On Afghan War 11th Anniversary, Vets Confront Mental Health Crisis, Suicide, Violence
On the 11th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, we take a look at the invisible wounds of war here at home. Since the war began on Oct. 7, 2001, less than a month after the Sept. 11th attacks, at least 2,000 U.S. soldiers have died. Some 2.4 million U.S. soldiers have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the psychological toll of the wars is mounting. Last year, the Veterans Administration treated almost 100,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and soldier suicides reached an all-time high this year. In Colorado Springs, the commanders at Fort Carson have come under scrutiny for its handling of mental health concerns, with a 2010 joint NPR-ProPublica investigation finding that as many as 40 percent of Fort Carson soldiers had mild brain injuries missed by Army health screenings. Meanwhile in 2009, the Colorado Springs Gazette published a startling series called “Casualties of War,” written by our guest, investigative reporter Dave Philipps. His book, "Lethal Warriors: When the New Band of Brothers Came Home,” shows how a wave of violence swept across Colorado Springs when the 506th Infantry Regiment, known as "the Band of Brothers,” returned home from their first tour in Iraq. We are also joined by Georg-Andreas Pogány, a retired Army sergeant who is now an independent veterans’ advocate and investigator, and Graham Clumpner, an Afghanistan War veteran and Colorado regional organizer for Iraq Veterans Against the War. Democracy Now! is on the road, broadcasting from Colorado Springs, the home of five major military installations — Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base, the U.S. Air Force Academy, Schriever Air Force Base and the Cheyenne Mountain Air Station.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re on a 100-city Silenced Majority Election 2012 tour and today we are broadcasting from Colorado Springs, the second largest city in Colorado. In and around the city you’ll find five major military installations; Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base, The United States Air Force Academy and Schriever Air Force Base and the Cheyenne Mountain Air Station. This weekend marks the 11th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. The invasion began on October 7, 2001, less than a month after the September 11 attacks. The war has gone on for more than 4,000 days, making it the longest war in U.S. history. At least two thousand U.S. soldiers have died in the war. The death toll in Afghanistan is unknown.
Today we will take a look at the invisible wounds of war here at home. Some 2.4 million soldiers have been through Iraq and Afghanistan and the psychological toll of the wars is mounting. Last year the Veterans Administration, or VA, treated almost 100,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans for PTSD. But many agree the numbers could be much higher because not everyone who suffers seeks treatment. Here in Colorado Springs, the commanders at Fort Carson have come under scrutiny for its handling of mental health concerns, with a 2010 joint NPR-ProPublica investigation finding as many as 40% of Fort Carson soldiers had mild brain injuries missed by Army health screenings.
Meanwhile, in 2009, The Colorado Springs Gazette published a startling series called "Casualties of War." It examined a part of war seldom discussed by the media or government officials — the difficulty of returning to civilian life after being trained to be a killer. The story focused on a single battalion based at Fort Carson here in Colorado Springs, the Second Battalion, 12th infantry regiment. The battalion’s nickname is "The Lethal lawyers." In Iraq, the unit fought in some of the war’s bloodiest battles. For some of the soldiers, the killing did not end when they return home.
The Gazette reported since 2006, ten infantry soldiers have been arrested and accused of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter. Others have committed other violent crimes. Some of the veterans have committed suicide. In a one year period from the fall of 2007 to the fall of 2008 the murder rate for members of the Army unit was 114 times the rate for Colorado springs.
The series was written by investigative reporter Dave Philipps. He turned his reporting into the book, "Lethal Warriors: When the New Band of Brothers Came Home." David Philipps joins us here in Colorado springs. Also with us in Colorado Springs is Georg-Andras Pogány, an independent veterans’ advocate and investigator. His a retired sergeant first class from the United States Army.
We’re also joined by Graham Clumpner, Afghanistan war vet, Colorado regional organizer for Iraq Veterans Against the War. And we welcome you all toDemocracy Now! And thanks so much to Andrew and Graham for coming in from Denver, it is snowing.
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: It was snowing on the way down.
AMY GOODMAN: The first snow of the season. Graham Clumpner, you are a veteran of the Afghanistan war. Tomorrow marks the 11th anniversary of this war. Your thoughts today?
GRAHAM CLUMPNER: Well, when we look back 11 years ago Sunday at 11:00am Central Time, which is Colorado time, President Bush came on television and announced to the nation we had begun bombing the people of Afghanistan. And 11 years later, we have a lineage that has extended longer than any other war and we’re looking at a situation where we have so many millions of soldiers coming home to communities like Colorado Springs and not being able to separate the trauma that they experienced in those combat zones and outside of those combat zones, just by nature of being in the military, because participating in this militaristic system, whether you deploy or don’t deploy, is a traumatic experience. And people bring those traumas back to our communities. And what we are struggling with now is finding a way for these people, these soldiers, sailors, airmen, infantry, all of the members of the armed forces, to come come back and integrate into their communities.
AMY GOODMAN: You are organizing this weekend. You’re part of a group of soldiers and vets who have come together in Denver. Explain what’s happening.
GRAHAM CLUMPNER: In 2004, Iraq Veterans against the war was founded by the first returning soldiers from the Iraq war. Since then we have expanded to include any soldier or veteran who has served post 9/11 in the global War on Terror. Our organization has been prioritizing Afghanistan veterans recently, not only because we have the most problems coming out of Afghanistan, out of the six countries that we’re currently bombing, but also because Afghanistan veterans can speak to a larger concern. Which is, it’s very easy for the American people — and in fact some cases the world — to lose sight and stop paying attention to these conflicts. And as we sit here today, there are soldiers and there are civilians sitting in firefights and sitting in situations where their lives are at risk, and we don’t take a lot of time to look at other than the numbers on the front page of the newspaper that say four dead or seven dead. And it doesn’t mean anything to us.
So this weekend we’re having Iraq Veterans against the war first Afghanistan retreat. We’re bringing Afghanistan members from all over the country here to Colorado. We’re going to be meeting in Denver, and we’re going to be discussing what kind of things we have been successful at in the past and where we failed, and where we need to go in the future. Looking at organizing models that span the spectrum, from the Coalition of the Immokalee Workers to the civil-rights campaigns in the 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s to the environmental movement. And we’re taking those lessons and moving forward as we look at a larger path of militarism. It’s not just about Libya or Somalia or Iraq. We’re talking about Iran, we’re talking about the future, and we’re asking ourselves, how do we feel safer when we are involved in more bases and countries than we have been in history?
AMY GOODMAN: Dave Philipps, place us here today, here in Colorado Springs. For people around the country who don’t understand this city at the foot of the Rockies, talk about its military significance for the country.
DAVID PHILIPPS: Well, in a lot of ways Colorado Springs is an average town in terms of demographics, in terms of crime rates. Just about anything you could look at in the census. The big difference is, is that by far our largest industry, if you want to call it that, is the Department of Defense. How many active duty to we have here in Colorado Springs? Over 50,000, I believe. And so, that really is the lifeblood of our town.
AMY GOODMAN: This investigation that you did, the unit called Lethal Warriors, share with us what it is you found as you worked for The Gazette, nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, your investigation.
DAVID PHILIPPS: It started with us just seeing a lot of soldiers getting arrested for murder. We didn’t know until we started digging that it wasn’t the entire 30,000 soldiers at Fort Carson that were really responsible, it was just one group of 500 guys. At that point, we said, my God, how could he have so much violence coming out of one small group? It must have to do with their collective story of their experience.
So, we started tracing that story by going to the prison, talking to the guys in there, finding their friends and talking to them. What we found out, essentially, is that these guys had been in the very worst places in Iraq. Had been through things that most people, even people who are familiar with the war would find unspeakable. When they came back, they came back to a system that had been prepared for an Iraq war that the administration thought would last six months, and was not prepared to really deal with any psychological casualties. And so, the army that they had served, when they started showing these psychological wounds from war, a lot of times instead of helping them, it punished them. It kicked them out. When that happens and these guys no longer have any help a lot of times they just spiraled into a very dark place and it ended in violence.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, here at Fort Carson, the murder rate, 114 times the murder rate in Colorado Springs, for civilians in Colorado Springs?
DAVID PHILIPPS: For that Battalion that we looked at. You have to remember that a combat battalion is almost all young men. But, even when we correct for demographics, it is something like 20 times as high. Twice as high would have been amazingly significant. This was off the charts.
The funny thing is, when we called fort Carson to ask about this, a lot of times the official response was, we don’t know what the problem is that you’re talking about. It’s unfair for you to try to paint our brave war fighters as criminals. There was a reluctancy pick apart the problem and to try and solve it.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to talk more about this after the break. We are joined by Dave Philipps who wrote a remarkable book called, ["Lethal Warriors: When the New Band of Brothers Came Home."] We are going to be speaking with Andrew Pogany, who is a veteran from Iraq, and Graham Clumpner with us as well, a veteran from the Afghanistan war.
They have gathered in Denver for this gathering, the first Afghanistan retreat of Iraq Veterans against the war. We’ll continue this discussion as we broadcast from the Tim Gill Center for Public Media in Colorado Springs. It was just inaugurated last week it is an honor to be here with the first broadcast, not to mention the first global broadcast in this center’s history. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We are broadcasting from The Tim Gill Center for Public Media here in Colorado Springs. In Colorado, it is snowing for the first time. We are in the foot of the Rockies, and we’re in one of the most heavily militarized areas of this country. An area of bases, military bases for the Army, for the Air Force.
We continue our conversation with Dave Philipps, investigative reporter and author. In 2009 he wrote the award winning two-part series called "Casualties of War" for The Colorado Springs Gazette. "Lethal Warriors: When the New Band of Brothers Came Home" is his new book which shows how a wave of violence swept across Colorado Springs when the 506th infantry Regiment, known as The Band of Brothers, returned home from their first tour in Iraq.
The Band of Brothers had been deployed to the most violent places in Iraq and some of the soldiers continued suffering from what they had seen and done in combat, even after leaving the battlefield. Without much time to recover, they were sent back to the front lines. After their second tour, they battalion was renamed The Lethal Warriors since the soldiers once again brought the violence home. Also joined by Andrew Pogany who is a veteran of the Iraq war and by Graham Clumpner who served in Afghanistan and now part of Iraq Veterans Against the War, who’s organized with a number of others and Afghanistan retreat, a first of its kind for Iraq veterans against the war. They’re gathering in Denver. Andrew, you served in Iraq when?
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: I was in Iraq in 2003.
AMY GOODMAN: In 2003, this was the first year of the U.S. invasion.
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: You are now a counselor, a psychologist, working —
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: No, no, I’m not a counselor. I am a veterans’ advocate. I’ve worked as a veterans advocate on the national level since my retirement from the Army in 2007. And that work has been combined with investigative work, which is what is part of my training as a professional. So that’s what I am. I have a colleague — my colleague who I do this work with — he is a counselor.
AMY GOODMAN: What are you finding?
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: We’re finding that the system is very ill-equipped and that the system is also not adapting and the system is not changing. One of the things I want to add up front is we don’t have a political position on this. We don’t approach any of these issues from the position of whether the conflict is correct or we should be there or not be there.
Our only concern is that there is an epidemic that is brewing and it manifests itself mainly in suicides as well as other social problems, and there are some root causes that need to be addressed. That’s what we advocate on. Those are the types of cases we investigate and we try and bring them to the attention of senior leaders to bring about some change.
We fully acknowledge that sometimes — and people disagree with our position on this — sometimes war is important and sometimes war it is necessary. We take a historical look at this. There are democracies, there are nations, there are individuals, who owe their very existence to the fact that this is being done.
But as a nation, we must ask ourselves the question, what is the cost of doing this business? And if we don’t have an honest and open dialogue with the nation and its citizens about what this cost is, then we’re failing. And that cost is not just bombs and bullets. The cost is the psychological cost, the scars, the psychological injuries borne by those who survive war, come home, and then have to reintegrate back into normal life.
So, part of the work that we do also is to not just help individuals avoid the path to suicide or the path to homelessness or the path to being shoved off in the some fringe group of society labeled the mentally ill. Part of our work is to make sure to give those who have honorably served this nation in war, an opportunity to come home and reintegrate and to be able to fully participate in normal life.
AMY GOODMAN: Do think that the mental health services here in Colorado Springs at Fort Carson are working?
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: They are working to an extent. They are very — there are some very innovative things that have happened at Fort Carson. It’s been a hard road, but Fort Carson has also — as part of the growth and the painful growth that they had to go through, they have had some very great experiences and some very innovative leaders and thinkers at Fort Carson to bring about some change.
One of the things that we see as the ongoing problem is that there are players in the system that, for whatever reason they’re doing what they’re doing, they are not doing the right thing. And what we’re referring to by saying this is that we encounter case after case after case where it’s painfully obvious that there is malfeasance involved. And that starts with misdiagnosing — purposely misdiagnosing — individuals and players with the system.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: We have individuals that have the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, and then when it comes to adjudicating that case, whether from an administrative standpoint or from a medical standpoint, specifically when it comes to affording the individual an opportunity to exit the military, those diagnoses are being changed. They’re being changed to diagnoses that don’t carry disability ratings, don’t carry benefits, and when you change someone’s diagnoses not only is unethical and immoral, but you are preventing them from receiving the proper and appropriate care.
So, if you have someone as post traumatic stress disorder and then they are fraudulently diagnosed as having an adjustment disorder, it’s, to us, it is a very, very serious problem, because for one, you are denying them the proper and appropriate care that they need.
Number two, is you are causing what is commonly referred to as betrayal trauma. Betrayal trauma is the social component of PTSD. You have an individual who has served, has an experience in combat, they come home with a combat-related injury an visible injury, and now you’re telling them that they’re just somehow mentally ill. And it’s wrong on every single level. Not to mention that from the clinical standpoint, if you look at the DSM4, which is the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual that is the book to help facilitate mental health diagnoses, it clearly states that for example, if an individual has an axis one diagnosis such as PTSD, then giving the diagnosis of adjustment disorder is inappropriate.
We have track this pattern for years now. In the beginning, it was diagnosing individuals with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries as having personality disorders. Then the next thing was the adjustment disorder, then it was anxiety disorderNOS. The new trend that we see now is all of the sudden individuals have somatoform disorder.
AMY GOODMAN: Somatoform?
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: Somatoform, which is absurd. It is really, really absurd. So, recently for example, there was a scandal at joint base Lewis-McChord where it was uncovered —
AMY GOODMAN: In Washington State.
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: In Washington state, that providers were changing individuals diagnoses and denying the diagnosis of PTSD. When that came into the news cycle, I received calls and I was asked the question, what you think about this? And I said, that while this is tragic, this is not newsworthy. Why? Because this has been going on for years.
I was involved in an investigation in Fort Carson in 2008 where we identified a provider who admitted that they were purposely misdiagnosing so they don’t have to pay benefits. So this is an ongoing problem. It is one of the root causes that ultimately leads people to commit suicide.
So, this notion that’s Johnny comes home and some how committed suicide because he couldn’t balance his checkbook or he had relationship problems, that is only one aspect, and that might be the trigger that caused him to commit suicide, but nobody looks at the path to suicide. Suicide is not something that happens at the drop of a dime. People don’t wake up in the morning and say to themselves, what am I going to do today, commit suicide? That sounds like a good idea. No, people get on a path, a path that continuously deteriorates their mental state. And at some point in time, they’re so compromised that because of the emotional pain possible physical pain that they are suffering, they see no other way out than to take their own lives.
AMY GOODMAN: There was a suicide just at the beginning of the year.
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened here?
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: Well, there was an individual who took his own life by crashing his vehicle into a light pole, tree, fence kind of combination and then as a result of the vehicle accident he ended up passing away. And it was a suicide that the individual posted on Facebook that he was going to do that.
The reason that particular case is very relevant to us right now is because we have a case right now, which is — this one actually take the cake as far as we’re concerned —- on the eve on the heal of the Army’s national suicide prevention stand down in response to the rising numbers of what we call or consider catastrophic amounts of suicide, and an epidemic that is equivalent to a public health crisis, we get a case where an individual who has attempted to kill himself -—
AMY GOODMAN: This was this past May.
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: This past May. An individual who attempted to kill himself in the same manner by crashing his vehicle into an object. Now, that individual is being recommended and considered for administrative separation from the military without benefits as a result of misconduct. When we reviewed the file, the misconduct that they’re referring to is the actual suicide attempt.
So, we’re stunned. We’re baffled that leaders would say that we’re trying to prevent suicides, we’re trying to work on the issue of stigma and address stigma, and then behind closed doors, we have these types of cases. Now, is this prevalent across the board? Probably not, but there is a certain percentage that this is happening to. And there’s a certain percentage — when you look at numbers across the board, it’s always kind of like the same percentage.
AMY GOODMAN: This young man who attempted to kill himself, now the Army’s response is to sever him from the military without benefits.
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: You yourself, Andrew Pogany, you served in Iraq. Your were then court-martialed?
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: I was not. I was brought up on some charges, on some fabricated charges by my command. I was wrongfully — my command wrongfully attempted to prosecute me for something that they alleged happened, but it didn’t happen. And ultimately, the case was very quickly dismissed so it never got to the point where it entered a court room.
AMY GOODMAN: What did you learn from this and what year was it?
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: This was also in 2003. It started in 2003. The case was closed in 2004. What I learned from that is that, I mean, I learned various things. One, to stand up and fight for myself. And I also learned that there is certain things within a system that may or may not work to an individual’s benefit. And that when the system closes in and has an agenda, it can become very difficult for an individual to survive that. Myself, I was close to not surviving what was happening to me. But. luckily, I had a support system that I was able to rely on to make sure that I did come out on the other end.
AMY GOODMAN: Andrew, the case, even though it was thrown out, it is extremely important, I think. You were the first American soldier since the Vietnam War to be charged with what they call cowardice.
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: For what? Explain actually what took place in your first nights in Iraq.
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: I had a psychological breakdown, which was induced by toxic levels of an anti-malaria drug that we were administered. So toxic levels of the drug caused practically a malfunction in the brain and caused me to have both auditory and visual hallucinations. And it caused me to not be able to function. And when I approached my command and requested and sought medical help, they didn’t see it that way, initially.
AMY GOODMAN: You also saw an Iraqi killed.
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: Yes, there was an individual who had been —
AMY GOODMAN: What happened to him?
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: He was shot by the main gun of a Bradley. I did not witness the actual shooting. I saw the aftermath.
AMY GOODMAN: Which was?
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: Was an individual hit by the main gun of a Bradley fighting vehicle.
AMY GOODMAN: Which means he was...
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: He was very much disintegrated. It was a very grotesque view. But not anything that — it wasn’t something that was that bizarre or grotesque. I had seen similar things previously in my life. So, in response to me seeking medical help, my command in their infinite wisdom, they sought to court-martial me.
AMY GOODMAN: Cowardice is a charge punishable by death?
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: Correct. So that was a sobering reality to me.
AMY GOODMAN: But what does cowardice mean?
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: It just means cowardly conduct before the enemy, which didn’t even apply in my case.
AMY GOODMAN: Which came from you appealing to your superiors, to your commanding officer?
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: And asking for medical help. And then within two weeks of the charge being brought, the charge was actually dismissed. And then it was replaced with another charge that was called willful dereliction of duty, which subsequently, about 30 days after that was also dismissed. And the the case just lingered for about nine months. And then the case was ultimately closed and the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, which I was a member of, they admitted that the anti-malaria drugs that they’ve given me had contributed to what had happened.
And I wasn’t the only one. By the time I was done, we found out that within the special operations community, there were at a minimum 12 individuals who had pretty much the same types of reactions and side effects from this particular drug. This drug is known to the medical community to cause problems; it’s a black label drug. Today out of those 10 or 12 individuals that have been identified, myself and another guy, actually that are still alive. Everybody else has committed suicide.
AMY GOODMAN: Everyone else has committed suicide.
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: How many?
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: It was about ten.
AMY GOODMAN: Out of how many?
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: Out of the 12 that we — in our investigation — have connected to having severe side effects of this drug.
AMY GOODMAN: Wait, I think a lot of people right now who are listening, who are watching, who will read this will be shaking their heads. Say again.
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: Within the special operations community where I worked, we in the course of several years, we identified roughly 12 individuals — I think it’s 12 or 14 individuals, I have to go back and look at the numbers — that have had documented severe side effects from the anti-malaria drug, called Larium, that we were given. Out of those individuals, at a minimum, 10 have committed suicide as a result of side effects.
AMY GOODMAN: Graham Clumpner, Afghan War vet.
GRAHAM CLUMPNER: I think this is a larger, you know — his story is a microcosm of a larger problem, and that is the fact that the women and men who join the U.S. military are referred to as G.I.'s. G.I. means government issue, and that means that just like your helmet and your rifle, you are a piece of equipment. And so, the way that the military looks at it from a health care perspective, as you're an active duty soldier or military member, is that if you are broken, you can’t give them what they need from you.
So the military’s health care is essentially trying to keep that piece equipment working another six months, duct tape it, if you will. Then they toss you aside, especially now, because what we’re going through is a downturn in the number of total contractors and active duty personnel In the military. So, we’re looking at a situation where people are being pushed out; minor drug offenses, marijuana. You can go to a dispensary here in Colorado Springs, right down the street and purchase marijuana at as a civilian, but if you’re a soldier that gets caught with some marijuana on you, they will push you out of the military and ruin the rest of your life.
So, on a personal level, as I served in the military, there was numerous examples of family problems being not an issue to anybody in your chain of command; personal relationships with a spouse, car trouble. The simplest things that you would think a community that we talk about when we say Band of Brothers. And it’s not just a band of brothers, it’s a band of sisters and brothers now. And we are looking at a world where we’re asking these people to go sacrifice and come home and shut up and not talk about it, and just go stay in their rooms and once in awhile we’ll put a little bumper sticker on our car, we’ll have a little yellow ribbon. But, that is the extent of the conversation that we want to have.
So, we heard earlier about this feeling of betrayal. And it is really important to talk about trauma in terms of betrayal. Now, you can have an IED go off or a rocket attack and you can have 40 people in a platoon and maybe only five of them are the ones whose brains don’t heal from that. Thirty days later, the other 35 may be relatively fine. But, we can’t exactly figure it out, but we do see a parallel between people trusting — trusting their command, trusting their president, trusting the American people to make a proper choice about where and when we use these tools of war. And let’s be completely transparent. If you serve in the U.S. military, your first, last, and only job is to take the life — or as we call it in the military close with and kill the enemy. If you are in the military, you are serving a purpose.
And I think we are missing a larger conversation here because look at who is on this panel. We have three white men who have had experienced on some level relatively white community in Colorado springs. And the violence that we are participating in, whether actively or passively, is not being done to people — it’s being done to people of color from other nations. And we are in a situation where we never talk about those people.
I mean, I can come home and go to the VA, OK. I can remove myself from the source of my trauma. People in Afghanistan and Iraq and all of these other countries where we’re dropping drones — or having drone strikes, they cannot remove themselves from the source of their trauma. They do not have a Veterans Administration. In a lot of cases they don’t have access to basic healthcare. and we lose sight of having that conversation every time we sit down and talk about this. So, I think it’s very important that we acknowledge this is larger than just an American problem.
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY: Amy, I want to add something to what he just talked about, specifically when it comes to the conduct of soldiers when they come home. There is a percentage of soldiers who engage in various activities that the military labels as misconduct, such as alcohol related offenses, drinking, substance abuse, drug-related offenses. Those are misconduct in the military. So of process of helping those who come home and need help and appropriate care should not be confused with diminishing or degrading a system of accountability within the military.
The military heavily depends on what is commonly referred to as the good order and discipline of the military. All of us in my field where we work, we acknowledge that. The problem that we encounter is that you have an individual who, for example, as a result of not being able to receive the proper and appropriate treatment or individually tailored treatment that they need, they resort to things like self medicating. The science has proven, research has proven that this is a fact. Our alcohol abuse or substance abuse, depression, those are the most common diagnoses in PTSD.
What we’re faced with is an archaic military justice system that has not adapted, even though their own research, their own military law reviews show that PTSDand substance abuse-related misconduct are close the related, that there is a nexus, that one comes from the other. What we are addressing is, we’re not asking the military to not have people held accountable for misconduct. If you need to go ahead and punish someone because they illegally or in violation of regulation abused illegal substances, go ahead and punish them. Punish them within the system, but that doesn’t mean that you have to go to the extent of imposing administrative sanctions that have an impact on the rest of their life such as taking away all their benefits and then putting that person without a safety net out into the community where they then become a problem in my community. And all they do is they end up draining the resources of my community. And that can be within the criminal justice system, homelessness, domestic violence, child abuse, and the list goes on and on and on.
So, there needs to be, when it comes to addressing the issue of stigma, there needs to be really a revamping of how the system administers punishment for misconduct and then subsequently administrative action in order to eliminate those individuals from service. We feel it is morally and ethically wrong to deprive those who have honorably served this nation in war of the benefits that they have earned, that this country has legislated that they should be getting.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to take a break, but we’re going to come back to this discussion. Our guest Dave Philipps, author of, "Lethal Warriors: When the New Band of Brothers Came Home." I want to talk more about this. You’re just returning to revisit some of the stories of the people you covered in this remarkable series first for The Gazette here in Colorado Springs and now as a book. Andrew Pogany with us, an Iraq War vet, now an [advocate] for soldiers returning home. And Graham Clumpner with Iraq Veterans Against the War, he drove in from Denver because this weekend, starting today, is the first Afghanistan retreat. He is an Afghan war vet for The Iraq Veterans Against the War are putting on, a gathering nationally. This is Democracy Now! We’re broadcasting from Colorado, springs on our hundred city tour. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This is the site of military bases all gathered here in Colorado — Air Force and Army. We’re joined by three men; Dave Philipps, author of "Lethal Warriors: When the New Band of Brothers Came Home," which we are going to talk about in a minute. Andrew Pogany served in Iraq, Graham Clumpner served in Afghanistan. This is the eve of the 11th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan.
We’re broadcasting from the Tim Gill Center for Public Media, which just opened, was inaugurated last Friday. We’re honored to be the first broadcast out of this center, teaching people in the community about civic engagement, citizen journalism. It is wonderful to be here before a group of people from Colorado Springs. This weekend we will be traveling the western slope of Colorado. You can check our website at tour.democracynow.org.
We are here with Dave Philipps. Dave, if you could talk about Lethal Warriors. Expand on what you said in the beginning. Because when you described these soldiers coming home, going back to work—Lethal Warriors. What happened on the base? Give us an example.
DAVID PHILIPPS: First let me say that when we talk about soldiers—the guys that I wrote about, guys that ended up getting arrested for prison—are really young guys. We tend to think of soldiers as grown-up adults, but these guys were 21, 22. Sometimes they weren’t even old enough to buy a beer. In Iraq they, essentially were given the mission of finding the enemy, but there was no enemy for them to find. There was no uniformed enemy, only IED’s that kept blowing up their friends and often blowing them up. That is a very hard thing for anyone to deal with, let alone someone that young.
So when they came home, the Army had a plan to make sure that everybody got screened to make sure they had no mental wounds from this war. It essentially was that they were all marched into a room and given a multiple choice piece of paper to fill out that said, “Did you see dead bodies? Did you kill anybody? Are you having trouble sleeping? Are you having trouble with substance abuse?” Things that would screen for symptoms of disaster down the road.
These guys all lied, or at least almost all of them did. They lied because they have been taught in the culture of the infantry that they were tough, they could handle it. Not only that, but if they could not handle it, they were somehow a defect that had no business being part of the army. So they lied and figured out that they could handle it on their own.
To be fair, some of them did and some of them had help from their friends. But some of them didn’t. And they started doing things that in retrospect are obscenely dangerous. Young men who have been taught how to use weapons literally expertly, were carrying a loaded firearm all the time around Colorado springs. There were drinking a lot, they were doing a lot of drugs.
We all have this inhibition to killing people, it is just part of our human nature, that had sort of eroded in them. When you mix together the alcohol, the weapons, and this ability to kill that I think most of us cannot even fathom, it was very easy to all of a sudden to have bodies. People were killed for no reason. One man shot another guy for throwing up in the back of his car. Another man just drove around—he would drive around with an AK-47 and just shoot people he did not even know.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to read—"in 2006, 21-year-old Anthony Marcus killed a small-time drug dealer by shooting him repeatedly with a stun gun and shot him in the heart. In August of 2007, 24-year-old Louis Bressler robbed and shot a soldier he picked up on a street in Colorado Springs. In 2007, three soldiers from the unit," — from Lethal Warriors Louis Bressler, Bruce Bastion, Kenneth Eastridge— "left the bullet riddled body of a soldier from their unit on Colorado Springs Street. Two months earlier the same group intentionally drove into a woman walking to work. One of the soldiers then repeatedly stabbed her. In May and June of 2008, police say Rodolfo Torres-Gandarilla and Jomar Falu-Vives drove around with an assault rifle, randomly shooting people. In 2008, police say John Needham beat a former girlfriend to death. Josh Butler was sent to prison for beating his pregnant wife. Months later, his child was born with severe birth defects and died. Butler blames himself for the child’s death." These are horrifying stories.
DAVID PHILIPPS: Yeah, and to a certain extent, what’s interesting is that this was going on very much under the radar for Colorado Springs. These guys all tend to hang out in their own circles. They come back from war together, they do everything together. It is possible to live, even in a city as military as Colorado Springs, and feel very removed from the war. It was only when we started digging that we uncovered how some of these horrific, senseless acts were really all connected to sort of a larger toxin that these guys have brought home.
AMY GOODMAN: Graham Clumpner, as we wrap up now, talk about more of what you’re doing this weekend.
GRAHAM CLUMPNER: Iraq Veterans Against the War has been using an organizing model since a little after President Obama was elected. As we have seen on the left in this country, it is been difficult to have an anti-war voice. On the one hand some people don’t want to push too hard and on the other hand they think it is falling on deaf ears.
Iraq Veterans Against the War is trying to make some decisions for the long-term. As we look at the Pentagon, they make a 20-30 year plan. They talk about climate change. They acknowledge it exists. They are willing to talk about all of the possible future threats. In the anti-war movement, and in a lot of these health care movements, we are reactionary. We do not plan ahead. This weekend is the beginning of starting to look forward and say, what is the next war? We’re not just going to be focused on bringing the war in Afghanistan to an end, bringing all of our soldiers home, and reparations for the Afghan people, as well full health care for our own returning veterans. That is part of what we are doing.
But we are taking this as a larger conversation because as we see the news on Syria and Turkey this week, or with it that Iran and the differences with the European powers and the United States, we are looking at a world that is not going to stop being militarized any time soon.
AMY GOODMAN: Where people meeting in Denver?
GRAHAM CLUMPNER: We’re going to be meeting at The 27 Social Center, it’s going to be right next to the football stadium. We’ve got about 20 participants at this point. It’s going to be for a lot of these veterans the first time that they get to talk with each other and share their stories. On Sunday morning, at 11am which will mark the 11th anniversary of the beginning of the Afghanistan War, we’re going to be spending some time for our own memorial. It’s going to be the first memorial that we have. Because every time we’ve had to go to these public memorials and stand there and hear all of these lies and hear these things that are just so broad, that don’t deal with the real loss, we’re going to be sharing those stores with each other for the first time.
AMY GOODMAN: Graham Clumpner, Andrew Pogany and thank you so much to Dave Philipps. That ends our broadcast here in Colorado Springs at The Tim Gil Center for Public Media, part of Rocky Mountain PBS. This weekend we’ll be in Salida on Saturday, Carbondale, Paona, Crested Butte, Telluride and Durango through Sunday. Check out details at our website tour.democracynow.org .