The following was written by anonymous members of March Forward!, following a suicide in the barracks of 4-9 Infantry at Joint Fort Lewis-McChord. They distributed hundreds of leaflets with this statement in the barracks where the suicide took place just days ofter the incident.
“All the clinicians up here are being pressured to not diagnose PTSD”
-Fort Carson Mental Health doctor
On March 17, 2010, Spc. Kirkland returned home from his second deployment to Iraq. Three days later he was dead—killed by the Army.
Spc. Kirkland was sent home from Iraq because the burden of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder became too great—so much so that he wanted to take his own life. Many of us also struggle with the effects of PTSD, which is a completely natural, human response to what we are exposed to overseas. It is not a sign of weakness or cowardice, but the inevitable result of serving in combat. It is a burden we all share, and we all deserve adequate treatment and understanding for the sacrifices we have made.
Upon returning home, Spc. Kirkland was not more than three steps into the barracks before the acting 1st Sergeant publicly ridiculed him, calling him a “coward” and a “pussy,” knowing full well that Kirkland was suffering from severe depression and anxiety. He was then carelessly assigned to a room by himself, and like every other soldier with PTSD, given sub-standard care by Army mental health doctors. 48 hours after he was in the care of 4-9, he was dead. Spc. Kirkland had a wife and a young daughter.
Before his blood had even dried off the floor, our respected leadership was already mocking his death.
Spc. Kirkland did not kill himself. He was killed by the Army. The Army inadequately treats PTSD, while it reinforces a culture of humiliation for the soldiers who suffer from it. Spc. Kirkland was accused of faking his trauma.
PTSD is a legitimate medical condition that is unavoidable in a combat zone. As soldiers who lay down our lives everyday, we deserve adequate treatment for the wounds we receive in combat. We deserve to be treated for PTSD just like we would for a bullet wound or shrapnel. Spc. Kirkland received the opposite.
But what happened to Spc. Kirkland is not an isolated incident. This is happening at such a high rate in the Army that it is becoming an epidemic. Now, more active duty soldiers commit suicide than are killed in combat. Every year, the number of suicides far surpasses the year before, and 2010 is already dwarfing last year’s numbers.
How has the Army responded? Scandal after scandal has broken out about Army officers ordering doctors to not diagnose PTSD; to instead deny veterans the care they deserve, pump them full of pills, and return them to combat. It has become Army policy to do everything possible to avoid diagnosing PTSD. And when it is diagnosed, the care is inadequate. Throughout the Army, soldiers are having to fight for simple medical care. The Army doesn’t care at all about us, our lives, or our families—and hundreds of us are dying because of it. We are denied care because the Army needs bodies to throw into two quagmires, and because the VA doesn’t want to pay us the benefits we deserve.
Maj. Keith Markham, Executive Officer of 4-9, put it very clearly in a private memo to his platoon leaders: “We have an unlimited supply of expendable labor.” That’s what we soldiers are to the Army and the officer corps: expendable labor. Spc. Kirkland was expendable. All of us are expendable, and we witness that fact everyday.
But soldiers all over the Army are standing up. At Ft. Hood, the base with the highest number of suicides, protests have been held both outside the base and in the hospitals, consisting of active duty soldiers demanding better treatment. All over the country, soldiers are organizing in their units to fight for adequate care.
The Army will never give us the care we deserve unless we force it to do so. As soldiers, we have rights. Mental health care is a right for the job we were made to do. We have the right to be adequately treated and compensated for PTSD—but the Army is not doing that, so we have the right to collectively organize and demand proper treatment.
Actual defense spending in the U.S. is over 1 trillion dollars a year. Most of that money goes into the pockets of defense contractors, while only a tiny fraction is allocated for mental health care. There are hundreds of billions of dollars for new fighter jets, or to open Burger Kings and KBR facilities overseas, but when extra resources are needed to combat a suicide epidemic, we only get scraps from the table.
If you’re angry about Spc. Kirklands death and about the Army’s criminal mistreatment of our brothers and sisters with PTSD, you can be part of the solution. Join the growing movement of soldiers who are demanding the care we deserve.