Was This A Hate Crime or PTSD?


By Debbie Gregory.

There was a perfect storm brewing in Portland, Oregon’s DarSalam Iraqi restaurant.

Suffering from unsuccessfully treated PTSD, Marine Sgt. Major Damien Rodriguez was allegedly inebriated, a common self-treatment for PTSD, when he and his companion, a retired Marine, took a corner table in the restaurant. He sat where his back could be against the wall, typical behavior of a veteran with PTSD.

His four deployments to war zones had taken a heavy toll.

According to witnesses, after several minutes of not ordering, Rodriguez said that he had to get out of the restaurant. He tried to go through a side door but found it locked, so he stood, wringing his hands. Rodriguez began slinging racial slurs and profanity. Then suddenly, he picked up a chair and hurled it at a waiter.

Ghaith Sahib, the owner of the restaurant, said the incident left him and his staff deeply shaken, especially the employee injured by the chair.

Authorities came down hard on Rodriguez. While this would have normally been a misdemeanor, prosecutors charged Rodriguez with both assault and a hate crime, felony charges that carry a mandatory prison sentence.

Rodriguez was forced to retire following his arrest.

And while special veterans courts have been set up throughout the country to offer therapy instead of jail time to veterans who commit minor crimes most of them bar veterans who have committed a violent crime. This means Rodriguez now faces years in prison.

“What he needs is help. That is what he has needed all these years,” said his mother, Roberta Bello. “But they just want to put him away.”

Raised by a Nigerian stepfather and married to a Guatemalan native, Rodriguez will tell you he is not prejudiced.

“How can they say I hate Iraqis? I gave my soul for Iraq,” he said.

Rodriguez said he did not know what caused him to hit the waiter. It is a blank. “All I can remember, honestly, is being handcuffed by the police,” he said.

After his arrest, Rodriguez entered an intensive program for substance abuse and PTSD. He is saddened that after years of service, he could be conviction for a hate crime.

“I’m sorry about what happened,” he said. “But no one tries to understand what we went through.”

The trial is scheduled to begin December.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Majority of Young American Adults Are Unfit for Military Service


By Debbie Gregory.

The failure of Americans from 17- 24 years old to meet weight and fitness standards, as well as issues with conduct, medical concerns, mental health, and substance abuse are causing significant recruiting problems for the military.

And that doesn’t even take into consideration the prospects that are in college or the ones who have no interest in military service.

A big misconception is that military service disproportionately attracts minorities and men and women from disadvantaged backgrounds. Many believe that troops enlist because they have few options, not because they want to serve their country.

But often times, military service is a family tradition. Some 80% of recruits currently entering the military have family members who served, with between 22% and 35% being the children of veterans.

As the veteran population shrinks, the obligation to serve is increasingly being shouldered by a small subset of multigenerational military families. A soldier’s demographic characteristics are of little importance in the military, which values honor, leadership, self-sacrifice, courage, and integrity-qualities that cannot be quantified.

There are a number of ways that the military is looking to beef up its numbers. Besides aggressive marketing, the service branches are offering incentives such as relaxed standards, monetary bonuses, sabbatical leaves, and of course, the great GI Bill benefits.

There is also a big push to recall veterans to active duty.

But will this be enough?

“If we don’t turn this around, where does the world’s strongest military recruit from?” asked Rep. Don Bacon, a Nebraska Republican and former Air Force one-star general.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Grant Enables More Veteran Treatment Courts


By Debbie Gregory.

Many of our veterans return home with substance abuse and psychological health problems, which often go untreated. Sadly, these challenges can sometimes lead to criminal or other destructive behaviors. Special Veterans Treatment Courts seek to treat veterans suffering from substance abuse and/or mental health disorders.

Veterans Treatment Courts are modeled after drug courts, which promote collaboration among the judiciary, community corrections agencies, drug treatment providers, and other community support groups.

A number of states have taken steps to promote Veterans Treatment Courts or veterans assistance within the state court system.

And now, the Justice Department has announced plans to award more than $4 million to 13 state and local jurisdictions to develop their own programs. This year’s grants will go to court systems in Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Florida, Montana, Virginia, Missouri, California, Texas, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

The system has proven so successful that the VA has mandated that every VA medical center have a veterans justice outreach specialist who provides legal assistance to veterans and supports veterans treatment courts in their region.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald said veterans often end up in the judicial system after suffering post-traumatic stress, brain injury or mental illness that can lead to substance abuse, homelessness and criminal activity.

“And all too often, that substance abuse begins with opioids prescribed by DoD or VA doctors for service-related conditions,” McDonald said. “All of these things are preventable.”

The VA has also launched an aggressive campaign to educate physicians on prescribing practices.
Veterans Courts promote sobriety, recovery, and stability through a coordinated response involving the traditional partners found in drug courts and mental health courts, as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare networks, the Veterans Benefits Administration, State Departments of Veterans Affairs, volunteer veteran mentors, and veterans family support organizations.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Preventing Substance Abuse in Today’s Army

Cynthia Hamala, part of Fort Lee’s Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program, briefs Soldiers from Foxtrot Company, 16th Ordnance Battalion, 59th Ord. Brigade, about the ASAP within the Army. (Contributed Photo)

By Debbie Gregory.

The Army has decided to put medical officials back in charge of drug and alcohol abuse treatment for soldiers. Approximately 20,000 soldiers are screened each year for substance abuse.

While many of us know that a growing percentage of veterans struggle with addiction and excessive alcohol use, many of us may not know that the problems often begin during active duty. The stress of repeated deployments, long absences from loved ones, combat exposure, and, for too many women, sexual assault, all take their toll.

Army Secretary John McHugh decided to shift oversight of the program back to the Army Medical Command from the Installation Management Command after it was determined that close to 50% of those who needed treatment were deemed to be healthy, and denied treatment.

The Army is looking to fix the system that broke it shifted command of the program from medical to nonmedical leadership. That’s when program goals shifted from an emphasis on the treatment of each individual to filling “slots” and getting reports in on time. This resulted in an exodus of clinicians, increased vacancies, eroding care, and subsequently, poorer outcomes.

The Army plans to integrate substance-abuse counselors within mental health clinics that are embedded within combat brigades. The reasoning is two-fold: it will make care more accessible, while reducing the stigma of needing help. Currently, substance abuse counselors work in separate clinics on each Army base.

“What we have found is that our soldiers are more willing to go into an embedded behavioral health facility to be seen,” said Maj. Gen. Jimmie Keenan, deputy commander for operation under the Medical Command.

The reorganization of these substance abuse programs under Army Medical Command– which is expected to be complete by October 2016, and is being lauded by experts and advocates alike.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, and their families.