Fighting An Uphill Battle
By Debbie Gregory.
Studies have found that almost one in five veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. But as the Army continues to wage war on the battlefield, commanders are having difficulty fulfilling the needs of its soldiers as they wage their own battle against PTSD. It has resulted, in many cases, in soldiers, many decorated for their service, running into trouble and being discharged.
For Capt. Anthony Martinez, PTSD was the beginning of the end of his 16-year military career.
Martinez, 34, immigrated to the United States at age 13 from the Philippines. He didn’t speak English. His stepmother abused and starved him and his younger brother. The Army offered an escape. And Martinez excelled at what he saw as a new chance at life. At his first duty station officers encouraged him to apply to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was accepted in graduated in 2004 with high marks.
On his first deployment to Iraq in 2006 a good friend was killed, rattling Martinez. Once home, he began showing signs of PTSD. He punched holes in his walls and drank heavily. In 2009, he deployed again as a small, 11-man team assigned to a base with thousands of Iraq soldier who they were helping to train. Martinez and his men felt unsafe and slept with loaded rifles. They grew more and more suspicious over the deployment as several incidents unfolded: Martinez was fired on while training local soldiers, a mortar was launched at their building and interpreters proved to be untrustworthy.
After the deployment, Martinez was shipped to an intensive three-course military class. There he was aggressive in class and failed the material. Doctors diagnosed him with adjustment disorder, anxiety and depression.
Next he volunteered to teach soldiers at a training center. There, his PTSD symptoms worsened. He says he couldn’t sleep or function. By the time he returned home, he was sleeping only two to three hours a night. He suffered anxiety attacks in crowds. He was drinking heavily. The psychologist changed his diagnosis to PTSD. At the same time, his unit chose him to command Headquarters company. When Martinez asked to be removed from the position because of his diagnosis and continuing health problems, he was told no.
After he took command, his unit had six months to prepare for deployment. Martinez began to crack under the pressure. Senior NCOs recognized his difficulties handling the job and recovering from PTSD and asked that he be relieved of his duties. Their requests were ignored.
With each red flag and warning signal that Martinez was suffering more, commanders ignored both his pleas for help and of those around him.
Six weeks before shipping off, Martinez threatened suicide. Then he wrote a formal memo detailing who should take over the company if he had a mental breakdown while in Afghanistan.
Martinez’s commanders still sent him to war. When he arrived in Afghanistan, Martinez quickly cracked. He isolated himself, had angry, irrational outbursts and threatened two soldiers.
He told one to get out of his office “or I’ll shoot you in the face.” Then, during an argument with his supply sergeant, he ordered a private in the room to load his weapon — an unheard of escalation on a fellow soldier.
Now the Army wants to act. Martinez is facing a general discharge. Despite the repeated pleas for help and signs of Martinez’s deteriorating mental health, his battalion commander, Lt. Col. Calvin Downey wrote that Martinez “made a series of decisions that led to unfortunate circumstances.
Martinez’s lawyer, Douglas Cody, said there were many points along the way where the Army could have prevented this outcome and gotten Martinez the help he needed.
“That’s the tragedy of the situation,” he said. “They set him up for failure and now are abandoning him.”
Martinez’s fate will soon be in the hands of the secretary of the Army. He will decide whether the captain should be medically discharged or kicked out for misconduct.