This Memorial Day, a national group of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their supporters marked the solemn holiday by exposing unethical healthcare practices at the largest Army post in the country, Fort Hood. Commanders with no medical training deploying ill and injured soldiers against doctors’ recommendations are among the shocking discoveries revealed in the groundbreaking report, Operation Recovery: Fort Hood Soldiers and Veterans Testify on the Right to Heal (also referred to as the Fort Hood Testimony Report).
The report is the product of months of investigation and compilation by its authors: Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), Under the Hood Café and Resource Center, and Civilian Soldier Alliance. The National Lawyers Guild’s Military Law Task Force contributed legal support, analysis of regulations, and assistance in developing recommendations.
The report culminates three years of sustained outreach in the Fort Hood community, and contains in-depth testimony from 31 Ford Hood soldiers, veterans and family members. Additionally, it includes a series of findings and recommendations for the Fort Hood command and the Department of Defense. This report provides a snapshot in time of a military base at the height of the deployment cycle and during the recent drawdown, and it exposes the challenges that servicemembers face in a military that has been at war for more than a decade. While the report focuses on Fort Hood, it reflects problems endemic to the Army as a whole as well as to the other branches of the military.
Expressing amazement at the negligent deployment practices soldiers experienced, Chas Jacquier, Fort Hood Army veteran and a testifier in the report, said, “Prior to going, our unit was so low in numbers that we actually took soldiers into Afghanistan who were on crutches. We’re walking fifteen, twenty klicks a day at 10,000 feet elevation through the mountains. The guy just got off crutches and you expect him to be able to do that?”
Just a few of the findings include:
- Overmedication of troops and routinely deploying servicemembers who are prescribed with psychotropic drugs.
- Aggressive disciplinary measures and discharges of ill and injured soldiers since the drawdown began, often for displaying symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injury.
- An almost total lack of enforcement of base policies designed to eliminate stigma towards servicemembers seeking medical help and requiring commands to follow doctors’ recommendations.
Recommendations in the report include:
- Ensuring respect for soldiers’ profiles (medical assessments of soldiers’ physical and mental conditions with doctors’ recommendations for duty limitations).
- Eliminating the culture of stigma that leads to harassment of servicemembers with medical problems, particularly if they seek medical treatment.
- Stopping improper discharge processes that lead to other-than-honorable discharges based on symptoms of physical or psychiatric problems, rather than medical discharge or retirement.
- Preventing deployment of soldiers against doctors’ orders, and against Department of Defense regulations setting out deployment-limiting medical and psychiatric conditions.
- Ending multiple deployments, which increase the risk of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other conditions.
- Ending the practice of over-medicating soldiers, particularly with combinations of psychotropic drugs.
- Ensuring that soldiers have full access to adequate physical and mental health care.
- Ending commander discretion in military sexual trauma cases (where commanders currently have complete authority to decide whether or not to prosecute offenders, transfer assault survivors away from offenders, or to take legal action against survivors for minor “collateral” misconduct).
- Ensuring confidentiality of medical records and information.
- Strengthening support for military spouses and families.
- Reinforcing soldier care by commands and developing mechanisms to hold commands accountable for care of troops.
- Providing adequate veteran health care.
- Initiating accountability and reparation processes not only for U.S. servicemembers, but also for Iraqi and Afghan civilians who suffer toxic health effects or injury as a result of the wars.
This comprehensive report sheds light on the legacy of two wars characterized by multiple deployments, overmedication of troops, and a military culture that highly stigmatizes mental health care and other medical care. It helps to explain why the VA is deeply overwhelmed in processing claims and why the veteran community has such a dramatically high suicide rate. The testimony and findings show intentional disregard for servicemembers’ health in the drive to commit troops to war, coupled with a willingness to discard troops without benefits when they become too ill to serve or are no longer needed.
The Fort Hood Testimony Report is available at the following website with searchable sections: forthoodtestimonies.com. For the Executive Summary, see underthehood-café.org/2014/05/announcing-the-fort-hood-report/.
This article is adapted from one published in the June, 2014, issue of the Military Law Task Force journal, On Watch.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org/)