US Army veteran, Cavalry, Two deployments
Editor’s Note: Max is a Latino Army veteran, originally from East Texas, who served in a Cavalry unit. He spoke of the massive stigma he and other soldiers faced in his unit at Fort Hood for medical and mental health issues, both of which he experienced during his service. Max deployed once to Iraq and once to Afghanistan, and described his struggle of conscience during and deployment. At the time of the interview, Max had recently been discharged from the Army. He was granted student benefits from the VA, but due to paperwork processing delays he missed the chance to register for the current semester.
I walked right into the recruiting office and said, “Hey, sign me up,” in November 2009. [I wanted] a sense of purpose. I joined because I left my job as a police dispatcher, and after that a retail supervisor, due to current life events—break-ups and deaths. I felt like I needed to get away but I didn’t know how.
I am also big on being an individual, and I believe that freedom in its quintessential form is beautiful. I signed up thinking I would really be defending the constitution and the people.
During my active duty at Fort Hood, I sought out medical attention for my back. During deployment I received a laceration on my arm from a friend and his knife. As well, during deployment I sought medical attention on several occasions for my back. After deployment I sought medical attention for my back and for my mental status.
During deployment and after we returned, I tried to get my back looked at in-depth, but to no avail. It was pretty hard, seeing how everyone was in the “ready to get home mindset,” and were like, “Take care of it after we get back.”
[The care was] minimal at best. It all depended on the physician and their personal attitude. Some were cautious, like “Take it easy.” Others were, “It’s all in your head, get back in the game,” kind of personality.
They gave me prescriptions for my back after deployment. I sought [a diagnosis] but have never been given one, or an appointment to have my condition looked at more carefully. My immediate supervisors were aware [of my condition] and they weren’t too keen on it. I received better advice and help from a good friend and medic. My supervisors saw it as weakness, and the local response was, “I got that problem too, but I don’t cry about it or make a big deal out of it.”
I received two [profiles] in Kuwait for my back. They were temporary, and while they helped I would have rather been diagnosed or treated rather than told to relax.
I had several friends who were under extreme pressure to violate their profiles—whether because of work or ‘corrective action.’ However, when the supervisor wanted to use it against them they would say, “You better not be violating your profile, I will Article 15 you for malingering!”
Soldiers in my unit were [aware of MEDCEN-01], but like I said, it’s hard to go by the rules when the people in charge don’t play by them. Plus, being called a “pussy” or “broke dick” or “profile ranger” doesn’t help them. [For it to be enforced], we need a total re-training of leadership. The problem is always in the individual leadership. We have to abandon this idea of machismo and become a more intelligent and capable military. Too many biases of individuals have spread throughout the ranks and affected many soldiers who need help.
I received all [my profiles] from my interchanging battalion physician during deployment. The longest was for two weeks and it was a no run, no heavy lifting, no gear profile.
Editor’s Note: Max also testified that he was never re-evaluated before his temporary profiles expired, and felt he was always under pressure to violate them from his immediate supervisors (NCOs).
I was always told that I was broke, or the other soldiers were told that I wasn’t going to help, just watch them work.
I believe we are forcing medication down our soldiers’ throats, and patting them on the back, telling them they did good and to strive on. That is not treating the condition, that is pacifying it. There’s no shame in having a conscience, yet we treat it like an ailment.
It was generally a negative thing to be on profile. Our battalion had lots of soldiers on profiles, at many times. We were told by our commander to get help and get fixed. Yet the immediate platoons and supervisors would treat you badly because of it, or produce negativity toward you by turning the platoon against you.
Several times, I witnessed my best friends with serious conditions treated badly because of their profiles. Everything from name-calling to being assigned the most mediocre and humiliating of tasks, like guard duty for 12 hours at a time. Then after, it was ridiculed because all they “did” was guard duty. I can understand a combat environment, but this was a garrison environment.
[The stigma comes] from this machismo robot we have concluded is the American soldier. Several times I’ve heard, “In Afghanistan, in Iraq, we had to do it. So don’t complain.” Or, “Pain is weakness.” However, pain is a human emotion… It all starts the minute you begin basic training. Drill instructors love to yell, “sick call ranger,” and, “profile queens.” We see those on profile as if they are on some kind of vacation while we slave away. It’s sickening how leaders can turn a population against another—it happens all the time to those on profile.
Editor’s Note: When asked if this stigma has prevented him or other soldiers in his unit from seeking care, Max was emphatic that it had.
Even I didn’t want to get help, because I knew all the way from my supervisor to the fellow soldiers in the platoon, and up to the physician, that I would be given a hard time.
[SRP was] very rushed, very get-up and get-done so we can get out early. I saw soldiers with physical ailments and even some with mental conditions pass through SRP. Some soldiers were sent back during the deployment because they mentally collapsed. Even though they had a history, so they should have never left [garrison].
While deployed, we had a fellow soldier who we had to guard because of thoughts of suicide and homicide. And we had a soldier kill himself in Iraq. He was in a unit stationed with us.
While we were on garrison, we had a soldier who was put on suicide watch. First it was needed, and okay. But then our immediate supervisors stigmatized him and turned the platoon against him, until everyone he was close-minded hated him. It was sick how they treated him. I stood up for him on several accounts, all the way even to a direct investigation by Brigade.
After deployment, I was given a questionnaire to ‘rate’ [my] PTSD. That is sickening, rating PTSD as if it is a normal cold or flu. At that R-SRP, I answered truthfully. In the past, I answered falsely, because I just didn’t care about the lackluster treatment they could offer, or the persecution that comes from seeking help. But I had had enough of the Army and it’s ways, so I answered truthfully, and was told to go to the mental health building. It didn’t matter anymore, to me personally. I was fed up with what I had did for a year, and tired of the Army. I would not be stigmatized anymore.
[PTSD trainings] were dull, long, and trivial for the most part… However, there was always a section on malingering there, just for a reminder.
I find myself a lot more irritable now during random events. Every now and then, I have a dream of seeing the poor Iraqi families that were victims of our war there, and the small broken dying child that they brought to our COS for help, but we mercilessly turned them away. Also how blind and racist I was up to the halfway point of my deployment in Iraq, until I learned that they are living breathing human beings just like me, and they were only trying to live free.
Sometimes I get mad at close friends or siblings. After seeing a culture make due with nothing, you get sick of seeing first world problems.
Editor’s Note: Max also reflected on what has been helpful for him in dealing with PTS.
IVAW. And Under the Hood coffee house at Fort Hood was amazing and very, very brilliant. Also just relaxing with friends.
Some [soldiers I know] are doing better than others. Some have nightmares, some like me feel deep regret and sorrow for the people, and some aren’t affected by the crimes they committed at all.
I think [we need] an overhaul of the way the military works. And a change of leadership from the top to the bottom. We need to realize that this is the information age, and the age of acting like meat heads needs to end. We need to educate ourselves on what is right and wrong from every direction.
We had short, mandatory TBI briefings where they gave us a card and made it mandatory to have that card on us at all times. I did take the ANAM before deployment. I was exposed to blast pressure, but not nearly as bad as my friends who were directly exposed to it. I got no screening afterward. There wasn’t even a record of me being treated for it… After being exposed, I was given an oral memory exam and a problem-solving exam.
We had long, dull briefings [for MST], where it felt like the person giving it was very lackluster about the subject. I think [MST] is very, very prevalent. Once again, [we need] a re-haul of leadership and the way we conduct business on the regular daily work day. The biggest problem I see is that we allow it to happen, whether jokes or assault. We see it and we shake it off as nothing. We need to change this mindset of sexism, that it is okay to view women as shells to be abused. And it works both ways.
Editor’s Note: Max testified that he had known someone who was affected by sexual assault or harassment in the military. Then he continued to describe the effects of the draw-down on service-member health.
It was kept hush-hush by the leadership to avoid problems.
The higher ups talk a big game about getting stern on thinning the ranks. However, I have had friends who tried to go before the MEB board and were refused, or it was drawn out in a very lengthy process. I certainly have [seen soldiers chaptered out before ETS], for being over-weight, previous discipline problems. And it is disgusting, I saw soldiers who suffered injuries both mentally and physically that affected how they conduct themselves at work, and they were ‘correctively trained’ for it…
…I still feel massive amounts of grief and sorrow for the people I saw and the crimes I saw my fellow soldiers commit, everything from harassing Iraqis to destroying businesses.