Active duty US Army, Mechanic, one deployment
Editor’s Note: Randal* is an African American active duty service-member, originally from Baltimore, serving as a Mechanic. At the time of his interview, he had served for eleven years, and was in the medical retirement evaluation. Randal had already been struggling for two years to get treatment for a hernia after a failed surgery, along with other medical and mental health issues.
I joined the military in May 2001. I first enlisted just to do three years, to say I’ve done it. After my three years, I enjoyed it, so I stayed on. My plans were to go into the warrant officer field and retire as a warrant officer.
I did initially want to join the infantry, but my mother would have had a fit. So I did mechanic, so if I decided to get out early, I could be a mechanic.
I’m currently on Med Board and I’m having problems getting them to examine my hernia surgery that I had. I’m starting to have pain and I actually take medication for it. But it seems I’ve been getting the run-around for the last almost two years.
I had the hernia repair done September 2010. In December I started having pain. We were on our way back to the States in January, so it was either go back to Qatar to get the surgery re-done or be stuck in Afghanistan for another two to three months with nobody that I knew. They asked me if I could tough it out and make it back to the States. When I get to SRP, everything would be good. I mean, that’s a win-win. I came with my battle buddies, I leave with my battle buddies. And I get help when I get back.
But when I got back, they said they couldn’t do it. Because they weren’t the doctors that did the surgery, they wouldn’t touch me. And they told me that I had to wait to talk to my PA. I got back in January and then I saw a doctor in March. I didn’t see a surgeon until April, but they didn’t do anything ’til June and then they said, “We can’t do the surgery.” So they sent me to pain management. That was my initial appointment with pain management in 2011.
And then in July of 2011 is when the pain doctor numbed me up in the front and told me I may have some nerve entanglements. And after that, it was a “Nope” from the Med Board, “There’s nothing we can do for you.” The brigade surgeon said, “Hey, you’re gonna have this pain for the rest of your life.” I talked to other people who’ve been in the same situation. This one guy told me they had to go in three different times until they seated the surgical mesh correctly. But no one would go in to try to pull mine out. And that’s all I wanted them to do. And they will not do it.
Editor’s Note: Randal confirmed in further detail who promised him in Afghanistan that he would be treated again for his hernia upon returning stateside.
It was a PA. I don’t know what unit he was with. He was actually the one who examined me before I got my hernia repaired, and then in December of 2010 he checked me out again. He told me that I probably had to get it redone. They sent me back to Kandahar and I talked to my PA, and she also asked if I could tough it out and wait ’til I got back. And said “I’ll just wait, ’cause we were on the downslope, we were packing up everything at this time. I’ll just wait ’til we get back, ’cause I don’t want to be stuck over there with people I don’t know.
[The first PA] didn’t actually do the surgery, but he’s the one who wrote up that I had a hernia, and I had to go to Kandahar to get it fixed. And in December he was also the same doctor who said, “Something’s wrong there, you may have another hernia.”
…[The second PA] meant what she said. She’d been the PA for awhile, all the way through August of 2011. And I was mad that she left, because she actually knew my situation, and she was sending me in all the right directions. But when the brigade surgeon heard I’d been back for over six months and on profile for over six months, and nothing was getting better, then the PA said go to Med Board.
Before that happened, my PA wanted to send me to pain management and to see a neurologist. She had everything planned out for me. But since I’ve been in the Med Board, I have not been to pain management. They have not done anything as far my abdominal pain…nothing.
Only thing they do is, whenever my pain gets so bad, even though sometimes I take medication, they’ll numb me up. But as far as trying to get me a diagnosis or trying to find out what exactly is going on, nothing. And they’re still avoiding it to this day.
I’ve been running my head trying to figure out why. It has to be something. Maybe the [surgery] product that they use is not that good, maybe they’re trying to help themselves out. But I know they are pushing for me to get out… Some kind of way, I am going to figure out why no one is helping me. Tomorrow, I’m going to go to my case manager and I’m going to ask her the same question too, ’cause I just met the case manager a couple weeks ago. At my last appointment at pain management, I was hoping to get the answer I was looking for. I had to wait two months in between going to the pain management. And when I got there it was basically, “We’re gonna set up this for your back,” ‘cause I have back problems also. But then February was the end of my pain management for my back.
I finally got a referral that I’d been waiting on. It came in the beginning of March, saying that I had a referral to the pain clinic for my abdominal pain and knee pain. So now from March to last Monday, I had appointments at the pain clinic. And they’re still talking about my back. But when I talk to the nurses, they say, “Okay, you’re here for abdominal pain.” But when I go in to see the actual practitioner, she’s talking about my back, so they’re not doing anything they’re supposed to do. Any time I bring up my abdominal pain, they keep telling me that the stuff they are doing with my back is going to help my abdominal pain. But it hasn’t done anything. So they’ve been jerking me around.
…It was the brigade surgeon that had seen that [I was back for six months]. She only met me the one time I went in to my PA to renew my profile, and she was like, “Oh, your PA is on leave.” And she pulled up my records, and she just initiated my Med Board right there. That was it.
I told her I didn’t [want to be Med Boarded]. That’s why I wasn’t before. They told me that by June 2011 I was supposed to be placed in Med Board, because it’d been over six months that I’d been on profile, can’t do any PT events. So I was supposed to be Med Boarded. I got initiated in August 2011.
And the purpose of the Medical Board is to evaluate you to get you fit, and if they can’t, then you have to get out. But they have not done anything to try to get me fit. So I didn’t understand the purpose or the point of them even putting me in there. I was getting more help before.
…My back pain started back in 2003, I can’t actually remember exactly how it happened, but I know we used to go to the field every other month, and we used to do some rough training. It was fun, but it was rough. And I hit my back so many times, I can’t remember exactly what started everything. But I used to complain about it, go into see my back surgeon, and they’d give me muscle relaxers. That was basically it.
2005, the same thing. After coming back from Korea in 2007, I got here to Fort Hood. I felt I always had a big bulge in my back. I went to our company medics and they said, “It’s hard, you have a bulge there.” Something is going on. So they told me to go get it checked out and put in for an MRI. But I guess on Fort Hood you can’t get an MRI until you do back exercises for a couple months. Then after back exercises, you have to go to back classes. Then after back classes, then they’ll say whether or not I can get an MRI. So they gave me a sheet with a whole bunch of back exercises to do.
This is in 2008. You’re supposed to the exercises on your own. A couple months go by, it’s not working. So they put me in for a back class. The back class is to learn how to lift and everything. And I told the nurse, “We do this for our job. They teach us how to lift with our back. I have a bulge right here, there’s soreness when you push.” But they basically said, “Well, we can’t give you an MRI without a back class.”
I was doing them on my own…and even to this day [I have pain]. A lot of bending back and forth, my back used to spazz so hard that I would hit the ground. And it would literally knock the wind out of me. I still take strong muscle relaxants now for that. And since I missed the back class, they scheduled me for another back class, and I got down to where the class is, but they said it was somewhere else. And when I finally went to the building, they had moved it. So when I got to that building, I was supposed to sign up 15 minutes prior, but I hadn’t. And they told me I had to wait, and that’s a six-month wait.
That’s how long it takes to get in the class. Back then. I don’t know how it goes now. So by me not going to the back class and my back spasming, the only thing they’d give me was, “Here take these and practice, take some flexor ribbon, take that.” Well, I need an MRI. And my PA would push for me to get an MRI, but I can’t get an MRI without that back class in my records. What was so crazy was when I got back in 2011, I saw my pain doctor in June, filled out some paperwork, and then he sent me to Scott & White. Scott & White did an MRI on my back to make sure my back wasn’t causing my abdominal pain. And he saw what was going on with my spine and he asked me how long was all this pain going on. And I told him from 2003. And he said all of this could have been avoided if they would’ve just went ahead and did my MRI when I asked them to.
He told me this in June 2011. And then once my Med Board initiated, I got sent to another pain management doctor in October, who’s right across the street. And when they got the MRI on my back that I got from the other doctor, he said the same thing. He said, “It makes no sense.” He said all of this could have been avoided if they would have just gave me an MRI. But they make it tough just to get an MRI.
They were both civilian doctors, and both pain doctors. And they both tell me that my back has nothing to do with my abdominal pain. It’s just weird.
My PA [referred to the civilian doctors]. I told her General Surgery on post denied me surgery three times as far as my abdominal pain. They denied me every time because they can’t find any abnormalities in my MRIs. They did everything, ultrasounds, they can’t find any abnormalities, so I guess it’s all in my head. But every time I ask for a second opinion. I went back to Scott & White… The surgeon says it’s probably the mesh. But everybody has a boss and this boss is not authorizing the surgery. That’s the problem, no one is authorizing the surgeries because they need to find something abnormal going on in there before anything.
[The civilian doctor] said there obviously is something going on. But he can’t do the surgery. And it’s just crazy. And then, I talked to this other provider, and she even asked me why haven’t I been referred to a neurologist yet. And I told her that’s what I’ve been trying to get, but they sent me to pain management. I was trying to go to see a neurologist because of the nerve pain that I was having. I take pills for that, and a patch for my just everyday pain. So I put in a referral to go see a neurologist and that got denied. TriCare, they denied that.
…And then I got a referral to get a nerve stem stimulator put in to make you just feel tingling instead of pain. And from my understanding, a lot of people who’ve had it done, they get back to their normal life. So I was, “Cool, that’s an easy way out of it.” At that point I was ready to try anything.
Nope, got denied. That was a couple months ago. It got denied in March, 2012.
My pain doctor that I have now, he put in the referral for me to get the nerve stem stimulator.
I see all civilian doctors. I’m not dealing with army doctors any more.
[The Army] denied the nerve stem stimulator. And my pain doctor also put in for me to see a chiropractor off-post, but the Army overtook that and said no, they have room on-post, so they’re sending me to an on-post chiropractor. And then after all of this time, they’re going to send me to a chiropractor and they’re trying to get me to all these other places. But I’m not dealing with any on-post doctors.
I can deny that request. I don’t care. I want to see somebody off-post. That’s just for my back, and everything has been for my back since October ’til now. But I’m in the Med Board for my abdominal pain.
My pain just gets worse, so I’m taking extra pills to boost my pain medication because my pain doctor doesn’t want to give me any more medication. Which I totally understand, I’m actually tired of taking all this stuff. I hate taking medication. I’m on a lot.
I started [meds] in 2011 when I got back. I had my pain in December of 2010 and we got back in January. I saw my PA once or twice a week, I would have to get a shot of Tordal every week. Or if not, they would have to send me home, they would put me on quarters. That’s how bad my pain gets. Then I went on block leave, and had to go to the emergency room. I told a doctor what happened, she didn’t know exactly what was going on, but she knew what to give me. She gave me Tramadol when I finally got initiated in MEB, in August 2011. In September, they switched my Tramadol to Vicodin.
After two or three months taking the Vicodin, they switched me to Norco. But Norco was too strong. They switched me to Norco in late November, but I couldn’t handle the highs of it, so they put me on BuTrans patch. That’s what I take right now. They started on fives in December, now I’m sitting on twenties, 20mg now. And that stopped working over a month ago. I’ve been taking Motrin, ‘cause I went online and they said if you take Motrin with it, it will help with the inflammation. And then that stopped working, so now I take Atarax, which is an allergy medication. But it helps boost the pain med—my PA found that out. The PA I have now is good. He tries to do whatever he can do at his level. Because, you know, they get shut off at a certain level. My pain doctor is who issues me all my narcotics.
Everything stopped working. I got a tolerance for everything, but the Norco. The Norco, I would take one and I’d be drowsy. And then the medication would wear off, but the high doesn’t. So when I take another pill to help with the pain after that, they have to try to wake me up if I’m at work. I sleep with my head on the desk. So I had to get taken off that stuff, I couldn’t handle it, couldn’t drive, couldn’t function.
…This one pill I’ve been taking for probably going on three weeks to go with the patch. And I usually take one at night and then I can go on with my day the next day. But now I take one at night and I get up. And if I take one tonight, I know I’m going to have to take another one tomorrow. But they make me drowsy also.
And then I have a muscle relaxant. If I don’t take that, I get real bad back spasms. And they just switched that out Thursday. And the one I took yesterday is no joke. So I actually don’t know what I’m gonna do ’cause I can’t take it at work, or take it and drive, so we’ll see what happens.
…They always [give information on the side effects]. And they gave me a big sheet of paper that says what it is… It’s too much. And I’m on sleep medication too. Ambien.
…When I first got initiated to the Med Board in 2011, I went in and told them that I was having trouble sleeping. As soon as I told them I had trouble sleeping, they gave me some Celexa. So I went home and I looked it up. I saw all the warnings, and it was for PTSD, depression, anxiety, all that stuff. So I went back to the doctor, I asked him why he gave me this pill, it doesn’t say anything about sleep. And he told that me that it’d help me sleep. So I took it the first day and I actually took it for awhile, because it didn’t knock you out or anything. But after a month of taking it, a buddy of mine called me, and he was like, “Man, don’t take that stuff, ’cause you won’t care what’s going on.” And my car was a mess, my house was a mess, for that whole month. And I’m a pretty neat person. So I stopped taking it.
It didn’t help me sleep. It never helped me sleep. So I went back and told them that. They took me off of that. Then they gave me Remeron. It was another for PTSD, anxiety. They told me only take it at night. It knocked me out for about five hours and my roommate was trying to wake me up. I was comatose, out of it. But once I woke up, I ate up everything in the house. I did that for three days in a row. So I went back to them and told them, “I can’t take that.” Then they gave me Trazodone, after that. Which was another for anxiety and depression. It would knock me out for only a couple hours. I’d get up, do my laundry. While everybody is asleep, I’m up. But I didn’t go back in, I just took the Trazodone, I just left it at that. And they sent me to a psychologist in March or April, this year. He diagnosed me with PTSD in April or May. And I thought that was kind of funny, because now I don’t take any PTSD medication.
Now I just take Ambien. I got prescribed the Ambien in May of this year. After I had been on all the other stuff, they put me on the Ambien.
…I wasn’t seeing anybody for PTSD [before]. They were just giving me all these pills. It was my MEB doctor prescribing them. And they kept saying, “It’ll help you sleep.” The Remeron and the Trazodone, I think I took those for three days each. And I was like, I’m not taking that stuff no more.
Editor’s Note: Randal confirmed that upon writing his prescription for Celexa, the MEB provider did not specifically instruct him not to stop taking the medication abruptly on his own.
They just wrote me up a prescription, and “Here, try this for sleep.” That was it. But actually I had a breakdown in March of 2012. I woke up in the middle of the night like I always used to. I used to wake up full of energy, sometimes shaking, sometimes just feeling down, and sometimes I’d wake up like not from a dream. I would wake up and I would be sweating and crying. And usually I just go back to sleep, but that night, I couldn’t go back to sleep. So I went to the emergency room and after that I’ve been seeing a psychologist.
I remember I got into an argument with my roommate [that night]. I told him he had to leave, ’cause he kept disrespecting my place. And I come to find out I had a whole bunch of complaints against me, and I was about to get kicked out of my place. Break the lease, breach of contract. So I told my roommate he had to leave. I had been at a friend of mine’s house when my girlfriend sent me a picture of my house, and my roommate had a big flowerpot in the middle of the carpet, and had a whole bunch of people in there smoking cigarettes. I don’t smoke. He already knew to smoke outside, he just had all these people, music blaring. Just very disrespectful. So I told him he had to go. I actually was yelling for him to leave. And I woke up later in the middle of the night, just woke up on my girlfriend’s bed, shaking. And that’s when I went to the emergency room.
I didn’t see [a psychologist] ’til like a month after. That night, I went on post, and this civilian lady talked to me. I guess she was an around-the-clock social worker. And she was talking with me for a little bit and trying to get information about what happened… My sleep had been messed up since I got back in 2011. I used to go see the MFLACs, every unit has an MFLAC, a Military Family Life Consultant. And every time I’d tell them I had sleep issues, they’d tell me to go see my PA and get some medication…
[The psychologist diagnosed] the PTSD and depression. I see him every week, once a week. That lets me let out a lot of frustrations. My main frustration is them not helping.
We have a new commander, he’s aware of [my] situation also. So he sent everything up the chain that was going on with me to the Colonel. They all know my situation. I just come into work, deal with it everyday…
As far as the doctors, I do not know why they just push me to the side whenever I bring up my abdominal pain. Every time. And last Monday was proof. They had me in the system as coming to see them for abdominal pain and all they talk about is my back. I told her that my referral expired for my back pain, but they still keep sending me in. And they keep using the excuse that maybe when they cauterize the nerves in my back, it will help with my abdominal pain. But they told me, it’s not in writing, it’s in their doctor’s notes, but they told me to my face that my back has nothing to do with my abdominal pain.
And the same providers Monday told me that maybe when they do the cauterizing of the nerves in my back, it will help with my abdominal pain. So they just contradicted themselves. So I’m moving to another provider. Next week I have to let my providers I have now know that I’m leaving them. But I gotta wait until I get my MRI next Wednesday. After my MRI, I’m going to go to their office and tell them that’s it.
Since December 3, 2010, I’ve been on profile… It said, “Hernia.” When I finally got evaluated, my profile changed in March or April and they changed it to “Abdominal groin pain.” Actually changed it to that instead of hernia, because they couldn’t find a hernia. All the tests they ran, they still couldn’t find one. But now I have two permanent profiles, one for my abdominal pain and one for my back.
The one for my back says that I can’t sit or stand for a certain amount of time. Sitting like this, leaning forward. I can sit down longer, if I sit straight. If I’m on my medication, a half hour sitting at the most. And that’s driving also. Off my medication it says 15 minutes, but I can’t sit up for 15 minutes straight. I can’t do PT, I can’t lift, push, or pull or carry anything over 10 pounds. March at my own pace and distance. Basically what we call a ‘dead man’s profile,’ can’t do anything.
Editor’s Note: Randal testified that he has not experienced pressure to violate his profile at Fort Hood. He also said that he and others in his unit were generally aware of MEDCEN-01 and SURG-01’s regulations against profile violation and stigma.
They actually have to tell me to stop. To put stuff down. I don’t lift up stuff real heavy, but when I do, they’re like, “Alright, put that down.”
…Soldiers look up everything on the computer. Plus we have a policy letter wall. All III-Corps policies, it’s mandatory to have them posted.
When I got my first profile in December 2010, I didn’t get another profile done again until March. So I went the whole month of February without a profile. But no one made me violate it.
Some soldiers do try to ride their profiles out. Every time theirs gets done, they go get another one so they won’t have to do certain jobs. It’s been like that since I first came in. For people who ride their profile, [they get made fun of]. ‘Cause some soldiers hate to run, so they’ll get a profile saying they can’t run. But on sports day they’re out there playing football, basketball, soccer. Soon as the next day is a run day, they can’t do it. They’ll basically just tell them, “You know you faking it.”
As far as mental health, I don’t know too many who has that, except for myself. I’m on Rear D, so there’s only between 14 and 20 of us…
There was a soldier that I deployed with. Probably about a month ago, we were all sitting around talking about all the missions that we went on, people who didn’t make it back, people who got blown up. And he actually came out and said that he was scared the whole time, and that some nights he finds himself awake. And I tell him, “Hey, you know, go get help. I went and got it. I honestly did not think I needed, but that one night…” [He hadn’t gotten help] ‘cause the soldier still wants to stay in and still wants to be able to deploy.
Editor’s Note: Randal went on to reflect about where stigma against mental health concerns comes from, and described his own experience in post-deployment processing.
It comes from the highest to the lowest. That’s in my opinion. ‘Cause leaders have to deal with soldiers who want to deploy, but they know they’re just going there for a paycheck, they’re not really going there for the job. Then you have some soldiers who are fully capable to do the job, but they don’t want to deploy, and try to get out of it. And they try their hardest. I do see a lot of that. Now I haven’t seen it within my company, but I’ve seen it within my battalion.
They don’t want to go back. I believe they are scared to go back. Because they went there the first time and, “Okay, I made it back.” And they don’t want to do it again. It’s simple as that. That’s a dangerous job, what we did over there.
When I got to the medical part [of R-SRP], they asked me what was going on. I told them that I had a hernia… And they said, “Okay, we’re going to set you up for an appointment.” I told them in December 2010, and they asked me if I had a past medical history. I said, “Yes, I had a hernia repair in September.” And they said, “Oh.” He was putting my information in the computer and was going to set me up with General Surgery. I told him that I had a hernia repaired two months before, and he just stopped and said they couldn’t touch me.
They said I had to go through my PA because I already had a previous surgery… That was it.
[At SRP] all we was doing was getting ready to roll out. They just ask you the basic questions: past medical history, do you have any pain issues, or what’s wrong with you right now. [I only had] my back, but I worked through it. It’s just my back got worse over there.
…After we did our Reverse-SRP, it was mandatory, everybody had to go see the MFLAC.
Editor’s Note: Randal also said he was not given any screenings for PTSD or TBI while in Reverse-SRP. He described what kinds of past briefings he had received on traumatic injuries, and what symptoms he experiences.
…There’s the MFLAC. We used to do a lot of PowerPoint on PTSD, what it means. PowerPoint, PowerPoint, PowerPoint. And TBI. There’s also a TBI clinic that they actually have on Fort Hood. I dropped a soldier off there once. It’s kind of small.
It’s a whole bunch of different briefings, just one after the other. PTSD, TBI… I don’t even think [each] took 30 minutes.
[I have] definitely irritability, nervousness. Just cannot relax sometimes. Just wanting to be by myself, that’s usually how I am once I get off of work. Even during work. I push through the whole day, but once I get off, if my phone rings, I don’t answer. I don’t feel like talking to anybody. It’s just how I get. I get mad, and if I get mad, I go off to be by myself. I’m not really the type of person to take my anger out on other people. If I’m mad at you, then it’s probably just going to come out a little rough talking to you. It takes a lot for me personally to strike a person. You have to hit me or try to before I would do anything, but like I said, I just want to be by myself. Easily irritated, very easily. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night sweating. It’s been probably almost a month now since that happened. Even on my Ambien, I’ll still wake up, I’ll peek out my window. I’ll run and lock doors, even if they’re already locked. I’ll run and lock those anyway. Check my windows. Go back to sleep.
Sometimes I have nightmares. I can’t remember all of them, they’re weird. Sometimes I’m being chased. One time I dreamt I got pushed off a tall building. But mostly it’s like somebody’s after me all the time… Sometimes I don’t dream, but I’ll wake up, I’ll pop up out of the bed, already on my feet. I hear noise, I don’t know where it’s coming from, it freaks me out. I don’t know where it’s coming from, I don’t know what’s going on.
…The only thing right now I can say that’s positive for me is my girlfriend. We were together for awhile, then we broke up for almost a month. Now we’re back together, but she’s in the military and she’s on her way out. So I think she’s moving back home for right now. I think that she don’t want to tell me, but I think she’s moving back home.
That’s gonna suck… So yeah, between that and my pain, it’s like I don’t really do too much like I used to.
…I know some [soldiers] are avoiding the help that they need. I can say as far as the section that I work in, a lot of them are avoiding the help. Because they are afraid to be labeled such as myself. But yeah, that night I woke up, I really said to myself, I’ve got to do something.
Editor’s Note: When asked how soldier morale has been affected by multiple deployments, Randal replied emphatically.
Whew. Man. When I first got here, I bumped into a guy in replacement. I talked to him I don’t think five minutes, but he left a lasting impression on me. He was working there at replacement in 2008, he was one of the guys who kept telling his unit he had PTSD. They weren’t listening. He deployed four times, back-to-back. Lost his family, his family just left him. I think he said he was married for almost eight years, and his wife left him. Back-to-back deployments, and he didn’t want to go on. He said he didn’t care as long as he could be back one year, you know? He said I don’t care if it’s every two years, I’ll deploy for two years. But four deployments back-to-back. And he just cracked. And that’s where they put him at in replacement, that was his job, just signing people.
So I know for a fact back in 2008, and I know it had to be before that too, it was rough on soldiers. And then other people were telling me their stories, and I was just, “Man, I hope this doesn’t happen to the unit I get to.” I just hoped that we didn’t fall into that rotation. And we did. We got back in January 2011 and then they left in February of this year.
Unfortunately, we are needed for the job—we’re needed. But that’s rough on the family.
Just listen. The soldier says this is wrong with him, so send him for help and see what the results are. ‘Cause that one soldier kept acting like he was crazy and they sent him for help. So I thought that was cool. He says something is going on, so they don’t say, “Oh you’re alright.” I mean, if he’s lying, it’ll come out. But send him to be looked at.
…Every three months we do [trainings]. The sexual assault, sexual harassment, and suicide prevention. Every three months.
It’s received by PowerPoint, of course. It’s interactive, so you can answer what should this person do in this or that situation. And then we also have a group that does an act. And they physically show you how it goes picking up girls up at the bar, what women do and everything. And then they let the crowd interact. They’ll go through a scene and after they finish the scene, they’ll ask the audience what they have seen, was it inappropriate or okay.
A lot of people after their training, they think they have a real problem. Because some things that you think you’re doing as fun is really harassment. So they sit in the crowd, and say, “Oh man.”
They realize. And they actually give you scenarios, what’s rape and what’s not rape. The training’s actually gotten a lot better than when I first joined. When I first joined, they’d call you all into a room and they’d just a hold a sheet of paper in their hand and talk, that was it.
I know [sexual assault] still goes on. I don’t know if the numbers went up or down, but I know it goes on. ‘Cause people gonna do what people gonna do. I actually know a guy who went through it with another soldier. I don’t know the exact details… All I know is they were separated, one got sent to another company. A whole other battalion. They split ’em up.
Editor’s Note: The interview transitioned back to the details of Randal’s experience in MEB, clarifying how he sees confidentiality and communication between providers playing out. He began by saying he does not know whether his care in MEB has been kept confidential. However, because he sees civilian providers for mental health, he thinks MEB does not know about his PTSD.
I can’t even answer that. I don’t even know, to tell you the truth. Where I’m at now, I don’t have a MEB doctor anymore. It’s actually my PA, I go see him now. Unless I have an appointment with my pain doctor. But I wouldn’t say that’s confidential. I don’t think it is, [because information is shared between the doctors and command].
…Do I think they share this with the other soldiers just sitting out there in line? No, but… I know [the commanders] know.
I go off-post [for mental health]. And it goes from my psychologist to my case manager. And my case manager is not even in my chain of command, and command doesn’t even know about my case manager.
…I will get benefits for my conditions, it just depends on what I choose. That’s what actually I’m waiting on now. I already got a letter back saying I’m unfit, which means I’m gonna be processed for medical retirement. I have over eight years, so it’s either the VA or the Army. I’m getting a VA Rep. Already have their number, I called them. They said soon as soon as I get my percentages, just give them a call, and they’ll represent me.
…What I really want is just to be fixed. I don’t care if I get out, don’t care if they’re paying me all this money per month, I’m still gonna get out and not be able to do what I want to do. That’s my biggest complaint.
I want them to figure out what’s going on now. Because I was trying to stay in to finish, I have nine years left to retire. I was hoping that they could find out what’s going on and leave me in my job, re-class me. Then that would be the end of it and I’d retire as planned.
The drawdown is affecting everything. They have soldiers who want to re-enlist, but they can’t re-enlist. And you’ve got me. And I saw one soldier who was placed in the Med Board just to re-class him. It made no sense, but that’s how they’re doing it now. I guess it’s to fully evaluate the soldier and see if he can stay in. Which is stupid.
Editor’s Note: Randal also replied unequivocally that he is seeing soldiers chaptered out before their ETS dates during the drawdown.
Our commander has the authorization to do that now because of the surge. Commander can drop chapter paperwork, still honorable discharge, but it’s in three months. You’re out 90 days before you ETS. They are doing that. Then you have some soldiers who just want to get out 5-17, that’s honorable, but you lose all your benefits. And they’re doing that too.
I know soldiers who want to get out, but they want to Med Board out so they can at least get a percentage before they get out. But the Med Board is drawing out so long, they just say forget it, go ahead, I’ll just take the chapter. And they’ll just chapter out with nothing.
…You’re supposed to be able to ACAP a year out. That gives you plenty enough time to go through the ACAP process… Now it’s, “You gotta get out!” So now that leaves you with one month to do all your ACAP and look for a job before you start your leave. And if you want to take your terminal leave, that cuts your time to find a job back even further. My girlfriend is going through that now. She starts clearing the end of this month, and she’s taking two months of leave. She started her ACAP last month and is looking for jobs.
…I know I will not be able to work [as a civilian]. And that’s what I want to do. I want to get to a place where I can just go to work, go have some fun. My friends dragged me out to the club one time and after not even two hours, I’m ready to go. I’m hurting, can’t sit down too long, can’t stand up or walk around too long.
That’s my biggest issue out of everything. I don’t know what they’re doing. I don’t know if they’re dragging this out to wait ’til I mess up, or dragging this out so that I just take whatever they’re gonna give me. But I’m gonna wait ’em out. For as long as they wait me out, I’ll wait them out. But it’s starting to get very frustrating every day. Even going to work now. Even though I take my pain medication, I’m still in pain moving around. So by 10:30, I want to go back home and lay down for a little bit. So that’s what I usually do at lunchtime. I have to wait ’til 11:30, and then I go home and lay down, or I lay in my car.
They haven’t even limited my duty hours. I go in at 6:30, I don’t do PT. And I come back to work 09:30. And then work ’til 17:00. It’s because the only profiles that they can give you are 10-hour profiles and eight-hour profiles. Technically we only work seven hours, because you got the hour and a half for lunch and you got the hour and a half in between for PT. So that’s three hours gone out of a 10-hour day. So you only work seven hours. And that’s how they get you.
I haven’t felt it had anything to do with race. I just think it has something to do with the system, certain systems. When our unit wasn’t involved in the Med Board process, it made it really, really tough. They only had a certain time in the morning you could go to sick call, and other than that, if you were sick, you had to go to the emergency room. And going to the emergency room really ticks them off, because to the ER it’s not an emergency room issue. But we’re trying to get help. I can’t go to my PA to get help or a quarter slip to go home. I went in there in pain so bad one day, but I was in the Med Board process, so they couldn’t do anything.
…Soldiers complain every single day. And you still can’t go to the emergency room in the middle of the night. If I go to the emergency room for my abdominal pain, they gonna look up in the Med Board that I’m Med Boarded for my abdominal pain. “So sorry, can’t do anything.”
If I have an emergency that doesn’t have anything to do with anything I’m in the Med Board for, then they’ll see me… A couple of times, in the middle of the night the pain hit me so bad that I had to be escorted to the emergency room. I’m laying there crying. And they’re like, “Well, you’re in the med board process, we can’t give you anything.”
They release me back to my unit and I’m in my car for the rest of the day. ‘Cause that’s it. It is a little better since they put us back in the aid station, ‘cause our PA’s can do certain stuff. They can’t issue me any narcotics, but they try [to help].
…I don’t know what I’m gonna do, but I’m gonna do something. I’m gonna call the Ombudsman back. Now that they put them in place, they’ve been pretty good with advice. They advise you and they ain’t supposed to be under the Congress. I called the Ombudsman, they were the ones who told me to get a VA Rep. I’m really waiting on my percentages so I can talk to VA Rep. ‘Cause they said they have the power to make the Army see what’s going on. I told them I don’t care how long it takes, they gotta figure something out.
…The MEB process already takes awhile, but as far as getting soldiers to their appointments and everything, a lot [needs to change]. Like myself, I hate taking medication, but you tell me in March we can’t get you an appointment to see somebody ’til June, and you take these meds ’til then without seeing anyone. The first time they gave me Vicodin to take and they had to take me to the emergency room. I was so tore up I couldn’t explain to them, I was so out of it. They thought something bad had happened to me. And when I finally started coming down, I told them that I took one of my pain meds. You got me at work on this stuff every day. I mean I don’t want to be home every day. I don’t mind going to work, it’s just when I’m hurting, I can’t do it. Like two weeks ago, I missed a whole week from work, because they wouldn’t do anything about my pain medication. It took ’em a whole week to figure out to try this pill and see if it helps.
I plan on going back home…for a couple months. I don’t know where I’m gonna end up at. Y’all have a lot of work to do, I can tell you.