A Morally Bankrupt Military: When Soldiers and Their Families Become Expendable

The military operates through indoctrination. Soldiers are programmed to develop a mindset that resists any acknowledgment of injury and sickness, be it physical or psychological. As a consequence, tens of thousands of soldiers continue to serve, even being deployed to combat zones like Iraq and/or Afghanistan, despite persistent injuries. According to military records, over 43,000 troops classified as "nondeployable for medical reasons" have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan nevertheless.

The recent atrocity at Fort Hood is an example of this. Maj. Nidal Hasan had worked as a counselor at Walter Reed, hearing countless stories of bloodshed, horror and death from dismembered veterans from the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. While he had not yet served in Iraq or Afghanistan, the major was overloaded with secondary trauma, coupled with ongoing harassment about his being a Muslim. This, along with other factors, contributed towards Hasan falling into a desperation so deep he was willing to slaughter fellow soldiers, and is indicative of fissures running deep into the crumbling edifice upon which the US military stands.

The case of Pvt. Timothy Rich also demonstrates the disastrous implications of the apathetic attitude of the military toward its own. Not dissimilar from Major Hasan, who clearly would have benefited from treatment for the secondary trauma he was experiencing from his work with psychologically wounded veterans, one of the main factors that forced Private Rich to go absent without leave (AWOL) was the failure of the military to treat his mental issues.

Rich told Truthout, "In my unit, to go to sick call for mental health was looked down upon. Our acting 1st Sergeant believed that we shouldn’t have mental issues because we were too ‘high speed.’ So I was afraid to go because I didn’t want to be labeled as a weak soldier."

What followed was more harrowing.

"The other problems arose when I brought my girlfriend down to marry her. My unit believed her to be a problem starter so I was ordered not to marry her, taken to a small finance company by an NCO and forced to draw a loan in order to buy her a plane ticket to return home. They escorted her to the airport and through security to ensure that she left. Once the NCO left she turned around and hitchhiked back to Fort Bragg. Before the unit could discover us, we went to the courthouse and got married. We were then summoned by my Commander, Captain Jones, to his office and reprimanded. He called me a dumb ass soldier and a s__t bag for marrying her and told my wife that she was a fool to marry someone as stupid as me. Members of my unit started referring to me as Pvt. Bitch instead of Pvt. Rich. The entire episode caused a lot of strain in our relationship. Unable to cope with all this, I bought two plane tickets and went AWOL with my wife."

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Rich was later apprehended when a federal warrant was issued against him. After 11 days in a country jail, he was transported back to Fort Bragg in North Carolina. On August 17, 2008, he was wrongly assigned to Echo Platoon that was part of the 82nd Airborne, whereas his unit was part of the 18th Airborne.

Rich recollects, "I was confused when they assigned me to the 82nd. I was dismissed as a liar when I brought this up with my NCO Sgt Joseph Fulgence and my commander, Captain Thaxton. I ended up spending a year at Echo before being informed that I was never supposed to have been in the 82nd."

At Fort Bragg, he was permitted to seek mental health treatment and was diagnosed with schizophrenia, psychosis, insomnia and a mood disorder. This, however, did not stop his commander from harassing him. His permanent profile from the doctor restricted him from being on duty before 0800 (8 AM) hours, but his commander, Sergeant Fulgence, dismissed the profile as merely a guideline and not a mandatory directive. The soldier was accused of using mental health as a pretext to avoid duty. So, Rich was up every morning for first formation at 0545 (5:45 AM). It wasn’t until he refused to take his medication because it made him groggy in the morning that his doctor called his commander and settled the matter. By then, Rich had already been forced to violate his profile for six months.

During this period, his mental health deteriorated rapidly. The combined effect of heavy medication and restrictions on his home visits resulted in his experiencing blackouts that led him to take destructive actions in the barracks. When he was discovered talking about killing the chain of command, he was put on a 24-hour suicide watch that seemed to have served little purpose, because on August 17 he was able to elude his guards and make his way to the roof of his barracks.

"I climbed onto the roof of the building and sat up there thinking about my family and my situation and decided to go ahead and end my suffering by taking a nose dive off the building," Rich explained to Truthout.

His body plummeted through the air, bounced off a tree, and he landed on his back with a cracked spine. The military gave him a back brace, psychotropic drugs and a renewed 24-hour suicide watch, measures as effective in alleviating his pain as his failed suicide attempt.

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When Truthout contacted him just days after his failed suicide attempt, a fatigued Rich detailed his hellish year-long plight of awaiting a discharge that never came. "I want to leave here very bad. For four months they have been telling me that I’ll get out next week. It got to the point that the NCOs would tell me just to calm me down that I’d be going home the next day. They went as far as to call my wife and requesting her to lie that she was coming to get me the next day. I eventually stopped believing them. I didn’t see an end to it, so I figured I’d try and end it myself."

The noncommissioned officers in his barracks thought it was hilarious that Rich had jumped, and he was offered money for an encore that could be videotaped.

At the time he was in a "holdover" unit, comprised mostly of AWOL soldiers who had turned themselves in or had been arrested. Others in his unit had untreated mental health problems like him or were suffering from severe PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from deployments in Iraq and or Afghanistan.

According to Rich, every soldier in his platoon was subjected to abusive treatment of some kind or the other. "It even got to the point when our 1st Sergeant Cisneros told us that if it were up to him we all would all be taken out back and shot, and that we needed to pray to our gods because we were going to pay (for our actions)."

Tim’s wife Megan had to bear his never-ending ordeal in equal measure. She witnessed the military’s callousness up close. She informed Truthout, "Since February of this year, Tim’s unit had been telling him he would be out in two weeks. After two weeks when he asked, they would repeat the same thing. At times he would get excited and start packing his belongings and I would try to figure out how to get him home to Ohio. He would call me crying in relief because he thought we were going to be together again real soon. The military forced me to lie to him too. When he realized they did not mean to release him he grew very destructive during his black out spells. Eventually he simply gave up on coming home."

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November 16, 2009