U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar is calling for a special Senate hearing to discuss the military's treatment of troops who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan and are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"In the worst cases, service members may be discharged from service for PTSD-related symptoms instead of being treated for their service-related injury," the Colorado Democrat last week wrote to colleagues.
In recent months, the military has faced intense scrutiny over its treatment of troops with the serious psychiatric disorder that can emerge after a life-threatening event in combat. Troops with the disorder may experience flashbacks, difficulty sleeping and feel detached, sometimes resorting to substance abuse to numb the pain.
Salazar, a member of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, is concerned that soldiers are discharged before they receive proper treatment from the military and may lose benefits, such as college money or health care coverage, because of their discharge status, says his spokesman, Cody Wertz.
Salazar wants senators from the Veterans' Affairs and Armed Services committees to convene jointly to discuss the issue.
The push comes just weeks after several active-duty and veteran "whistleblowers" from Fort Carson approached Salazar to allege poor mental health care on base.
Last month, the Independent quoted several active and recently discharged Fort Carson soldiers who claim their commanders denied them treatment for PTSD ("Pattern of misconduct," csindy.com/csindy/2006-07-13/cover.html).
Instead, the soldiers say, superiors took action to purge them from the ranks for disciplinary problems, including substance abuse, which can be symptomatic of the disorder. The Independent also found soldiers were discharged at a rate three times higher than before start of the Iraq war for "personality disorder," which experts consider a rare condition. A soldier diagnosed with a personality disorder receives no medical retirement benefits from the military.
Interviewed in response to Salazar's call for an inquiry, Fort Carson spokeswoman Dee McNutt defended the base's mental health services.
"Fort Carson takes the best care of every solder we have," she said.
Some soldiers tell a different story, including Pvt. Corey Davis, with Fort Carson's 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
He is facing disciplinary action for problems including drug use. Davis, who witnessed a friend commit suicide in Iraq, was only diagnosed with PTSD after seeking an independent therapist off base. That therapist says his substance abuse is symptomatic of his disorder.
He alleges superiors have prevented him from attending scheduled mental health appointments that would help him address recurrent nightmares stemming from his service in Ramadi.
"I've been waiting now for months and months," he says.
A Government Accountability Office report released in May found that approximately four of every five troops who indicated a risk for PTSD on questionnaires never received a referral for a mental health follow-up.
It was unclear if Salazar's call for a hearing would be answered. Sens. Larry Craig and John Warner, the Republican chairs of the Veterans' Affairs and Armed Services committees, could not be reached for comment.
Georg-Andreas "Andrew" Pogany, a former Fort Carson soldier who leads Operation Just One, a group that advocates for returning combat troops, applauds Salazar's "moral courage and leadership" in calling for the hearing.
"I hope this can bring an end to the injustices that occur on a daily basis to soldiers at Fort Carson and around the nation who so dutifully serve their country," he says, adding that any commanders found responsible of purposely denying troops mental health services should be held accountable.