Veterans, soldiers protest inadequate mental health services at Fort Hood

Fort Hood demonstration for mental health services

On Jan. 15, more than 30 veterans, active-duty soldiers and military families demonstrated outside of Fort Hood, Texas, to protest the criminally inadequate mental health services on base. Combat veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury held a banner that read “Sick of Fighting Your Wars” at the entrance gate to Fort Hood, which thousands of active duty soldiers pass though.

Fort Hood is the largest U.S. military base on the planet, home to the III Corps, which presides over the Army’s armored divisions. It has the highest number of casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the highest suicide rate in the U.S. military. In 2008, a soldier recently returned from Iraq killed himself on the steps of the III Corps headquarters.

The rally was organized by Under the Hood Café, a GI coffee house just a mile from the base, reminiscent of the GI coffee houses during the Vietnam War that were hubs of anti-war activity and GI resistance.  Members of March Forward! and IVAW took part in the demonstration. A March Forward! member also distributed hundreds of leaflets in the Fort Hood hospital, and announced to dozens of soldiers that these were wars for the rich, and they had every right to refuse to take part in them.

The rally called attention to the standard military procedure of mistreating soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress. Soldiers must endure humiliation, intimidation from their command, and an uncaring mental health system to even get treatment; and once they do, they are just given a long list of pills and sent back to combat duty.

Spc. Eric Jasinski, an active duty soldier and Iraq war veteran who participated in the demonstration, has a typical story for veterans suffering from PTSD. He returned home plagued by severe psychological trauma. He spent months trying to get treatment, but was in a constant battle with his chain of command to be granted time to visit the hospital. When he was finally seen, a civilian psychiatrist diagnosed him with severe PTSD, severe depression and alcoholism.  He was satisfied with the diagnosis, and was prepared to wait-out the few remaining months of his contract.

But Jasinski soon learned that he had been “stop-lossed,” the back-door draft that keeps soldiers in the military past their contractual obligation. He had difficulty functioning in day-to-day life, let alone being forced to serve another harrowing year of combat. He immediately went to the mental health ward, and told them that he “couldn’t handle another deployment.” He was sent to an Army psychiatrist, who would evaluate him and decide his fate.

“The doctor didn’t spend more than 5 minutes talking to me,” he said, “and then handed me a prescription for 90 days worth of pills and told me I had to deploy to Iraq.” Jasinski then did what every active duty soldier with orders to Iraq or Afghanistan should do: He went AWOL as his unit was deploying. He refused to fight.

After joining for economic reasons, Jasinski said “the benefits are not worth it. I’d rather die than go back to Iraq. I’m not going to go kill people for money.”

According to U.S. military numbers, over 30 percent of returning veterans have PTSD—but that is a far cry from the true figure, as most soldiers never seek treatment. There is currently an epidemic of suicides and severe psychological trauma in the U.S. military.

The Pentagon brass would rather spend the hundreds of billions of dollars they have at their disposal to purchase multi-million dollar bombs and tanks, instead of investing it in treating a lower-enlisted soldier who is paid around $20,000 a year. To them, an enlisted soldier is just another piece of military equipment—the cheapest and the most disposable. The military brass has dealt with this crisis by increasing the use of prescription medication, instead of real treatment, to numb soldiers enough to be sent to fight again. 

And, using truly imperialist logic, the military brass found a way to combat to skyrocketing number of soldiers with PTSD: actually ordering doctors to not diagnose PTSD. Then the soldiers can be sent on yet another combat tour instead of receiving the treatment they deserve.

It is a crime to send U.S. troops to kill and be killed in these imperial wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and it is a crime to actively deny them treatment when they return. Service members have no reason to obey the orders of a chain of command that subjects them to this type of treatment, and they have every right to refuse the orders they are given.

The demonstration outside Fort Hood is part of a growing movement of veterans and active duty service members who are taking a stand against the White House and the Pentagon. The longer these wars rage on, the more troops will be compelled to examine the true nature of these occupations and realize that these are not our wars.

The war machine can be halted when the cogs in the machine refuse to turn. For GIs, every day of these wars—both while deployed and while at home—provide more and more proof that there is no reason to fight. Actions like the one at Fort Hood and mass demonstrations such as the upcoming March 20 March on Washington play a vital role in inspiring that consciousness in GIs, and empowering them to fight for what is really in there interests—an end to these wars, and an end to U.S. imperialism.


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