US Army veteran, NCO, three deployments
Editor’s Note: Jim is an Army veteran in his mid-thirties who is part Cuban and part white, originally from Detroit. He enlisted in 2003, and worked radar, serving three deployments to Iraq between 2004 and 2010. His son was four at the time of his first deployment, and he expresses regret at losing so much time with him. Jim was honorably discharged in 2010 and at the time of the interview in mid-2012 was struggling to access the care he needed at the VA, despite already having a 90% VA disability rating and a diagnosis of PTSD.
I was a construction worker. I was 25, so I was kind of old for joining the military. But it was after 9/11, in 2003. And I kept getting laid off from construction jobs. It kept getting harder and harder to find a job. So I decided to go into the Army, for money, stabilization for my family, stuff like that.
I have one son. And a wife. Actually I’m also raising two kids that aren’t mine now. My little brother lives with me too, he’s handicapped. He gets a $600 check every month. He can’t really do much.
Other than the stability while I’m in the military for my family, my grandfather was military, my mom married a Navy guy eventually. It’s been in the family, so I thought that that would be a good thing. But it bit me in the butt, because I wasn’t there for my son, and I kept getting deployed, so my son kind of went nuts at school, and started getting into a lot of trouble. That’s more or less the reason I left the military, because my son needed me, and I couldn’t keep getting deployed. I would have already had two more deployments, if I had stayed in.
He was four [when I first deployed]. So I missed a big chunk of his life. He’s 15 now. But I’ve been out for two years, so he’s getting straight. He needs Dad. He doesn’t get into trouble, especially like I did when I was his age. So, I guess I’m kind of blessed in that area.
That’s offset by my sister’s two kids, that I have. A 16-year old girl, and a 12-year old boy, that came from a very bad situation. They came from a very bad situation in North Carolina, and I’m helping them out. And…they’re a handful.
I’m a very strict parent. It’s alright. I actually enjoy it. I know that the benefits in the future are going to very much outweigh what I’m going through right now. I feel the same way about the few people in my past that had a very big impact on me. Even though, back then, I hated them. So I’m not worried about it.
…[The military] didn’t care. Every time I came back from a deployment, they would have the health re-assessment thing, where everybody had to go to. And one of the things you had to do was talk to a social worker. I don’t think they were real psychiatrists. And they asked you if you have bad dreams, if you have memories that won’t go away, and stuff like that. Every time I came back, and even while I was in Iraq, I would wake up in the middle of the night thinking that bombs had just gone off. It still happens, just not as often.
At first, right when I got back, it was violent, and scared the living daylights out of my wife. And I don’t even remember this, but apparently I freaked out on her, and tried choking her in the middle of the night. There were a few times where I would get up in the middle of the night, and I’d search around my room for my full battle rattle, stuff like that. And I did tell the guys at R-SRP this, every single time that I came back from Iraq. Nothing. They didn’t tell me to go any appointments. I guess I could have by myself, but they didn’t tell me to, even though I told them that I was having issues. Which might have been good, because the psychiatrist I would have seen ended up shooting a whole bunch of people.
They were DoD social workers [at R-SRP]. They had to have put my symptoms in there, because after I got out, I was able to very easily get VA and get PTSD diagnosed. A lot of what soldiers are going through—and I’ve seen this personally—is that they’re so messed up in the head that all they want to do is get out of the Army. They don’t care about getting help or getting benefits, and they’re screwing themselves, really.
When I was ETSing, I ended up getting a referral before I got out. But I had to go and ask for it myself. I wanted to make sure I would be able to get into the VA. He wasn’t even a psychiatrist either. He was a civilian counselor. And I talked to him for a while, even had my wife go in there and talk to him with me, once. He was the one that wrote the paperwork to the VA, saying that I had PTSD.
But I didn’t [feel the care was adequate]. I really didn’t like the direction the guy was going. He kept trying to go in a religious direction with me. And I’m an honest person, I told him I’m an atheist. I truly believe that religion poisons everything. Religion’s the whole reason that most of these wars are happening. Regardless of the fact that we just went [to Iraq] for oil…
…I’m still working on it. I missed my appointment yesterday with the psychiatrist at the VA. Some really crazy stuff happened, and I wasn’t able to go in. This town is bad. Very bad. I really need to get out of here. And I live on the good side of [Killeen], on the other side of the highway. And it’s still not good. It reminds me of Detroit.
I had two knee surgeries while I was in the military. The second one was right after my ETS. The first one was right after my first tour. The second one they couldn’t do while I was still in the Army, so they referred it to a civilian doctor. When I had surgery on my left leg, it took a month and a half before I could even put pressure on my leg. When I had the civilian surgery, I was walking within two days. I don’t know what kind of butchers they had doing my left leg, but it was only a five year difference between surgeries.
With the left leg, I had to have it racked up, and then walked on a cane for two months, because it took that long to heal. And I could walk on the other one within two days. And it’s [still] giving me problems. My knees and my shoulders are both on my VA too. I’m actually 90% disabled.
…I have no idea what [was prescribed]. I think one of them was Meloxicam, from the VA. And it was for mood, and stress. It didn’t work. I have anger problems. I can’t really explain it. But I have Medicaid, and I had to go to a doctor and pay them a lot of money to get prescription help. I have to take Xanax. That’s the only thing that calms me down and keeps me clear…
…I asked them and they said that the VA doesn’t give out Xanax. And I asked if there was anything else that works like Xanax that they could give me. They said no, that Xanax is the only thing that works like Xanax. Xanax is the only thing that keeps me calm, that stops my anxiety attacks and my panic attacks. And that Meloxicam didn’t.
Editor’s Note: The interview transitioned to talk about Jim’s experience with mental health concerns while in active duty.
…That would be the last thing I would do, to let [my command] know. Like I said, I told them at Reverse-SRP, but I wouldn’t tell my commanders or my NCOs…they could tell that I wasn’t doing real well…it’s like, everybody’s going through the same shit over there, and you do what you have to do.
Do your job. I mean, there were exceptions. One of my soldiers, in my second tour, he came in 10 months into it, which was also when we found out that our tour was gonna change from 12 months to 15 months. So we weren’t happy at all. We were all mad. And this kid comes in and starts going nuts, within two or three weeks. We didn’t know why. One day, he’s in his room with his roommate, and two other soldiers walk in and he’s putting rounds into his weapon. He said he was gonna kill everybody!
They beat the living daylights out of him, strapped him up, and I had to take him to Germany. I really don’t understand why he flipped out as bad as he did. I don’t even remember the kid’s name. He wasn’t there very long… They tied him up, put him in the orderly room. He was there for about six hours before we went to a hospital in the Green Zone. They took his shoelaces, all that. They untied him, they let him sit and chill. The only thing they did to deal with it was send him home. And I mean, at that point, he had threatened soldiers’ lives with a loaded weapon, so he’s not going to be allowed to stay there. We were on a plane to Germany within 12 hours. And from Germany, within 24 hours he was on a plane back to the States…
He was the dog of the lot, which I think is why he went nuts. He smoked a lot. We had all been there for so long, and we were all so set in how we did everything. And he just jumps in and has no clue what’s happening. And I guess it was just too much for him. He started getting other NCOs mad, started smoking in 115-degree weather. And getting smoked outside in Iraq is not funny. After he got hog-tied, he got put in the orderly room, and…ignored. For a few hours, until they could get everything situated, make sure there was room at the hospital in the Green Zone for him. I’m not an asshole, I wouldn’t have done that. I would talk to him. He was actually my soldier. I talked to him on the flight, and by the time we got to Germany, he was calm. He wasn’t trying to kill anybody. He was happy to go home.
It was kind of messed up.
…Different people dealt with it different ways. There was another guy that was with us for that 15-month tour, and went home, and turned into a total alcoholic. He was babysitting for somebody, and was drinking. He had the baby on the couch, and rolled over on the baby and killed it… And I blame the parents just as much as I blame him. He came back, and just went downhill. He wasn’t an alcoholic before he went to Iraq.
Other issues that I’ve seen…this guy that used to be my neighbor, he just came back from Iraq seven or eight months ago, and he’s having issues. Same issues most guys have when they come back. Anger issues, can’t sleep, PTSD. He couldn’t get help. His unit didn’t like him. He was a troublemaker in the unit, and on top of that, everybody that was getting in trouble in the unit stayed with him at his house. So they didn’t help him until it was too late. He decided to take his family home, and ended up being AWOL for three days before he came back. They threw him into the fifth floor of Darnall for a month, and left his family without him. He’s got a wife and two kids, and [his command] just said, “Whatever, who cares.”
His family was about a month away from getting housing on post, and his wife had to go back to San Antonio until they got housing. Now he’s back in housing, and he hasn’t gotten kicked out. I’m surprised, actually, because he’s done a lot of stupid shit. Getting in fights, stuff like that.
Editor’s Note: The interview turned to Jim’s experiences with medical issues during active duty.
When I had my first ACL knee surgery, I was given a no-run profile. I’ve had a bunch of messed up things that’ve happened to me because of that. They wouldn’t let me go to the Board, to get my E-5. They wouldn’t let me go to the Board because I had a profile, and they always come up with some other excuse, but it was because I had a profile. I wouldn’t say I was made to run anyway. But I was told that since I had a permanent profile, if I wanted to make E-5, I would have to ignore my profile and run anyway.
[By] first sergeants, and the higher NCOs. And I had already been in for three years, so I should’ve had my E-5. And they were saying, “Your PT score, as good as it is, it’s a walk. It’s not a run.” They wanted me to run. And I told them, “I can, but I’m gonna be in so much pain by the end of it that I’m not gonna want to do anything else!” But I did it anyway and got my E-5. Technically, they should not let me run at all. But that’s not the way they work.
…After my knee went out, the next thing that went out were my shoulders, during my second tour. I didn’t even realize what was happening for a while.
We were on the fifth floor of a castle in the Green Zone. We were doing escort, for 24-on, 24-off, and sometimes we’d barely get our boots off before we had another mission. And every time we had to come up and down the stairs, we’d have to bring our full battle rattle, our crew-served weapons, on top off the turrets. So running up and down the stairs with full battle rattle, ammo, weapons, and water, just destroyed my shoulders. I never told them anything. After I got out, I told the VA, and I started getting treated there.
…My first tour was horrible. They would walk mortars in on us. And you’d hear it, “Boom…” and then [louder], “Boom!” And [louder], “Boom!” It’d get louder and louder as it’s coming to you. And you’re thinking, “Oh, fuck.” I was working night shifts, and one time I was sleeping, and a rocket hit. The end of this building was where the door was to the room I was sleeping in. Right on the other side of the door were oil tanks. The rocket hit the oil tanks. And I swear, I raised about three feet off the ground, a foot over, down, and under the bed, in one move. I couldn’t see, dust everywhere. Grabbed my full battle rattle. And this is where I think the nightmares come from. I went out to see what happened. At first I thought the building got hit. I didn’t know what was happening. It was a big explosion, because it hit a gas tank. And I walked out there, and it was…about three dead people out there, in body parts. Horrible. And that’s where I think I get my PTSD.
I don’t know [if I needed a PTSD profile]. I was always professional. It affected family life more than my military job life. And that’s not the case for everybody. But I was able to stay professional at work. If not, I probably wouldn’t have gotten an honorable discharge. I probably would’ve done something stupid, like started doing drugs. I’ve started to see that a lot more around here.
…Someone I served with had been overweight, his whole time in the Army. And there’s nothing worse than being overweight in the Army, especially at that time, because they weren’t kicking anybody out. Right now, they’re kicking everybody out as fast as they can. But back in 2004, 2005, 2006, they didn’t care. They’d keep you in. You’d be getting in tons of trouble, just because you’re overweight. Even me! I was overweight too. I’m so short, I’m supposed to be 158 pounds. I stayed 170 my whole career.
But this other guy, he couldn’t lose the weight, because he had a no-running profile. He was pressured, he was messed with. He was one of the most deserving guys to get rank, and it didn’t happen, just because of his weight. He was really good at his job, really smart, really punctual, he was a good soldier. He’d been in the Army for just as long as I have, and he never made it above E-3, because he’s overweight… [because of] Sergeant Turbian.* He was of the mindset that if you weren’t perfect Army material, you shouldn’t even be there. And at that time, they weren’t kicking anybody out. And he knew that, so his mindset was, since I can’t get him kicked out, I’m just gonna make his life a living hell. And that’s what he did.
Editor’s Note: When asked if anyone else in Jim’s unit was pressured to violate their profile or messed with the way that soldier was, he replied emphatically. He also clarified that this was true despite soldiers in his unit being aware of MEDCEN-01.
…Every single one. Every single one. I mean, I should’ve gotten profiles for my shoulders, because it got to the point where I could do maybe 30 or 40 push-ups before I’m just [choking]. And I wouldn’t do it. I already can’t run. And if on top of that, I can’t do push-ups either, these guys are gonna look at me like…and it’s gonna be horrible. So I needed to get the hell out.
…III-Corps put out a memorandum, that they made all the first sergeants tell everybody [about MEDCEN-01]. And then, it gets around.
…There would have to be real, detrimental effects for the higher command of the units that are letting profiles be ignored [to enforce the policy]. Because there isn’t. It’s a good-old-boy conspiracy type thing, once you get higher rank, and they all protect each other.
My first tour, I wasn’t there, but a warrant officer pulled his weapon on a NCO, and cocked his 9mm. Afterward, nothing happened to him. Everybody knew about it. He did it in front of four or five other people, two of them were other NCOs. This was a warrant officer, an E-6, who had been in for 14 years. Absolutely nothing happened to him. In fact, he got promoted not too much longer after that. Craziness. He was slapped on the wrist. But other than that, there was no paperwork, there was no official looking into it, nothing. Now, on the other hand, when a soldier puts things into his weapon saying he is gonna kill everybody, and not even cocking it and putting it in somebody’s face, and he gets kicked out right away. Something should’ve been done with that guy. He was not stable. Instead, they ignored it, told him not to do it again, and he had a raise before we even left Iraq.
Editor’s Note: In turning to Jim’s experience as an NCO, he clarified that he was originally misled upon his recruitment, and then processed in as an E-3.
…It was 2003. I was a construction worker, I kept getting laid off. I ended up having to work under the table, with the people that were responsible for me getting laid off… But I got sick of that after a while, because they were a bunch of crackheads. So I went to the recruiter, and he didn’t believe me. I had hair down to the middle of my back. So I came back the next day, shaved. And he said, “Alright, I believe you.”
We started talking about the different MOSs. I picked one that looked good, and I asked him about it. One of the main reasons I wanted to go was to go to college afterwards, and have a good career. He told me, “This radar is just like the radar that they use at the airports. And once you’re trained, you’ll be good to go.” Total lie. He had no idea what 13-Romeo was. He just knew it was radar, fire-finder operator, and then made up the rest. That has nothing to do with the radars that they use at airports. I was 25, and I already had a family. He said he’d get me in as an E-1, or if I passed a PT test, passed a piss test, and passed a written exam about Army knowledge, he would get me in as an E-3. I looked at all the stuff and said okay. And he said, “Don’t even worry about it. I’ll fill it all out. You’re an E-3.” So I wasn’t going to argue with him. He was pretty dishonest. I thought that was messed up. I did get [the E-3]. I had a family, and I needed the extra money.
…I got my E-5 in 2006. I was an NCO for half of my time in the military.
…There was a lot of stigma if you [sought care]. You were looked down-upon, and you were thought of as just trying to get out of there, if we were out in tour. When we’re here, it’s even worse, because all they do is tell you to suck it up and drive on. They don’t do anything. Unless you push it, and then they will.
But, like my neighbor, he didn’t tell anybody about the problems he was having. They were plain to see, though. An NCO can tell if a soldier has issues, and an NCO should do what they have to do if they see that a soldier has issues. Other than that one soldier that I had to bring to Germany, I’ve never had a soldier that had issues. At least not that they talked about. A lot of people hide their feelings, and won’t talk about it.
[As an NCO] I was more or less told, especially when it came to smoking soldiers, and writing them up, to do everything I could to fuck them up without breaking their profile. Like, some people’s profiles say, “Run at own pace and distance.” The Army takes that as, “You run until you fucking die.” Until you can’t run anymore, because you’re so hurt. And that’s just the way it was. Apparently they’re not allowed to smoke soldiers like they used to. We used to think it was funny. It happened to me when I was a soldier too, so we passed it down. Like making someone hold chalk blocks out for as long as they can. You’re not allowed to do that anymore.
…Especially if they didn’t have their profile physically on them. Oh, they’re screwed then. As messed up as that is. If you don’t have your profile on you, and you don’t do what you’re told to do, they’re gonna write you up for not doing what you’re told, and you’re going to get in even more trouble. It’ll go all the way up, and you’ll get in trouble, and your profile won’t even matter.
…Usually profiles just get ignored. And if they need the soldier, they take him anyway.
[Officers] should be more involved in the platoon activities. The lieutenant that I had was always so busy doing the captain’s paperwork that he didn’t know what was going on, until the NCOs told him. And the NCOs only told him what he wanted to hear anyway. It seemed like lieutenants and the lower-ranking officers were fodder for the captains. They worked so hard that on top of having to be the leader of a platoon, they had to do all kinds of stuff for the captain. Like, PowerPoint slides, reports, company-wide stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with our platoon. So I think, give the officers more time with their platoon, to be able to know their guys, and have more of a stake in what happens with the platoon. Because when I was in, they were just there for formations.
[The stigma comes from] human nature. Guys thinking that you shouldn’t have feelings like that. Any guy that’s been in the Army and been over there and been blown up a few times has got to have some issues in their head. But the ones that hide it the most are the ones that are the biggest jerks about it.
It discouraged me from getting help. I waited until I was almost out of the Army. I was ETSing, about three weeks away before I finally said, “I need to see somebody.” And then they sent me to that civilian.
You go through a bunch of lines [at SRP], they make sure you have all vaccinations, your anthrax shots. Got so much anthrax in me. That’s about it. Make sure all your paperwork’s straight, your will, your power of attorney… They never asked about PTSD. They didn’t give a shit. They didn’t care about that. And if they had looked up any of the other SRPs, they would have seen that I had told them I had nightmares. Every time I came back, I told them at Reverse-SRP. The SRPs, they don’t even ask. And you don’t even talk to a social worker…not for SRP.
Editor’s Note: Jim also testified that before his third deployment, he was given the ANAM pre-test, however he received no TBI screening after the rocket attack during that deployment. He was also exposed to blast pressure on a few other occasions. He did not receive any cognitive or memory testing until he was seen at the VA.
…There were guys that were there and weren’t deployed for very long before they went nuts and did something really silly just to get back. It was sometimes their second or third tour. A guy, a friend of mine, and his NCO, both got into civilian clothes, stole the sergeant major’s truck, went to the civilian shopette, that only civilians are allowed to go to. They bought a bunch of liquor, got really drunk, and crashed the sergeant major’s truck. And they did it on purpose.
I think they were trying to get kicked out. Another messed up thing is that the NCO got knocked down one rank, to E-4. The E-3 that was with them got knocked down to E-1, and kicked out of the Army. And he stayed the rest of the tour being the Commander’s bitch, doing crap work for the rest of the year. Cleaning, anything. The NCO got his E-5 back before he even got back from Iraq, he didn’t get kicked out. The other guy did get kicked out. And the NCO should’ve been the responsible party in that whole fiasco, but as soon as they kicked the E-3 out, they gave him his E-5 back.
I know the NCO. The NCO had a lot of issues. He was, no doubt, gay. But of course, he had to hide it. He was probably a very angry person. The other guy, he had a lot of issues too, but I think that was just because, like I said, they were letting anybody in at that time. And he was more or less a criminal. Just not a very good person.
That was our first tour, so everybody was getting blown up. They were throwing mortars everywhere.
…The guy that showed up the 10th month and got kicked out, that screwed a lot of peoples’ heads up. That pissed off so many people. The fact that that guy came in, just whined and cried about everything, and then ended up wrecking peoples’ lives, after we had been there getting blown up for the last 10 months. And in the three weeks he was there, we went on missions, but we didn’t get blown up once. I think we might’ve got shot at a few times. He flipped out… And then, on top of that, while he’s whining and crying about stuff, all the other soldiers are just ridiculing him, like, “Shut up and get to work!”
Right after it happened, I was gone, because I took the guy to Germany, and was stuck there for a while. So I didn’t see the aftermath right after it happened. But when I got back, they were more pissed off that he was only there for two weeks and got to go home. I don’t know what happened to the kid. I’m sure he got kicked out, but I don’t know if he got psychiatric help…
If anything, it brought our platoon closer together. Because we had been there the whole 15 months, we had gone through all this stuff together. We just felt like he can’t deal with it, and we can. I mean, we deal with it in our own way, and we might have our own issues ourselves, but we’re here to do a job, and that’s what we’re doing.
…I’m actually very good with people, talking to people. There was a guy who worked in the orderly room. His wife cheated on him. He got depressed, and tried to kill himself—he tried hanging himself. And this was after I had already gone to Germany that first time, so they got me again. They told me to go to the Green Zone hospital with him, and then go to Germany with him. I said, “Roger.” We went to the hospital, and I sat there and talked with him for four or five hours. Everything takes a while, especially when there’s a lot of other shit going on. They’re gonna worry about the guy gushing blood before they worry about the guy trying to kill himself. By the time the helicopter came to take him, he had calmed down, and he wanted to stay. He didn’t want to kill himself anymore. He stayed for the rest of the tour, and he was fine. So I feel like that was a good accomplishment of mine, that I helped a guy out. And I’m married too, and being married in Army isn’t the best thing.
…There should’ve been [command response]. We should’ve had some kind of a discussion, about suicide and about problems we were having, especially the fact that we had just been pushed from 12 months to 15 months, and only found out on our 10th month. It should’ve been a priority issue. But there was so much other stuff going on, so much other training going on, that I guess they didn’t feel that it was important enough. It was more important to have medical training, and be able to save somebody’s life that got shot or got blown up.
…My first tour, I think three people killed themselves in the porta-johns. They just couldn’t take it anymore. They messed up the porta-johns, not too far away from where I worked. Two of them I actually heard the gunshot, and saw them go get them. Pretty bad. They weren’t in my unit. They were people that were going out into the Red Zone. My first tour I didn’t go to the Red Zone at all. I was at FOB, doing my job. My second tour, I was. I could better understand how they could get to that feeling. I’ve got some pictures that are just…how could people do this to each other?
…[I didn’t see mental health] until I was almost out. At least one time, they asked me if I wanted to see a psychiatrist, and I said no. It had to have been my second [deployment]. That’s the one I got blown up the most on. [I said no] because it would’ve gone to my unit, and they would’ve known, at that point. And I didn’t want it out there.
Editor’s Note: Jim went on to describe what kinds of briefings he had received for issues related to traumatic injuries, and spoke about the effects PTSD has had on his family life.
[There] was a day-long, five-hour training, and they covered a bunch of different stuff, at one of the big theaters on post, with probably six or seven hundred soldiers. And PTSD was one of the topics. The training was everything for pre-deployment. Everything from the culture of Iraq, to how to not piss them off… I’d say probably every section was covered about a half-hour, 45 minutes. Maybe an hour.
I mean, I understood [the PTSD section] because I already had PTSD at that point. What they were showing was worse than what I go through. Truly, I didn’t think I was gonna get PTSD, because of what I’ve seen, and what they show you is people totally flipping out. I don’t totally flip out. I just wake up with nightmares, and sometimes run around my room looking for my full battle-rattle.
It [was] a video of a guy in Iraq, and he’s doing his thing, and there’s bloody guys and everything. And the next thing you know, his wife’s screaming, and he’s in his house the whole time. It doesn’t quite happen that way for me. But I guess it could.
I get really antsy. Because I drove a lot, I was in vehicles a lot. And when there’s a lot of traffic, I start getting anxiety, and it can get to the point where I have to pull over and get out of the car, because I’m just [nauseous]. Because there were too many times when I’ve been in Iraq, in traffic jams, and gotten shot at. One time we had to go somewhere, and there was a big walking pilgrimage in this city in Iraq, where everybody goes to where the Shi’ite guy died. And we had a mission on that day, and got stuck. Next thing you know, we’re getting shot at from three, four different directions, and we couldn’t move. So we sat there and waited for helicopters to come and clear everything out. That’s probably why I am the way I am in traffic.
I wouldn’t be as high-strung and worried about as much stuff as I am [because of PTSD]. Maybe I wouldn’t be so quick to anger with my family. Which I do have an issue with, and I didn’t before. Like, going shopping with my wife. If I go shopping, I go get what I get and get out of there. If my wife goes shopping, she’s gonna want to go shopping. I can’t do that with her. I get her so mad. Because I’m like, “Let’s go. Let’s go. Let’s go.” It’s gotten to the point where I was like, “I’ll be out in the car. Here’s the credit card.”
[My wife] is more careful at night. She knows not to wake me up. Because I think that’s what happened, that one time when she said I choked her. I don’t remember it, of course. She said that I was having a nightmare, and she tried to wake me up, and I jumped on top of her and started choking her. She said other times that I’ve just jumped up out of bed, and ran around the room. I wouldn’t say she’s scared of me, but she’s more cautious. She knows that stuff can set me off.
But we’re doing alright. We’ve been together for 15 years.
I would have to say Xanax is about the only thing that’ll help. Either that, or try and go to sleep. I’ll start feeling it right here, feeling panic or anxiety starting. Just take a half a bar of Xanax, and I’m fine after about 10 or 15 minutes… Actually, I had [a panic attack] two days ago.
…[We had briefings] not really about sexual trauma, but about sexual harassment. That it can be anybody, anywhere, it can be guys against guys, anything. We did have a lot of training for that.
[It was] a joke. I mean, as much as it did happen… I was in a Combat Arms Battery, so we had, I think, two females. And as far as I know, we’ve never had any guy-on-guy issues. I never saw or heard of any issues in my command about it.
I’ve met a few females that have had a lot of issues. And even one that got molested by a drill sergeant while she was in AIT. She was telling him, “No, no,” and he said, “If you want to pass, you’re gonna do this,” and she got molested. She reported it, and she actually got out with 100% disability, and they’re paying her a lot of money. But I bet you that drill sergeant still has his rank.
Editor’s Note: Jim reflected on the effects of the drawdown on soldiers leaving the military, and whether exiting service-members are prepared to work in the civilian sector. He then continued to testify to his experience as a person of color in the military, as well as his struggle to access care at the VA.
…The guys that were friends with my neighbor next door, most of them were getting chaptered out for one reason or another…I don’t know what kind of discharges they were. But I could tell you that they all had issues.
…It depends on your MOS. In my MOS, I could probably get a job working for the people that do software and hardware for the radars. Especially because that’s what I’m going to college for. Most people that had technical jobs like mine, and most of the artillery jobs, other than people that were just humping shells, can easily get a job with the civilian companies that do that kind of work.
I don’t really look like I’m a person of color, but I am a quarter Cuban. My mom’s half Cuban. So I do see it, and I see it a lot more than most people of color, because I look light. And [racial discrimination] is prevalent, very prevalent.
But just like anything in the military, you have to be persistent. Because nobody’s gonna do for you what you need to do for yourself. Your NCO should, and I tried when I was an NCO, but even then, you can only do so much. The color of your skin doesn’t matter if you’re on top of your own shit.
…They have an OEF and OIF office in the VA, in Temple. Just like they have one right down the hall for Vietnam, and then there’s another one for Korea. I had an appointment with the OEF and OIF office, after I talked to all the doctors. And they were the ones who sent me to the psychiatrist at the VA. They can’t give me the pills that I need, the Xanax. At least, that’s what they’re saying. So I have to pay a doctor outside of the VA $600 a year, $20 a visit, and then pay for the prescriptions to be able to get it. And it’s a lot nicer if you get it for free. I don’t have insurance at all, I’m just paying out of pocket.
Editor’s Note: Jim confirmed that this is the case even though he has a diagnosis of PTSD from the VA. He has never been offered an alternative treatment or prescription, and has been attempting to get this care for his PTSD at the VA for a year and a half at the time of the interview.
I missed my appointment yesterday. I was going to talk to them about it more, and see if they couldn’t give me something.
The other things that are on my record are my knees and my shoulders, and my hearing. I have diminished hearing, a lot. They told me by the time I’m 50, I’ll probably need a hearing aid.
[What helps is] persistence on the soldier’s part. Because nobody’s gonna help you but yourself. That’s really the way I feel about it. As much as NCOs are supposed to help you, it’s really your own life, your own issues. The Army will not ignore you if you’re persistent. You can go all the way up. Open door policy. If somebody wanted to go and talk to the III Corps sergeant major and say, “I have a permanent profile, and they’re making me run,” they can. On the other hand, that sergeant major’s gonna go back, and rip the first sergeant a new asshole, and it’s gonna come back on that soldier. One way or the other, it’s gonna come back on that soldier.
…I was an NCO, and I do enjoy helping soldiers with the problems they have, family life, marital problems. I’ve had a few of them myself. I’ve done a lot of different stuff in my life. My father was a heroin addict, and crackhead. I’ve learned from him how not to live. When I look back at all the stuff that I’ve gone through, I can see that a lot of people have gone through the same thing, and I know I can help. That would make me feel good.