyone hates that soldier’s guts [who’s on profile]. Sometimes people you think are your friends, if you’re on profile long enough, they’re probably not gonna be your friends. It’s almost childish, how people just get angry at you or jealous of you, because you’re not slaving away in the field, or doing the same work they’re doing.

A lot of it, too, is the accusations of being a malingerer. Just almost, pretty much if you say, “Profile,” somebody immediately calls bullshit. They don’t have to know anything about the situation. They could see you get hurt! And sometimes they’ll still call you a malingerer. Like, “Oh, you’re not that bad. You can do this, and you can do that.” Everybody’s trying to push you to the limits of your ability, or the limits of your profile.

It’s your peers and your leadership. And your peers are just mimicking your leadership. And they’re almost encouraged by their leadership, because some NCO is gonna say, “Look at this shitbag. Look, he’s getting out of work when he could be out here helping you guys.” Your leadership encourages your peers to turn against you, because you’re not doing the work that they’re doing. I see this over and over and over again. It’s preschool stuff.

Leadership sets the pace for everything else. This has been going on ever since like, the Roman Empire days. So really, it’s engrained into Army culture, especially in combat arms. And that’s the only place I’ve been, so I can’t attest for support units. But, in combat arms, it’s always been that way. You could always push yourself further, tough it out. There’s nothing wrong with you.

And as for change coming around, once again, that’ll come from leadership. Because once they set the tone of, “This guy is hurt. Leave him alone. I’m not gonna push him to do crap,” the new soldiers will see how the profiles and injuries are supposed to be handled, and they’ll learn from that, and when they become leaders they’ll do the same. But lots of times too, I’ll give some of them here some credit, I’ll hear them say this, they’ll say, “Hey man, I know you’re hurt. And I wouldn’t ask you to do this. But this staff sergeant above me says he doesn’t care about your situation, and he wants you to go do this.” I’ve seen that a lot too, if you find a good NCO.

[NCOs] don’t have very much power. I mean, you’d have to go to that outside source to be the intermediary, to step in and tell the guy [to stop]. And it really depends on your NCO if they’re gonna go to bat for you. I’ve learned in my personal experience that if you want an NCO to go bat for you, you have to go to the NCO on the side and explain to him in detail about what’s wrong with you, what you need from him, and establish good rapport with that NCO. And it works. And I’ve had NCOs cover for me because I would explain my whole deal.

But if you’re not on their favorites list, no one’s gonna go to bat for you. And alls you have is a piece of paper with some captain they’ve never met before, and they’re just gonna laugh at you, and you’re gonna end up slaving away doing stuff you’re not supposed to be doing. ‘Cause once you get hurt, you’re already at the bottom of the barrel anyway. You can’t even run anymore. You’re pretty much useless to everyone. So no one wants to be bothered with you. They’ll give you some task that’s not that physical. It’s like, “Go guard this.” So you’ll get caught doing that stuff.

Editor’s Note: Curtis was asked if he had ever been verbally attacked or ridiculed for being on profile.

Oh yeah. All the time. I’ve been called worthless straight to my face. They’ll call you every name in the book. They’ll go all out when it comes to name-calling and making you feel bad, and making you look bad towards your peers, so your peers don’t go do the same thing and get profiles. You could play the system, if you do enough physical exercise, everybody’s gonna get hurt, and in the Army there’s a lot of hurt people walking around acting as if they’re not. So if everybody went to sick call, they could probably come back with a profile, legitimately. And that’s why they try to discourage any one person from getting one, because then everybody would do it. That’s another reason as to why they do this nonsense.

But me, I’ve had every name you can think of, that’s been thrown at me. I remember one time, I was in between profiles. One expired, and I had to wait three more days before I could get a new one. And in that three days, I got smoked for half a day. I had to do corrective training for half a day. I didn’t argue with them, but it was just a matter of I wasn’t going to push myself, because I was hurt. And I was waiting to get a new profile. And I couldn’t get one ’cause the doctors are backed up. So they stayed on me, and I think I still had to run that day, too. So that was a bad day for me.

It was a punishment, pretty much. They had me rolling around in the dirt, and low-crawl, and all kinds of crap. I didn’t argue with them, ’cause I’d been in that situation a long time ago, before. So I know to keep your mouth closed, and that they were just giving me crap, because I wasn’t going to give it my all, because I was hurt. And you see me today, I’m still hurt from the same injuries.

The difference is, they were a little bit nicer [in the MEB unit]. The NCOs within the platoon were more understanding, because they were hurt too. And because they were hurt too, that kind of took off some of the slack. But anyone who wasn’t delinquent in that platoon would still treat us the same. They would give us tasks that obviously you couldn’t do. Like, “I want you to get on full battle-rattle, and go do this or do that.” Like, we got people who’ve got broken backs in IEDs, we got people that’ve been shot, we got a whole gamut of all kinds of injuries, some mental health stuff too, but they would come at us and still try to task us to do stuff. When you’re in a regular platoon, there’s less broke people, so they’re not so desperate for people that they’re gonna go tell you to do crazy stuff. They will, depending on the NCO, but it’s less likely. You’ll just get a lot of extra crap, verbal abuse.

And for the mental health side of the fence, those guys who don’t get help, lots of times they’ll end up getting in trouble. Either outside of work or at work. Because instead of going to go get treatment, they end up saying or doing something crazy.

…I didn’t [seek mental health care] ’til I got out. Because of stigma, and I thought that it wouldn’t do anything for me, until things got so bad, I eventually realized, “Hey, I’m running out of options here,” you know. “I’m out of the military, I’m at home, so I give up, I’ll go talk to somebody.”

I didn’t want someone in my business, following me around, or telling me I can and can’t do stuff because of whatever is wrong with my mind, or how I was feeling. And because I knew that I was going to be stuck in the Army for a year and a half, to get medically separated out, it was like, “I don’t know when I’m getting out of here, and I don’t want to be babysat.” I’m not gonna kill anybody. So I just didn’t need that additional problem… I regret not getting help earlier because I lost money out on that. And then too, maybe it could’ve helped. I see how the help I’m getting now is beneficial. It’s not perfect, but better than nothing.

The SRP process is kind of like a series of stations, where you check off all the things that need to be taken care of before you deploy… I remember in 2-5 Cav at Fort Hood, they were trying to send soldiers to SRP who obviously shouldn’t be there. Soldiers on crutches, soldiers with profiles, soldiers with all kinds of medical ailments, or reasons why they shouldn’t deploy. Valid reasons that would stand up anywhere else on the planet, except in the Army. And they would send them to SRP, and try to get that stamp, so they can get on the plane. And in one case, SRP folks, the civilians that were here had to step in and say, “Why are you here?” Like, “Yeah, my NCO says I have to be here. Even though I’m on crutches, obviously.” And she made some phone calls and took care of that. Another guy, this guy walks on a cane, he had I think a profile that says he wasn’t supposed to go. But they came to his room, and scooped him up, and made him go up there anyway. They made some phone calls and got his stuff fixed.

We asked General Campbell this question during the first town hall meeting, back in January of this year—we asked him how soldiers slip past the SRP process, if they were non-deployable one day, and all of a sudden you needed them, now they’re deployable? How is that possible? And they said that, “Well, those individual cases go to the Brigade Surgeon, and he’ll sign off on that if he thinks that it will be okay for them to deploy. You know, you have a profile, but you can deploy.”

And then, I think that we talked amongst a bunch of soldiers, and we said, “You know, we’re not buying this.” Because it’s another one of those cover-your-ass statements. And later on, I think I asked a question, worded it differently, and I got a different answer on my Facebook than from the town meeting. And they said, ultimately, profiles are just recommendations. And if the mission comes up, the mission comes up, and commanders will act accordingly. They said something along those lines. Wow! I wished I would have saved that answer to that question. But pretty much, that’s the way they look at it. If the mission comes up, they’re gonna scoop you up. And I told you earlier about that case of how a guy who had mental health issues, that deployed, and you know, he ended up killing somebody.

I had a back issue [on deployment], they gave me some muscle relaxers. But we were so short-manned, I still had to pull security while I was on muscle relaxers, that didn’t work out that well. I was really, really high at work, with a loaded gun. But, we didn’t have any bodies, so I had to do what I had to do. But a profile, no.

I never got a profile [on that deployment]. We were so short-manned, and we had this E-6 for a doc. We were in the middle of nowhere in Iraq, we didn’t even have electricity for a good amount of that tour.

When I came back, I changed units, changed MOSs. That was everything. ‘Cause the new unit I went to, we did more PT, and I ended up getting hurt and just went downhill from there.

…We had guys [in Iraq] that had families back at home, and they’re having a hard time coping with that and trying to do a constant, non-stop job there. But from my memory of that whole year, for the most part, we just had those guys who were having a hard time…

Most of that [deploying people with injuries] I saw was here at Fort Hood, sending guys to Iraq. When I was in Germany, and we were sending guys to Iraq, that wasn’t so much of the case. But here at Fort Hood, I saw a lot more of that. Now, there was a medic that got shot in the foot from his last deployment, he was still messed up and non-deployable, but they sent him anyway. They were trying to scoop up everybody.

And as for morale, I don’t know how they felt while they were in Iraq, I talked to them before they left. And they were pissed off and were like, “Ahh, clearly I’m messed up, why are you trying to send me?” They tried to fight it, but they got sent anyway. I don’t know how they held up while they were over there. I talked to one guy, that same medic, and he says he’s doing physical therapy in Iraq. And the only reason why he could do that, is because he worked in an aid station, ’cause he was broke anyway. So he just did his physical therapy while in Iraq.

When I was at Fort Hood, there was a lot [of substance abuse]. Usually prescription drug abuse, because there’s such an abundance of it, and everybody has had medical issues. And a lot of us are taking the same stuff. Some people got stuck on it. And they would have to buy it from other soldiers, and what-not. But generally, you had spice, a lot of that going around. And then, of course, the usual alcohol abuse in the Army. That’s a normal thing. [In Iraq] people were smoking weed and drinking too.

Some guys who were relieving us toward the end of our deployment, the day some guy showed up, he tried to kill himself. There’s plenty of attempted suicides. I had to do a lot of suicide watch, and watch people because they couldn’t be trusted to be alone. Because I’m on profile, so, “Hey, watch this guy. For like, 24 hours straight, or 12 hours straight.” A lot of that… my neighbor, when he was in Iraq, one of the guys that was in his platoon killed himself. And he was the first one to get to him.

Editor’s Note: Curtis continued by reflecting on what the command response to the suicides and suicide attempts was, in Iraq.

Of course, the ridicule, the whole stigma deal. You’re only doing this for attention, or you’re either trying to get out of work, or trying to get out of deployment. It’s always some nonsense stuff they throw out there. I don’t think anybody even bothers to really assess the person’s situation. ‘Cause generally, you just become a giant headache and a hassle to the chain of command, and everybody in there, because it’s like, now we have to do an SI, that’s a serious incident report, we got to explain to the man above the commander about what happened, and it draws attention to your unit, so everybody gives the person crap. Nobody really cares about the actual soldier who tried to end his life. That’s irrelevant. Just look at all the hassle that came on him. And then you have to babysit the guy, and make sure he gets to the shrink. And it’s not a hassle to me, but it is to everybody else. I understand that the guy needs help. But to everybody else it’s like, “F-you.”

There’s no support. That’s why I didn’t even bother saying anything until I got out. And then, when I went to go put in my claim, the VA, they’re like, “Why didn’t you seek treatment before you try to put in a claim?” And I was like, “Yeah, I just didn’t want anybody up in my business.” That didn’t help my case at all. In fact, my claim got denied.

…When we came back from Iraq, we did the same process [in R-SRP], going through all the different stations to be sure that your pay got started back up, and all that good stuff, you were checked out. And then part of that was to go and have a little sit down, one-on-one with the shrink, just to see if you needed additional time to talk. She would ask you a series of questions. “Did you fire your weapon? Did you see any bodies or blood, or anything like that? Are you feeling okay?” That whole deal. And it’s pretty much if you have some issues about what you saw or did over there, there’s your opportunity to say something about it. But we were encouraged not to say anything. Because we were told that if you were to say something, your leave would get held up. They wouldn’t let you go on terminal leave.

So generally, we didn’t say anything. In fact, I remember an E-6 told us before we went, he told us the same thing again. I had a friend who said everything he had to say, I think he went on his leave no problem. But we were just encouraged not to say anything. They figured they were doing us a favor. By, “Hey, if you want to go home, for 30 days straight, without any interruptions, or no hold-ups, push through this, so you can finish up and go.”

…At the time, I was fine. And I was anxious to get the process over with. You were gone for a year, and you finally get home—well, not home, but your Army home, and then it’s like, “Hey, we’re about to get some time off, let’s push through this.” I answered truthfully. Because over time the stuff starts to grow on you, and you realize things aren’t really the same. And I’ve talked to other people, and I was like, “Wow. They’re going through the same thing I’m going through.” In my case, I was fine, as things unfolded. The later down the line, stuff grew on you, and you see how it actually affected you.

…Every guy I talk to says the same thing. And it surprises me, ’cause I’m not expecting them to say it. Like, they’ll bring it up to me. That’s happened in conversation. Like, “How in the world?” I’m going through the same thing. It’s like, “Okay, this makes sense now.” I thought I was paranoid.

I don’t know [what] would really be beneficial. Just because the way the Army does things. When the Army asks you, “How are you feeling?” Those things never work. It’s pretty much, they should encourage soldiers to be vocal about how they’re feeling. You know, “Hey, if you want to talk to somebody, here’s the resources to do it.” And then, when they do decide, don’t give them any crap about it. That is the best way to handle that.

But if you try to push it on us, push it on everybody in a blanket-style fashion, a lot of people are gonna say no. Because then, people are gonna know—they might know that you’re talking to somebody, or the consensus of the group is, “Get out of my face,” and “I don’t feel like dealing with this.” But if you know something’s not right, and then they introduce you to the resources available, then you could hop on it, assuming there’s no stigma attached to it. If there was no stigma, a lot more people would be getting mental help and medical help.

When I think about it, there is never really a briefing about [PTSD]. What it is is individual symptoms that would get you hemmed up. They want to tell you to look out for those, to avoid you doing things that would get you in real trouble. That’s what the main thing is, the Army covering their ass again. ‘Cause I mean, PTSD isn’t something that’s just thrown around at work. You don’t talk about PTSD. Even in briefs. It’s always, “Don’t drink and drive.” “If something’s gonna piss you off, walk away.” So practically never does PTSD even come out of anybody’s mouth, at least from the command. [With soldiers] it comes down to individual symptoms of, “Make sure your battle buddy doesn’t do something stupid.” Actions which are probably caused by PTSD.

When I put in my claim, back in early 2011, I went to a shrink. He asked me a series of questions. I don’t remember. I just know I didn’t get a diagnosis of PTSD, I got a diagnosis of anxiety. And most of the questions weren’t even deployment-related. It’s pretty much, “How do I feel about this, and how do I feel about that? And does this make you angry?”

When I went to my shrink at the VA, we really delved into it. He just gave me the opportunity to talk about how I’m feeling, and how things affect me. And that’s when I got a diagnosis of PTSD. And I go to his group once a week, and I got an appointment with him tomorrow. But while active duty, the phrase ‘PTSD,’ that didn’t come up real often. There’s no real diagnosis for it. Nobody really looks out for it. It’s more like actions that would get you in trouble that may be caused by PTSD, that’s the main focus. Like, excessive drinking, and then, what happens when you drink too much. Getting into fights, and blowing up on people, that kind of stuff. That’s what they’re concerned about, making sure that soldiers don’t do something that gets them in trouble, because then that comes back on the chain.

Like, literally, PTSD doesn’t come up at all. Every safety brief, before a weekend, they’ll say, “Hey, if you need to talk to somebody,” they’ll throw out the resources that are available to you…

I can’t sleep. It’s been that way for more than a year now. Like, I stay up until I crash, and that’s the best way to avoid getting angry and having panic attacks, and spazzing out, pretty much. And I’ve been doing that for months now. And I went through a gamut of different sleep meds, but I’m tired of the way they make me feel. ‘Cause they don’t make me sleepy, they just make me feel heady. So I’m lying in bed, spazzing out, feeling groggy, and it’s like, I don’t need to do this anymore. So I just stay up until I can’t stay awake any longer. And I’ve had sleep problems while I was still active. But it got a lot worse since I came home. And I got anxiety, and increased arousal, is what the shrink calls it. You know, sounds scare the mess out of you that wouldn’t bother a normal person and what-not.

It’s weird. Because while I was in, I didn’t notice a lot of these things. I just stayed in my room. And I felt like I had control over the situation. I was fine, the best way to call it. Or I thought I was fine.

And now, I get out and I’m sitting in this room all day, 24-7, unless I’m at an appointment. It’s weird, because I’m always thinking there’s things outside, and I get this increased arousal ’cause of noises outside. I stick to myself. I don’t do anything but go to appointments. The rest of the time, I’m sitting at the computer, literally. I went six days without leaving my house, or pretty much talking to anybody, except my mom and my dad, who live with me. And generally, I don’t talk to anybody, and I don’t leave, unless it’s for an appointment.

So you got the separation, and then you got all the little stuff. Like, the shrink talked about re-living stuff you saw. I deal with that. It’s not a straight-up flashback. And then, I don’t feel comfortable around crowds.

I’m going to school in January. I’m going to try and get as much of this VA stuff done before then, and then I’ll go to school in January and use up all my GI Bill, and just take it from there.

Really I lost any desire to [make appointments or prepare for school]. I do the VA stuff because I understand this is how I’m going to make money. And I could use the help too, because I’m really tired of the whole sleep deal, and the paranoia about sounds, and then being really uncomfortable with crowds and what-not. And being in a new place—I’m tired of dealing with these symptoms. So that’s the reason why I get help. I guess if I was to have a job, I’m sure this stuff would affect me.

I go to PTSD group once a week. My shrink has offered me some meds, but I don’t really want to take any more meds besides my pain meds. Group therapy [helps] because you hear these other vets saying the exact same stuff that happens to you. It’s happening to them too. One guy, he broke down a scenario, and I was in the same scenario, on my own. And I was like, “Wow.” What happened to him happened to me. The whole deal about feeling like a spotlight is on you when you’re in a big crowd, and what-not. And it was extremely uncomfortable.

I mean, I keep to myself, and I go to group, and that’s about it. And that’s only so helpful. The shrink said time is what’s gonna fix my problem. Acknowledging that I have a problem, and time.

Some guys blow up a lot. They get angry… In group, those guys are a lot older than me, for the most part. There’s some Vietnam vets, depending on what day group I go to. And all these guys say they’ve been arrested. They’re having flashbacks, or instances where they’ve blown up because of their temper, and what-not. Like, there are about 30 guys in the room, and more than half of them have been arrested for having flashbacks and what-not.

Editor’s Note: Curtis was asked if he has ever dealt with thoughts of suicide.

I have. And it’s gotten worse since I’ve been home. And why, I don’t know. I think it has to do with me having trouble sleeping. And because I can’t sleep, I end up lying in bed for hours on end, and it’s a bunch of craziness, that’s the best way to put it there.

I just had more control of the whole situation overall [while active duty]. I don’t know, it must’ve been a subconscious thing. I had my own barracks room. I went to formation every day. And now I’m home and things are so different, you know.

You get ostracized [for being suicidal at Fort Hood]. Your whole chain of command hates your guts because you just gave them a huge headache and what-not.

…[Multiple deployments] is nonsense, of course. As opposed to looking at that individual issue, I like to analyze why people are being deployed, period. Why does this take such a long span of time? I think everybody should play armchair general for once in their life, and analyze the situation, and they’ll see that some things don’t add up. Just think for yourself. Don’t go off of some general, or some guy on Fox News’s opinion. You should think about it for yourself, look at the facts in front of you, and just figure it out.

…A lot of married guys, once they deploy, they have issues too. That’s like, domestic violence stuff…you hear about it at work. And that’s why every Friday, or right before a three or four day weekend, they add that into the safety brief, “Don’t beat your wife. Don’t beat your wife. Don’t beat your wife.” They say, “Spousal abuse? You’re a coward.” They throw out all the stuff to discourage us. But it pretty much happens every weekend.

…If you’ve been on multiple deployments, you’ve been in for a minute. You’re probably married, and you live off-post…[there are] all these additional factors that come into having multiple deployments. If you’ve been on multiple deployments, you have rank. So you’re not going to get in trouble for a lot of things that a new person would get in trouble for. Like being late to work. That puts another factor into it, too. Plus, the new soldiers live in the barracks. And I see all the dumb stuff they’re doing with my own eyes. So once again, the married guys, these NCOs with the multiple deployments, they’re off post, so they are better covering up all their mistakes.

And they don’t always vent to soldiers, who talk about their issues. I’m sure they have as many issues as new people, it’s just that they’re covering it up. I wouldn’t say dealing with it, it’s just more like they’re covering it up. And like, the medical stuff, sometimes you can’t even cover that up. And they’ll tell you. You see NCOs ducking and hiding to get out of physical stuff because they’re broke, but they have too much pride or whatever, so they won’t go to the doctor. I’m like, “Hey sergeant, why don’t you go to the doc? You got this messed up hand, and nerve damage. Why don’t you just get out? I mean, you can’t even use your arm.” And like, “No, I want to retire.” And I’m like, “Oh-kay.” I saw a lot of that stuff. In fact, my platoon, we didn’t have any E-6s, ’cause they’re all broke. They’re all on profile. Either wounded in combat, or just messed up. They tried to stay in for as long as they could, and then they got pushed out into desk jobs. So then, these new E-5s, these 23 year-olds, are in charge. And they’re the biggest purveyors of the stigma for medical and mental health that I was talking about. And they got like, 30 brand new kids that they’re in charge of. And it’s a giant shit-storm. And that’s what I saw with my own eyes, in the scout platoon.

Back in ’09, back a little bit in the past, a few years ago, things were more hectic than they are now. And because it was a year-on, year-off kind of thing. So as soon as you come back from a deployment and leave, you’re starting to cycle all over again to prepare for the next one. So you’re pretty discouraged from going to get help. People would slip through the cracks, and get a surgery here or some help there. But it wasn’t really encouraged, for you to go get help. People would, but still not like people really getting serious about taking care of themselves, that never really happened. Until you just couldn’t really deal with it anymore, and you had to.

I think any mental health issue you have just gets compounded [by multiple tours]. I mean, it depends on who you are as a person, how you deal with those problems…the more deployments you have, the more intense your PTSD is gonna be…

And the families—there’s a big difference between a married soldier and a single soldier. Single soldiers stay in the barracks, and we all kind of know everybody’s business. But married soldiers, they’re on another planet. They don’t have to stay at work as long as we do. They’re kind of just a separate entity. The only time you really hear about their business is when they screw up. Then, their business comes to work. We’re told not to repeat their mistakes, pretty much. It’s hard to engage how the multiple deployments affect families.

Editor’s Note: Curtis also reflected on how multiple deployments affects the military, and its impact on US society at large.

Some people quit. Some people decide not to re-enlist because of it. Some people would rather be deployed than not deployed, and I understand that because I said the same thing when I was younger. Because garrison life isn’t that great.

It doesn’t affect society at all. ‘Cause society doesn’t think about this war, and the media doesn’t really talk about it. Unless there’s some incident that affects peoples’ emotions, for example, some Marine pissing on a corpse, or somebody got raped, or there’s a rape scandal. That’s the only time they talk about the military, and most people have either forgotten about the war, or it’s in the back of their mind. So really, multiple deployments don’t affect society at all. You know, if your brother’s in the military and he’s been deployed four or five times, if you’re in contact with him he’ll tell you about what he’s been dealing with through all those years of his multiple deployments, so it might affect you. But society as a whole, it doesn’t affect them at all.

It’s not on their mind at all. I’ve been working with these clown Republicans here in Georgia since I got out. I’m a Libertarian. So I tried to steer that party in the right direction. And these people, they’re really pro-military. But when it comes down to the well-being of the soldier, they don’t care. And that’s how a lot of people are. Everybody supports the troops, but when we go to say what we have to say about the government, then they look at us like we’re crazy. When we point out the short-comings of the military, when it comes to taking care of people, people aren’t putting it together to formulate that picture of what the military’s really like.

The rigors of deploying, combat, that’s a huge cause of trauma there. That, with a little bit of military culture, and all of the downsides of the culture. I think those two things are the biggest, right there. Toxic leadership is the third one. Those three things are the biggest causes of trauma there. Because if something happens to you and you have good leadership, that incident can’t go from being traumatic to nothing, but it could be a learning experience. Something bad could happen to you, you could learn from it. But if you have a horrible leadership who’s not supportive to you, then it could turn into the most traumatic thing in your whole life. I mean, that’s how important leadership is.

War is war… I know that counter-insurgency is a harder type of war to fight, just because there’s no real gauge of progress. At least, most people don’t recognize the things to look for to gauge progress. Because you’re just moved around all the time, and for your average soldier to really understand it, they’d have to care. And generally most people don’t care, they just do what they’re told, and they don’t look at the whole picture. But really, it’s hard to gauge progress, that’s the biggest thing. There’s no line. You’re not taking dirt, really. And if you do take dirt, you’re gonna give it right back.

If you really look at it—and most people don’t—it kind of feels like your work and your effort, your blood sweat and tears, are wasted. Because you’re working with people who don’t want you there in the first place, who aren’t that helpful, and probably work for the other side, it’s almost guaranteed. And it’s like, “What are we doing here?”

After my guys got blown up in the second month of our deployment, that’s where I began to say, “What in the world are we doing here?” I started to question every individual mission. And I was looking at the purpose of every individual mission, and it’s like, “Okay, well let me go check on the Iraqi police to see if they need anything.” And in the process of doing that, going from our FOB to their outpost, we’re probably gonna get blown up. There’s a good chance of that. So it’s like, why are we even risking ourselves? These cops are dirty, they fire their police chief every month because the one they hired is dirty. And then the new one’s dirty, and the new one’s dirty—that actually happened two times. And it’s like, “Well, what’s the point? Why are we even doing this?”

To cut the trauma, you have to just stop the wars. On every front, pretty much. And this doesn’t even include Military Sexual Trauma. That’s a second battle altogether.

There’s actually a lot of injuries depending on what you’re doing. That’s why I was hesitant to do certain kinds of work there. There’s always somebody who’s more willing to do work than I am. So I’ll let them hop on it. Like, messing with vehicles and what-not, and moving armor. When I was in artillery, we messed with these hundred-pound halliture rounds, they’re a hundred pounds a piece, and we were moving tons of ammo by hand at any one time. And I watched people just fall over, ’cause they couldn’t do it anymore. And they would just push them out of the way, and get somebody else in there to move it. I’ve seen guys get their fingers smashed up and all kinds of stuff. And nobody really cares.

TBI is interesting, because I didn’t hear TBI briefed until a few months before I got out. And when I got it, I was actually impressed, because the only time we’d talk about TBI was at Under the Hood. We would talk about TBI, and it would come up in conversation, when we’re talking about the Operation Recovery campaign.

So finally, for about five years of me being in the Army, they finally had them give us a brief about TBI. What to look for, how you could get it, symptoms, what you should do if you think you got it. And then, they started asking questions. “Have you been hit by an IED?” They would get people to sign their names if they’d been hit by an IED, and the time-frame in which they got hit, so they could start assessing who potentially had TBI.

Now, we’d been in this war for 11 years, and let’s see here—2006 all the way until 2011—2011 is the first time they ever gave us a TBI brief, no joke. Before that, you had to come to them. And that’s just soldiers talking amongst each other to say, “Hey. If you’ve been hit by an IED, go check to see if you got TBI.” And that was like, in the Med Board platoon, ’cause at that point we were all trying to ensure we dotted all our I’s and crossed our T’s, to get our percentage up, to get medical retirement. So we would be sure we didn’t have that, for guys who had been hit by an IED.

I have not [taken the ANAM]. I never have been hit by an IED. The guys in our brother platoon, they got hit. We helped them out. But I, personally, was never hit by an IED.

…We would get [sexual assault] briefs, rather often, and eventually the Army switched over to just having these DVDs, where they would pitch the scenario of soldiers at a party, and there’s a female soldier there. And there’s a scenario where the soldiers didn’t intervene, and then what happened. And then, they had another scenario with the same soldiers remembering the incident that happened, and this time they did intervene, and how that made a difference. Kind of similar to how we should look out for our battle buddies, and that whole deal.

But through the whole time I was in the Army, we always treated this whole topic like a joke. No matter what the training elements or aids they used to try to convey points to us, we always treated it like a joke. The only person that took it seriously was the guy giving us the brief. ‘Cause he had to keep a straight face and tell us this stuff, just to say he’d did it. We would sign papers saying that, “Yeah, we went through the training.” And lots of NCOs, the guys with rank, will pop into the room and sign the paper saying they were there. And then they’d just leave, while everybody E-4 and below would have to sit through it. And part of the problem is the fact that the whole culture of treating it like a joke. In a combat arms unit, everybody’s a male, and we’re talking about sexual harassment, and we’re like, “Get out of here.” You know, “This is nonsense.” Nobody takes it seriously. That’s a big part of the problem.

It’s kind of hard to gauge, just because I’m in a combat arms unit, and there’s just not that many females around. And what happens outside of work, unless somebody screws up, for the most part I didn’t hear about it coming back to work. They would tell you when you show up at Fort Hood how bad sexual assaults are on post, and you’d be wary of that even if you are male. And then, we would keep getting briefs about it, but we would never take it seriously.

There’s already a no-tolerance attitude [for sexual assault] by our chain of command. I guess, the only extra thing that I could think of is just to reiterate that it’s not a joke, we should take the training seriously… Now, outside of what I saw with my own eyes, I know that sexual assault and Military Sexual Trauma is a serious problem, and I hear of cases where leadership sweeps it under the rug.

Editor’s Note: Curtis was asked if he had heard about survivors of sexual assault being made to deploy or continue working with someone that assaulted them.

I’m sure it happens. I look at the way our chain of command handles every other situation, and how they just miserably fail. Just to ensure they don’t look bad, they sweep things under the rug all the time. I’ve seen officers straight up lie, and have NCOs get busted for their lies. So it wouldn’t surprise me at all to hear them sweep a whole incident like that under the rug. And, in my eyes, no Commissioned Officer gets any credit until they prove that they are a legitimate person.

On my own, I took the time to research resources that were available to people for other things, and they also cover that side of the fence too. And they would tell us our resources available, but the only time when the specific rape counselors or more counselors who handle that stuff, that only came up during the brief that we had that pertained to that. So that information wasn’t as widely distributed as some other stuff.

The military, they take Military Sexual Trauma more seriously than they do actual combat trauma. Hence, how we actually have briefs dedicated to that topic rather often. And everybody moans and groans and tries to get out of it, but if you’re a soldier E-4 and below, you ain’t getting out of it. If you’re an NCO, you can pull some strings. Combat trauma, you’re not gonna get a brief on that one. We just recently just started having those TBI briefs, one. I don’t know how often they’re gonna have them.

The VA, my shrink was telling me about he was appalled by how much he hears about it, from female vets…he sees a lot of it. And he’s there to help people with it. So when it comes to mental health stuff, the VA is available. You might have to wait a little bit to get to see the shrink, but they’re there. And while you’re active, there’s resources that are available to you pretty much 24-7.

Editor’s Note: The interview turned to address Curtis’s lengthy process in MEB, and his continuing struggle to access care after discharge from the military.

[My MEB] started with bilateral arthritis in my left and right ankle. And then, the Army says I have flat feet, and that’s what they pushed me out on. It started with the temporary profiles, because it wasn’t going away, obviously. And I had to keep getting them renewed, and renewed. And as I was renewing them, they would tack on additional steps to help me out, like, “Here, we’ll confer to analyze what’s bothering you, and we’ll give you x-rays, okay? We looked at these x-rays and you came back to us, so you know what? We’re gonna give you a MRI. And then you came back to us again and hey, you know, you’re jacked up, we’ll send you to the podiatrist, and we’ll send you to physical therapy.” And the podiatrist appointment was way out there, and I ended up going to physical therapy first. That made me worse, of course. And I saw the podiatrist, and they’re like, “Oh, no!” No, it was the MRI, that’s what it was, the MRI. I finally got my MRI results one day, and the physical therapist looked at that and said, “Oh, no. You’re not supposed to be here, because this will make you worse.” And I’d being going there for a while.

But as I’m going through this MEB process, I went through all these steps, and eventually the podiatrist said, “What do you want to do?” And he gave me three choices, “You can get surgery, which I strongly don’t recommend. You can change jobs. Or you can get out.” I picked get out. Because I’m not trying to keep up with some 19 year-old kid when I’m broke. It’s just not happening. And at that point, I was done with the military anyway, because I saw the nonsense in Iraq. In addition to that, I see how they treat people who are hurt, even people who were wounded in combat. They treat them like crap. Finally, I was done. So I chose to get out. That started the MEB process.

It really started the last week of 2010. And there’s just so many steps, and so much waiting. I can’t even remember everything that happened there. But through that whole time, from after I went to the podiatrist and said, “Hey, you know, I give up, and I want to get out,” I didn’t get any treatment. From the time I said, “I want to get out,” until the time I got home to the VA, I didn’t get any treatment. Alls I got was drugs. I did get ankle braces, and I did get inserts. But once again, that’s not really treatment. I didn’t get any treatment. Until I went to the TriCare doc—I got a referral off-base to the hospital in town [from the podiatrist]. He offered all kinds of treatment options, but at that point it was already time for me to get out of there, so I couldn’t take him up on all of his offers.

The PA, the first guy you see, referred me to the podiatrist. And this is after several trips. This is me not working the system, but really dotting all my I’s and crossing the T’s, because I had a goal, pretty much. Because I knew I wouldn’t heal up, and the doctors told me this later on, “No, you’re never gonna get better. You’re never gonna get back to where you were.” So I was like, “Well, if that’s the case, I’m getting the hell out of here.” So I had to continuously stay on them, and keep going, for them to figure it all out and realize, “Hey, this guy’s messed up and he needs to go.”

The confidentiality’s on you. If you want it to be a secret, sure, you can keep it a secret. But if you want to avoid being put through all kinds of physical hassle, and being sent to the field or being sent to Iraq, you better start talking, to put out that you have something wrong with you. So really, there’s no confidentiality in the Army. If you’re female and you have female problems, I think maybe you can get the confidentiality, but if you’re a Joe in a combat arms unit, oh no. Everybody’s gonna know your business. In fact, it’s in your interest for them to know your business, ’cause then they’ll leave you alone.

…I had to get my commander to fill out a survey on me, to figure out how messed up I am from his perspective. And I read it, and this guy pretty much said there’s nothing wrong with me, I need to be returned back to duty. Yet, I got a stack of medical evidence saying otherwise. Saying I got deformed bones, and bruised ligaments, and all this other stuff. And he didn’t even know the situation.

I don’t even know why they bothered to give that paper to the commander to fill out. In fact, I had to practically hand-carry it to the man to get him to fill it out. And you know, he didn’t even know me, that’s another thing, too. He’s a captain in an office, I’m a dude who works out in the field. So he just checked some boxes and said there’s nothing wrong with me. And that’s the commander, and then you work down to all these different levels, first sergeant, platoon sergeant, squad leader, first line, and they’re not supportive either. I had a first sergeant in the beginning, he’d understand, you’ve been in for a minute, you’re hurt, whatever, here’s your profile, that whole deal, I respect that. But then I changed first sergeant, and that shit went downhill. Plus, my platoon sergeant, he wasn’t supportive with anybody. He cussed me out big time, several times, because I couldn’t hang in the rounds, because I got nerve damage in my ankle. But that didn’t bother him at all. That’s when I was going in between profiles and what-not.

…The WTU at Fort Hood, that thing was filled up. They weren’t taking any more people—they sorted through all the cases of people who’d applied, and there’s too many broke people, people who’re wounded and what-not, screwed up. And they just weren’t taking any more people. So that meant that our unit was in Iraq, and all us broke folks had to be the Rear Detachment, who had to stay back in our unit. Now, we couldn’t do anything, but we were left behind. And because we were left behind, they kept tasking us to do normal unit tasks. It’s like, “Well, on paper it says you got a hundred and two guys here, so they’re capable of doing everything,” that’s their assumption. And they know we’re messed up. They don’t care. So they just pass it off onto these battalion commanders to force us to do stuff.

Looking at the resources the WTU was using, and then looking at the resources I was using, we’re sharing a lot of the same medical resources. Medical care would’ve been the same. But my day-to-day life, while being injured and going through a Med Board process, would’ve been totally different. Because if I had been in a WTU, I wouldn’t be responsible for any maintenance of any vehicles. They wouldn’t try to violate my profile because they understand that, “Hey, I’m messed up and I’m here for a reason.”

In 2-5, you have to explain your existence every day. It’s like, “Look, I’m hurt, this is the reason I was still in the Army. My Med Board process is here”—you got to constantly explain yourself, every day, to the same person sometimes. And it just goes in one ear and out the other, and you have to explain to them again later on. ‘Cause they’re expecting you to back down, because the whole Army is run by intimidation. So they keep trying to flex on you, and if you don’t flex back, you’re gonna be in some crazy situation. But yes, you would be way better off in WTU if you were messed up, and not everybody could get that.

Editor’s Note: Curtis was asked if his injuries were determined to have been incurred in the line of duty.

Yes. But I didn’t get them in combat, so that meant the money situation changed because of that. They paid me a chunk of money, but I have to pay it all back, because I wasn’t hurt in combat. And it sounds far-fetched, but it’s pretty legit. ‘Cause I owe the VA $18,000 now.

I have to pay back my severance pay. I have to pay them back the money they gave me. ‘Cause they gave me a lump sum…it’s a lot to explain, but the best way to put it is like this, if you’re 30% disability, you’re medically retired, and you get free health care for life, and you get whatever 30% equals out to. If you’re less than 30%, they’re gonna give you a lump sum of money. And then another stipulation of that lump sum of money is if you’re hurt in combat, you get to keep it. If you’re not hurt in combat, you have to pay it back.

Oh yeah, and then if you’re less than 30%, you only get the health care, TriCare, for six months. It’s a raw deal. And I found out that I should’ve qualified for 40, at the minimum. That’s just counting one thing that’s wrong with me, not including anything else.

That’s how it stands at the moment, but I just put in nine claims, two weeks ago. I’ve spent six months working on these claims, gathering evidence, appointments every week for months. So I’ll be alright, it’s just gonna take a year, maybe a year and half, to finally get that pushed all the way through. And some of that stuff may get kicked back, and then I have to do more—get more evidence, and fight that stuff. And it’s gonna be a long battle, but I’m not at a complete loss. It started really bad, and I did lose out on free health care for life—or really, the title of medically retired, ’cause I still might get that free health care, if I get my percentage up. It’s just gonna be a fight, and it’s gonna be some time.

And then, I’m not getting any money until I pay back that $18,000. And really it’s $20,000, but I’ve paid back a chunk of it by now, a little bit of it. And what it is is it’s being paid back at the rate of about 240 bucks a month, so I got a document from the VA saying that they will be paid back completely by 2019, at the rate that I’m getting paid now. So I won’t receive any disability until 2019, and I can’t get unemployment until November, so I’m broke. Honestly, I’m living off of a credit card.

Part of that, too, was me being irresponsible with the money that they did give me. But really, I mean, considering everything that’s wrong with me, and the money they gave me, it would be a difficult thing even if I was responsible.

…I’m messed up for life. I really can’t do much. In fact, alls I do is sit in a chair all day long. Not that great.

Editor’s Note: Curtis also shared some reflections on how the draw-down is playing out in combat arms units.

…They doesn’t necessarily say, “Hey, I’m gonna save everyone some money by kicking this guy out.” What it is, is they want to thin the numbers out anyway. And if they have a reason to cut somebody, and they don’t want them, it’s a point for them. Some people, some leaders, just take pride in firing people, pretty much. They brag about it—they put that shit on the NCOER, their evaluation report. That, “I canned eight soldiers in a month,” like it’s an accomplishment, no joke.

Some soldiers, obviously they do need to get fired, and the Army’s not the best about firing people. Again, I’ve seen the process evolve since I’ve been in. If they’re stepping up again on firing people, they’re kicking out guys that they group as being overweight, and those who have patterned misconduct, there’s a lot more of that than when I came in. ‘Cause when I came in, they would take anybody. Felonies, whatever crime you could think of, it didn’t matter, they would let you in. And now, they’re kicking people out left and right. And including people who are wounded, and are trying to get medically separated.

Because they’re trying to push people out, ’cause the Med Board process is long, and you can’t do anything, so they just want to push you out as fast as possible, and they threatened us with that all the time. Saying that, “Oh, you Med Board people think you’re untouchable. You’re not.” And I saw several guys who missed too many appointments, and they get Article 15, and you miss another, you get another Article 15. I bet it came out to one appointment, one Article 15. And they’d try to kick people out for missing three or four appointments, it was that serious. Some guys actually had PTSD, and they had TBI, and they were having issues remembering and what-not, or sleeping, that’s another thing. I saw that a lot. Guys on crazy medication, not being able to show up to work on time, getting handed up.

We had a Med Board platoon, and we had a chapter platoon. And the chapter platoon, we had some pretty bad kids. And bad kids in the sense that they were constantly messing up. They were so bad that their platoon sergeant told them, “Look, if you guys come to work on time, I won’t make you do any work all day. You don’t even have to stay at work all day, you just have to show up on time, that’s all I ask.” So us Med Board kids with profiles are looking at these guys like, “How come you guys are in civilian clothes in the middle of the day, and how come they never have to come to work?” And their platoon sergeant gave them that incentive, just to get them to cooperate. But yeah, that’s the deal with those chapter kids. And the chapter kids get kicked out for all kinds of reasons. And there’s more than what I saw earlier in my Army career. A lot more, what I saw in 2-5 Cav, than I did in Germany, in my old unit. I have seen some legitimate cases of guys with PTSD doing various things that lead to patterns of misconduct.

…I don’t think any of us are really prepared [to work as civilians]. And I’m speaking, once again, from the combat arms perspective. Because it’s not like people are trying to hire a bunch of Infantrymen or scouts, or anything. Generally, all those combat arms guys have to get new skills, if you didn’t have skills already. If you weren’t mechanic or something, you know. So pretty much as soon as we get out, we’re already screwed. We have to immediately go get new skills, unless you go back to the job you had before you came in, or something.

Most of the time, I like to talk to new soldiers, to figure out, “What on earth caused you to join this organization?” And they’ll say the same stuff all the time, you know, “Uh, I needed a job.” I hear that a lot. And then, every once in a while I meet someone like myself, like a version six years younger, that says dumb shit like, “I want to kill people.”

…I have a unique view on racism. And it’s kind of like racism only exists if you let it bother you. I understand that there’s situations where it could really affect you, because someone over you is racist, I get it. But generally, 99.9% of the time I’m in the Army, almost a hundred, I didn’t experience this crap. And there’s a lot of minorities who scream, “Racism this! And racism that!” But really, whenever that comes up, I guess the person who calls racism needs to do a self-check, and evaluate themselves, and see where they could potentially be wrong, to see why somebody would come down on them, if they have more rank than them. And that’s just how I feel about that one, racism.

And in terms of gender, once again, I’m in a combat arms unit, so there’s practically no females around unless they’re in a support kind of role. And well, the consensus is none of us like females at work, but that’s just the way it is, because obviously, they’re treated differently. They got different standards they have to adhere to, and it’s like, the Army’s supposed to be equal, but there’s different standards. That’s how that works in a combat arms unit.

It’s a fact that minorities get extra points when they get up to the rank of E-7. They get an extra bonus when the Department of the Army looks over their records there, to see who they’re gonna promote—it’s not affirmative action, but they try to balance those numbers out. So that the senior non-commissioned officers, the minorities are represented in that structure. So you’re always gonna see more minority senior NCOs—not more than your average white person, but you’ll see more than represented. What that means is, you’ll just see more of them in the force. You’ll see more black E-7s than black E-4s. Depending on what job you’re in, that’s another thing. In combat arms land, in my first unit, there was three black privates in the whole battery, that’s like, a hundred-plus soldiers. But we had three black platoon sergeants, and the first sergeant was black. So that is set up that way. More minorities could join, enlist in combat arms, but they don’t. And to have representation in the senior NCO ranks, those minorities get boosted up.

Pretty much almost my whole time, except the last six months, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was in effect, and pretty much most folks always kept that stuff to themselves. So I never saw that kind of discrimination, ’cause no one ever came out. And me personally, it doesn’t bother me at all. And most folks don’t really care, at least the smarter folks understand, “Guess what? They’re here, whether they out themselves or not, so just deal with it.” We’re more concerned about the possibility of females being put in the same positions as us, because that would be a problem. At least, that’s the way most of us see it. Just because it would change some things… I believe in equality, but I also believe you should have the same standards.

Because those standards are pretty much why we’re getting cursed at and screamed at all the time, is ’cause either we’re not meeting the standard, or we’re not meeting the fantasy, made-up standard, ’cause there’s a lot of that. In combat arms units, they just make up these crazy standards that we’re supposed to adhere to, and we’re all supposed to be on this level that’s way better than what the Army expects of us. So if you have some other demographic in there, and they’re on a different set of standards, then it doesn’t make sense.

…You’re always told while going through Med Board process that, “Hey, if this is bothering you, you can get that fixed when you go to the VA, after you get out.” They kind of push you off the VA before you even get out. That is the biggest crock of nonsense ever. It doesn’t work that way. You are supposed to get everything, as much as humanly possible, even if you just think you have something wrong, you get it looked at while you’re active.

The VA service is just as bad as the Army’s service, really. Sometimes it’s even longer wait times, and then you gotta factor in the fact that the hospital isn’t down the street because you live on base. Oh no, the hospital could be hundreds of miles away. That’s something you gotta factor in there. And then, you gotta factor in there’s a trillion vets that are trying to get the same service as you, so I had to wait four months for an MRI, and I couldn’t get anything done for that issue until I got that MRI. I had to keep calling and nagging, and I got it bumped up to three months.

…I’m going downhill, honestly. Because I got my PTSD symptoms that came out of nowhere, practically. My sleep issues have flared up more. It’s been a rough adjustment [to civilian life]. It’s not as easy as you would think it is. And with my medical condition and my mental health conditions, really I’m not even that excited that I’m out. I’m getting nothing out of being home, really. Just bills, and debt. Because I don’t have a job anymore.

…I feel like I got so many issues that my main focus is not day-by-day, but almost. I focus on gathering evidence and taking care of my VA stuff, trying to get to appointments on time, and try and look at all the resources and benefits that are available for me. And talking to more people, trying to figure out, “What about this? What about that? What about this?” And not everybody knows everything, so you have to keep on staying on it, to make sure you don’t miss out on anything.

…And how stuff changes, is when people start calling it out, and putting pressure on the Army. When the Army gets a spotlight on them, and they start to look bad for falling down on the job. And people are like, “Oh, you’re bad-mouthing the Army!” And I’m like, “This is how you make things better. This is how you improve a situation.” Honestly, this stuff is one of the few things I miss about the Army, is going to work and butting heads with NCOs every day for them falling down on the job. Like, I would speak up for other people, “Hey. Hey sergeant, this guy has a profile, what’s up with that?” Or, giving them command policy. They end up getting the same one over and over again, every time they violate it. And that’s how you reinforce the point you have to say.

Editor’s Note: Curtis also participated in a separate interview about his participation in soldier and veteran advocacy during the Operation Recovery campaign.

I was interested in IVAW since when I came back from Iraq, in 2009. I was in Germany at the time so I couldn’t really participate. When I came to Fort Hood I was interested, and then Aaron invited me to come to Under the Hood, and I showed up one day.

[That] showed me it was an active organization where people are outreaching and doing stuff. I was embarrassed that I never left my room. So it was a huge mountain to actually leave to do something that wasn’t work-related.

…I’m doing what I wanted to do for a while, which is try to change the Army. Now, I know it’s hard to stop a war—that’s what drew me to IVAW. But Operation Recovery is just as important as stopping the war, because even once the war ends soldiers are probably not gonna get taken care of. So the goals of Operation Recovery are really important. Not just because I’m broke. I see this Army-wide: people aren’t being treated.

…We don’t want guys to be messed up? Let’s not go to war. It’s not a direct approach but ultimately it chips away at their power structure and causes them to re-evaluate what they’re doing, especially when we put pressure on them. Because the public cares about their troops too to an extent, and the best way to get them to join our cause—and our antiwar cause—is to expose how soldiers are being treated. It makes the Army look bad, and they would really lose support from the public if people knew how soldiers are being treated.

Lori has gotten us a lot of interviews: news, newspapers, internet articles, which is really good. I feel like I’m directly chipping away at the Army power structure by getting my opinion out there. I’m fighting the Army by getting into the media, which makes my voice so much more powerful. We also did a Veteran’s Day march that created more exposure that the Army is not a wonderful organization.

…I think it’s important to talk about demographics here too. Because this whole stigma, this discrimination against broke people is serious. It’s almost like race issues in the ‘60s, because if you’re broke you get treated totally differently, and that’s part of the reason I’m passionate about Operation Recovery. You get ostracized, you get treated differently. It’s terrible…

…I want Fort Hood to be right here, everybody’s on the same page of music. I want as many willing people to come here, make this their hangout spot, support what we do, and for us to support them. I want us to be an actual community, instead of having this big divide between on-post and off-post.

I talked to a staff sergeant today while I was doing outreach. He told me that I shouldn’t tell soldiers about their rights or tell them about different resources they have available to them, because he said the soldiers are misusing what I’m saying, and they’re trying to take advantage of the system through what I’m telling them. I don’t think that’s true at all. The problem is that soldiers’ NCOs are failing them, and soldiers are having to use other resources to take care of themselves. I think one person doing outreach like this can really rock the boat, by letting soldiers know about resources they don’t know about.

…They talk to us constantly about sexual assault, and suicide. If they started to talk about profile violation at the same level, that would be a success. If a soldier comes in here and says, “Hey, we just had another fucking brief about profiles,” that’s a success, because we put pressure on them and they reacted. Even if they just reprint the same policy and got people to talk about it, and put it up where everybody sees it, all these NCOs see it, and the main profile violators see it, that would be a victory right there. For sexual assault training, if they would actively take steps to make people take it seriously, that would be a success.

The other campaign goal is to reduce stigma. There’s a policy, SURG-01, that covers stigma for mental health care, but it doesn’t cover physical health care. If they would ban stigma for mental and physical care in one document, then that’s a success. Or if a new command policy comes out all together that pertains to that, that would be a huge success, because the stigma for getting health care is ridiculous. If people knew about that they would be shocked. They would want to do something about it.

…By participating in Operation Recovery and being at Under the Hood, I learned about MEDCEN-01 and SURG-01, which I didn’t know about before. It’s a success that I can carry those policies around in my pocket now and show them to NCOs. It has helped me at work, and made my life easier. A lot of guys have copies of it now, and it’s making their lives easier too.

It doesn’t seem like much, but you gotta see it. When you’re at work and you whip out MEDCEN-01 on some asshole who’s trying to make you break your profile: you say, “Hey, this three-star general said that this is policy [not to break soldiers’ profiles], so shut up, there’s nothing you can do.” I won that argument, and that’s powerful stuff. Just that alone.

…Soldiers don’t bother to read the AR. They don’t know what the rules are, they just go off what their first-line supervisor says. So if you can give them the alternatives to that, official alternatives, real information, that’s powerful stuff. And that’s how you impact somebody’s life in the Army.

For me personally, it’s really been about knowledge, learning more about how the Army works. Because as a soldier, you feel like a slave with no rights. You feel like no one’s actually there to help you. And by us as people, as activists, reaching out to people to let them know that actually there is some support from the Army, that there are some avenues of support that are legitimate—plus our space and advocacy. Most soldiers don’t know about those avenues. They talk to their battle-buddies, and to their peers, and people have crappy information or advice that can make their situation worse. So it ends up feeling like you’re left alone…

Maggie and Aaron for example, I think they have a great impact on the people who come here. They are veterans who are professional activists here, and they bring so much knowledge to the table on how this works… It’s so good to meet people like that. It makes me feel like IVAW is much bigger than us in this room, or us in this space, because we have professional activists coming here specifically to help us and to help the community… They do make a difference.

…I want to show my peers, “Look, these NCOS have no power. We give them the power by consenting to their ridiculous instructions. So you have to butt heads with them constantly, every day, all the time.” Especially when we’re right, that’s the biggest thing.

I try to lead by example. To show these soldiers that regulations apply to everybody and every rank. Just because he’s an E-6 doesn’t mean he can make me break my profile. That’s why I do what I do. Because (a) I get a kick out of it, (b) I’m encouraging other people to do the same thing, and (c) that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s