TIME Veterans

Afghan Vet Dies of Overdose in VA Substance-Abuse Center

Agency Delays $765 Million in Spending for U.S. Veterans' Care
Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

A new report by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ inspector general on the unexpected death of an Afghanistan war vet at a government rehab center suggests that programs to help former service members aren't working well enough

The United States has gone out of its way to support the 1% of Americans who have gone to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq following the 9/11 attacks. But, frankly, a lot of the cheers are simply rhetoric making cracks through which returning troops fall all too often.

Sure, the Department of Veterans Affairs budget has more than doubled, rising from $73 billion in 2006 to a proposed $164 billion next year. But all that spending hasn’t done enough to salve the wars’ unseen wounds, as a nationwide survey of post-9/11 U.S. veterans detailed in Sunday’s Washington Post makes clear.

That becomes even more apparent when you stumble across a report like Unexpected Patient Death in a Substance Abuse Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program, issued Friday by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ inspector general.

An Afghanistan war veteran went to the VA to get help fighting his struggles with drugs and alcohol. That’s why he was in a 24-bed section of Miami, Florida’s VA hospital dedicated to treating addicts.

The Substance Abuse Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program [SARRTP] facility has a single entrance. It has a camera there to monitor everyone’s coming and going. And while patients can leave the center, they’re searched when they get back to ensure they’re not bringing in any contraband.

The details in the report are too blurry to identify the vet involved. But the few specifics are clear enough: He spent several months in early 2013 in the SARRTP unit, after he had bounced from the VA’s Psychosocial Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program to the VA’s PTSD Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program then to the VA’s acute inpatient mental health unit.

The VA’s goal: get him “into PTSD residential treatment once he improves coping skills, mood stability, and functioning.” He never made it. Perhaps his craving to get high would have doomed him in any event. But the VA’s inaction, as detailed in the following excerpts from the IG’s report, guaranteed his failure:

The patient was an Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) combat veteran in his twenties, who was diagnosed with polysubstance dependence, PTSD, sleep apnea, mood disorder and traumatic brain injury.

We found that camera surveillance was not present as required. VHA [the VA's Veterans Health Administration] policy requires that RRTP [Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program] unit entrance doors be monitored by Closed Circuit Television (CCTV). Additionally, CCTV with recording capability must be used to monitor RRTP public areas such as hallways. Local policy mandates that closed circuit video cameras be focused on each MHRRTP [Mental Health Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program] entrance and hallway and viewed and recorded in Police Service. The recordings are to be kept for at least 2 weeks.

Upon admission to the SARRTP, UDS [urine drug screen] results were negative for illicit substances.

We met with Police Service staff to review the surveillance conducted on the SARRTP unit. A Police Service employee was unable to correctly identify which screen was showing feed from the SARRTP. We were subsequently told by the Chief of Police that the camera which monitors the main hallway on the SARRTP unit had been inoperable since at least December 2012.

Two days later, UDS results were positive for cocaine.

The Police Service employee who was monitoring the CCTV feeds at the time of our visit was unaware the SARRTP camera was inoperable. Similarly, key SARRTP staff were unaware that the camera was inoperable, including the Nurse Manager.

The SARRTP psychiatrist addressed the results with the patient.

VA Handbook 0730 requires that when surveillance television systems are in use, performance checks be conducted daily and substitute coverage be provided during maintenance or breakdown periods. We found no evidence that the facility provided substitute coverage or other means of securing the unit during camera failure.

The patient admitted that he used cocaine after admission to the SARRTP.

We found that access to the SARRTP was not monitored or controlled appropriately.

He had left the unit to pick up money that had been wired to him and used the funds to purchase cocaine.

Access to the SARRTP unit is controlled by a keyless entry badge-activated system. Individuals without a badge ring a buzzer and request entrance. Local policy states that only authorized patients, staff, and visitors may be allowed access to the unit.

He was placed on pass restriction (no overnight or weekend passes) for 3 weeks.

At the time of our inspection, we visited the SARRTP unit twice unannounced. SARRTP staff did not request identification or verify the purpose of the visit on either occasion. During a day shift visit, an OIG [Office of the Inspector General] inspector was “buzzed in” without displaying a badge or credentials or explaining the reason for the visit; the inspector walked through the unit and after several minutes, approached unit staff to identify himself.

However, the veteran was permitted to leave the unit for up to 2 hours without a pass.

During the evening shift, three inspectors, dressed in casual clothes and not wearing badges, followed two patients into the unit without SARRTP staff’s knowledge of an unauthorized entry.

UDS results from the next month were again positive for cocaine.

During staff interviews, we learned that SARRTP staff on evening, night, and weekend tours routinely sit in a back room that does not have visibility of most of the main hallway of the unit, nor the entrance and exit doors. During our evening site visit, we found the staff in this back room. Had the staff been present at the nurses’ station, they would have been able to observe and monitor the main hallway and entrance and exit doors.

The SARRTP psychologist addressed this with the patient and he was placed back on pass restriction for another three weeks.

We found that patients’ whereabouts were not being monitored as required. VHA requires that RRTP programs have a system for tracking the whereabouts of patients, typically by maintaining a sign-in and sign-out list. Local policy states that patients can sign themselves off the unit for up to 2 hours without a pass but must include their destination, remain on campus, and sign back in upon return so that their whereabouts are always known to staff. We found that the sign in/sign out list on the SARRTP unit was not being reviewed by staff for suspicious activity (patterns of leaving the unit) and that patients did not consistently sign in/sign out. The sign in/sign out entries that we observed did not include dates.

The day before his death, the patient left the SARRTP on a pass in the early afternoon.

We found a lack of consistency among staff in performing contraband searches. According to local policy, nursing staff will conduct and document inspections of all patients being admitted to the program and returning from pass in order to detect any possible contraband that could be brought onto the unit.

Upon his return that evening, a breathalyzer test was completed with negative results (no alcohol detected).

We interviewed staff to determine how contraband searches were conducted upon a patient’s return from pass and received conflicting information. Several staff reported that they were not permitted to search patients’ pockets or to request patients to empty their pockets as this was equivalent to a body search and not allowed. However, the RRTP Program Manager told us that he expected pockets to be emptied as part of a routine contraband search.

A staff nurse documented at that time, “bag(s) checked: no.”

We also found that the EHR [electronic health records] template progress note used to document whether bags had been searched upon a patient’s return from pass was unclear. A line item in a note stated “bag(s) checked: no.” We could not determine from the “no” documentation if there were no bags to check or that bags were not searched.

SARRTP patients who were interviewed by CID [Criminal Investigations Division] agents reported that while on the SARRTP that evening, the patient was intoxicated from illicit drugs and required assistance to get into bed.

We found that the methods used for monitoring SARRTP patients for illicit drug use could be strengthened. UDS were collected every Sunday in the late afternoon or early evening. Staff told us they were consistent with the time of day and day of the week for collections. As the timing of the collection was predictable, patients were aware of when the UDS would be done and could modify their behavior accordingly. Some random UDS were collected during the week, but staff told us this tended to be on the same days of the week, so the pattern of collection times was again fairly predictable.

The patient was found dead in his room on the SARRTP unit the next morning.

The facility is located in a part of Miami with reported high drug activity. Patients who are allowed to leave the unit unsupervised have potentially easy access to illicit drugs. We reviewed the EHRs of other patients in the SARRTP at the time of the patient’s death to determine the extent of illicit drug use among patients. In addition to the patient under review, we found that 7 of 21 patients had a positive UDS and/or breathalyzer test at some point in their substance abuse program stay. Five additional patients had a positive UDS but were not included in the 33 percent positive result category, as either the UDS was completed at admission and positive results could have been from drug use prior to admission or patients were prescribed medications that are associated with a false positive result.

The medical examiner determined that the official cause of death was acute cocaine and heroin toxicity.

SARRTPs should provide a safe recovery environment for the treatment of patients with substance use disorders who require a controlled and sober environment.

It’s unnerving that heroin helped kill this Afghan vet. Afghanistan is the source of about 80% of the world’s heroin. Poor Afghan farmers dedicated more than 500,000 acres to the opium poppy’s cultivation in 2013. That’s up 36% from 2012.

United Nations
TIME

Band of Brothers WWII Veteran ‘Wild Bill’ Guarnere Dies

South Philly native served in the famed Easy Company, and lost a leg holding the Belgian town of Bastone during the Battle of the Bulge

William “Wild Bill” Guarnere, one of the World War II veterans who gained fame from the book Band of Brothers and its HBO adaptation, died of a ruptured aneurysm on Saturday night. He was 90 years old.

A native of south Philadelphia, Guarnere served as a non-commissioned officer in the famed Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division during World War II, where he participated in some of the biggest battles in the European theater. Guarnere parachuted into Normandy the night before D-Day, fought in Operation Market Garden and helped hold the critical Belgian town of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.

His war ended in Bastogne when he lost a leg while trying to help another wounded soldier, and he returned home having been awarded the Silver Star – the nation’s third-highest award for valor – two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts for wounds suffered in combat.

Guarnere and other veterans of Easy Company gained fame decades after the war when historian Stephen Ambrose wrote Band of Brothers about their war experience. HBO turned the book into a highly popular mini-series in 2001. After the war, Guarnere was an active member of many veterans organizations and traveled widely, telling Easy Company’s story. Along with fellow south Philadelphia native Edward “Babe” Heffron, Guarnere published the bestseller Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends in 2008.

TIME Veterans

Medal of Honor Will Go To 24 Overlooked Veterans

These images provided by the U.S. Army show Korean War veterans, from left, Sgt. 1st Class Eduardo Corral Gomez, Master Sgt. Juan E. Negron and Master Sgt. Mike C. Pena, who are among 24 minority veterans receiving the Medal of Honor.
These images provided by the U.S. Army show Korean War veterans, from left, Sgt. 1st Class Eduardo Corral Gomez, Master Sgt. Juan E. Negron and Master Sgt. Mike C. Pena, who are among 24 minority veterans receiving the Medal of Honor. U.S. Army—ap

Mostly Jewish and Hispanic veterans were passed over due to prejudices, review finds

President Barack Obama will award the country’s highest military honor to 24 veterans who were found to have been passed over for the award because of long-standing prejudices against minorities.

The ceremony, scheduled for next month, will award the Medal of Honor to mostly Jewish and Hispanic veterans after a congressionally mandated review found many of them had been passed over for the medal, reports the Associated Press.

The National Defense Authorization act passed by Congress in 2002 required the Army to conduct the review, which looked at the cases of the 6,505 recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War .

The review found eight Vietnam veterans, nine Korean war veterans, and seven World War II veterans deserving of the higher honor. Only three of the recipients are still living.

[AP]

TIME Veterans

A Troubled Marine’s Final Fight

When his nation called, Marine Sergeant David Linley answered. But when he came home hurting, his country let him down.
When his nation called, Marine Sergeant David Linley answered. But when he came home hurting, his country let him down. Peter Van Agtmael—Magnum for TIME

When his nation called, Marine Sergeant David Linley answered. But when he came home hurting, his country let him down

‘At some point I remember looking out the window and seeing a man hiding behind a tree. I knew I could kill him, but some part of me kept saying, No, don’t hurt anyone. I fired at the tree and laughed because I knew I could have hit him. When I smelled the smoke from the rounds fired, I had a rush. Suddenly I was back in the fight.’ David Linley’s last night as a free man began, like so many others before it, in his dark basement, watching Band of Brothers. Or was it Saving Private Ryan? Deep into a bottle of Bombay gin at the time, Linley can’t recall what was on the screen when his wife Kristin came downstairs to do the laundry. She was surprised to see him wearing, for the first time at home, the Marine fatigues he had worn in Iraq.

Her interruption was minor and routine–a light switched on, a noise from the washer–but it triggered in Linley something he couldn’t ignore. Feeling an irrational rage welling up inside, Linley ordered Kristin to leave the house with their 3-year-old son Hunter and 3-week-old daughter Hannah. Then Linley, age 41, kept drinking. Over the next 24 hours, he tried to kill himself twice by filling the house with natural gas, once by sitting in his running car inside the garage and once by hanging.

As a Marine sergeant, Linley saw action and witnessed horrors in Grenada, Lebanon and Iraq a generation ago. Ten years ago in January, he headed back to Iraq on his final combat deployment. He had earned an expert rifleman’s badge, the corps’s highest. The Marines tapped him for prized assignments guarding U.S. diplomatic outposts in Brazil and Pakistan, jobs that required top-secret clearance. He was discharged from the corps, honorably. Twice.

But his final firefight was on his suburban street 30 miles (48 km) southwest of Chicago, and the enemy was local police. When it ended, he’d traded 17 years in uniform for 16 years behind bars.

This is a story about what untreated posttraumatic stress can do to a man, his family, his life and his neighborhood. There are about 200,000 incarcerated veterans in the U.S., about 14% of the nation’s prisoners. Contrary to public perception, Afghanistan and Iraq vets are only half as likely to be incarcerated as those who fought in earlier wars, but they, like Linley, suffer from PTSD at three times the rate of older veterans. All told, perhaps as many as 10,000 Afghanistan and Iraq War vets–there is no sound estimate–are in the nation’s prisons, where mental-health treatment is spotty at best. Linley is one of them, a sad and costly example of a nation too busy to care. “These cases are much too common,” says psychiatrist Stephen Xenakis, a retired Army brigadier general. “We are throwing these guys away.”

I was wearing my full camouflage uniform that I wore in Iraq, including dog tags, survival gear and my fighting knife on my belt. I don’t know when, or why, I put it on. It just felt appropriate to die as a Marine in combat gear.

Shortly after 2 p.m. the next day, on Sept. 22, 2006, a pair of police officers showed up at Linley’s two-story house, bought a year earlier for $232,500. They’d been dispatched because Linley’s new employer was concerned by his absence from work. One knocked at the front door, arousing Linley from a drunken stupor. “Linley appeared calm, polite and cooperative,” the police report said, although the police noted the bayonet-style knife hanging from his webbed belt.

The officer ordered Linley outside once he smelled gas. But Linley locked the door and barricaded it with a wooden bench. Then he made the biggest mistake of his life.

He grabbed a bolt-action .22 from an upstairs closet. He had bought it as a gift to give his son someday. It was the only gun in the house. He retrieved bullets from the basement.

The police, given the gas, the knife and Linley’s retreat inside, summoned reinforcements, who began to encircle the house as they arrived on the scene. They turned off the exterior gas valve to 130 Wethersfield Lane.

A short time later, Linley, unprovoked, began squeezing off rounds from a second-story window above his garage. The initial volley shattered windows in an unoccupied police car parked in front of his house. He moved to the back of the house and began firing at a neighbor’s storage shed that was shielding two police officers. “We had several officers basically pinned down behind sheds and trees,” Bolingbrook police lieutenant Michael Rompa says. “I don’t know the exact amount of rounds that he fired, but it was listed in the hundreds … it was probably closer to a thousand rounds.”

Once I opened the door we spoke briefly, but then the officer began yelling at me to come outside. He started reaching back, as if to draw his weapon. I instantly went into fight mode. I slammed the door shut, saw the officer trying to get in and saw the second officer begin to run around toward the back of the house. I was being surrounded.

As the afternoon dragged on, some 30 officers–including state police–arrived. They asked the FAA to order a news helicopter buzzing overhead to leave the scene. They approached Linley’s house in an armored vehicle. They deployed a pair of robots in an unsuccessful effort to search the house. They lobbed tear gas inside. Nothing seemed to work.

Police restricted access to the 95 other homes in the Hunters Trail subdivision and sent bewildered neighbors fleeing or into their basements. “He was a very gentle person,” says Mike Dahlberg, who lived across the street. Police kept Dahlberg from his home as his wife and son huddled inside with five police officers during the standoff. “Whatever war can do to a person,” he says, “I think it did it to him.”

Linley now maintains that he never intended to hit anyone; none of the 125 shots Linley fired–Rompa’s estimate was considerably off the mark–during the nine-hour shoot-out found a human target. The onetime Marine marksman says what he did was “stupid,” triggered by PTSD and fueled by alcohol.

Linley says he was aiming at trees and over the heads of responding police officers. “If Dave had wanted to kill a cop, he would have killed a cop,” Pete Gill, a Marine comrade, says flatly. “Because even your most basic Marine can hit something at 100 yards, and he didn’t hit a one of them. If that wasn’t a cry for ‘Shoot me because I don’t want to shoot you,’ I don’t know what was.”

I was acting like I was in a firefight, but there was that voice in my head telling me I was in a safe place and there was no danger. I was supposed to be dead, and I was determined to die, to not hurt my family. Now I was being hunted down.

Talking with Linley, now 48, inside the visitors’ center at the Graham Correctional Center in southern Illinois, is bleakly enlightening. His records and the accounts of fellow Marines, relatives and neighbors reveal a once squared-away sergeant–he has no record of parking, never mind speeding, tickets–tormented by what he witnessed during his four combat tours.

The product of a broken New York City family, Linley joined the Marines as a radio operator in 1982 at age 17, with his mother’s signature on his enlistment papers. During his first 10-year stint on active duty, he spent six years overseas, seeing action in Grenada and Beirut and in the 1991 Gulf War. In between deployments to war zones, he spent three years as a Marine security guard at U.S. diplomatic outposts in São Paulo and Islamabad. After a decade as a civilian, he reupped at age 36, angered by the 9/11 attacks. “I was anxious to be back into the fight,” he says. “I felt I had a duty that was not finished.” He spent seven months as a sergeant in Iraq’s violent Anbar province in 2004.

Once he returned from Iraq, Linley and Kristin moved to suburban Chicago, near her parents. They bought a house and had their second child as his life slowly unwound. “He was no longer outgoing but became socially and emotionally withdrawn,” Kristin recalls. “We’d always attended church regularly, but he stopped going with me.” Once a beer drinker, Linley began “self-medicating” with liquor. “He hit the bottle hard when he came home,” Kristin says. “He started locking himself in the basement to get drunk.”

Nine months before the shoot-out, Linley acknowledged the disconnect between those who fight and those back home. “They either ignore you or become scared of you,” he wrote in a letter to the independent Marine Corps Times newspaper. “When they ask, ‘What was it like?’ they zone out with dazed looks on their faces when you start to describe what you have seen.”

And he said he had seen plenty. His Beirut and final Iraq tours were especially bloody; many Marines were killed, but it was the civilians, especially children, caught in the cross fire who Linley says fueled his nightmares. In Beirut, he’d called for a strike on a threatening bus that local newspapers later said had killed 12 children. In Iraq, he saw a young teenager rummaging in an ammo dump lose both arms in an explosion. He survived roadside-bomb blasts.

Linley sought help from the VA and others but was leery of what acknowledging his ills would mean for his career. (He says they had already derailed a job with the U.S. Border Patrol.) “I fault myself for not reaching out more,” Linley says. “You get cocky and prideful and think, I’m a sergeant. I can handle this.” He wanted to head back to Iraq for a fifth combat tour, but Kristin thought he had done his duty. Job hunting, a new baby and his wife’s brain tumor (successfully removed) added to the stress.

So did a lack of comrades. All his earlier trips home from overseas had been to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where he could soak in the warmth and understanding of his Marine buddies. But when he returned home for the last time, in 2004, he found himself in an unfamiliar Midwestern suburb where such fraternal solace was harder to find.

Linley recalls being surprised by how the sight of police at his door triggered a flashback. “I thought those dark memories were buried forever,” he says. But a 1987 study of Israeli troops who fought in Lebanon five years earlier shows such thoughts don’t always stay buried. “Even when combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder remits … the afflicted person may become highly sensitized to stress in general,” it concluded. “He is permanently altered, harboring the potential for a future response on re-exposure to threatening stimuli.”

What began as a sad ritual in Linley’s basement on a Thursday night became a matter of life and death for his neighborhood as Friday afternoon darkened into evening. He fired in the direction of the police negotiator’s voice and fire trucks on the scene. In between shots, Linley bellowed out the Marines’ Hymn. “Today’s a good day to die!” he shouted to the cops. He almost got his wish. Three hours after the officer had knocked on his door, a police marksman fired law enforcement’s lone bullet that day, a .308 round that winged Linley but didn’t bring him down.

People were foolishly standing in a place I could have easily shot them, but it was more of a game now. I was shooting close enough to let them know I was there and waiting for them to shoot me. They didn’t. Eventually they did shoot me. At the time, it really pissed me off that they didn’t kill me.

He surrendered seven hours later, after what he says was a failed effort to hang himself with parachute cord. Shortly after midnight, Linley stumbled out of his front door, wounded, haggard and unarmed. “Linley’s shirt is soaked in blood and there is an evident hole in the upper left arm of the shirt,” the police report said. His eyes were bloodshot and watery. “He appears pale in color and moves very slow.”

Police arrested Linley at 12:30 a.m. “We were able to take him into custody, get him medical attention and save his life,” Rompa says. Linley has been locked up since. The state charged him with two counts of attempted first-degree murder, six counts of aggravated discharge of a firearm and one count of criminal damage to government property. Bail was set at $3 million; he faced up to 240 years in prison.

Linley spent nearly three years in the county lockup awaiting trial in the Illinois courts. (Their motto: Audi alteram partem, Latin for “Hear the other side.”) During his trial, Linley’s legal team argued that he was legally insane during the shoot-out. “This guy’s not a criminal, and he’s never been a criminal,” says psychologist Don Catherall. “He was hurting in many ways by that point.”

But Randi Zoot, the state-appointed psychologist in the case, concluded that while Linley was suffering from mental ailments when the shoot-out happened, “they were not of such severity as to substantially impair his ability to understand the wrongfulness of his actions.” Rather, his “voluntary intoxication” that “impaired his judgment and loosened his impulse control” was to blame. His blood-alcohol content was 0.195% after the shoot-out, more than double the Illinois limit for driving. “If you go out and you get yourself drunk and you kill somebody while you’re driving, just because you’re very impaired by drinking isn’t enough” to absolve guilt, Zoot says. That’s true, she adds, even if Linley was trying to self-medicate his PTSD by drinking.

In September 2009, state judge Daniel Rozak found Linley not guilty of the two counts of attempted murder and “guilty but mentally ill” on the seven counts of firearms violations and damaging government property. (Linley and his family, on the advice of their lawyers, had waived a jury trial because of Rozak’s pro-vet record.) While the judge said he gave veterans “a huge break” at sentencing, the length of the shoot-out and the number of shots fired required imprisonment “to deter others from committing the same offense.” Although Linley hadn’t hit anyone, he’d come “close enough” and couldn’t control ricochets.

Linley, the judge added, didn’t prove that he was “unable to appreciate the criminality of his conduct as a result of a mental disease or defect.” In a 21st century variation on World War II’s catch-22, Linley was crazy–just not crazy enough. Rozak said that despite Linley’s mental illness, “with proper treatment” he “was unlikely to reoffend.”

The trouble is, Linley has never gotten that treatment. “I’ve seen a psychiatrist about every six months for 30 minutes, which is absolutely useless,” he says. “I have received no treatment for PTSD at all–nothing.” Linley says he sought an antidepressant in anticipation of a VA-sponsored prison PTSD-counseling group. Such counseling depresses Linley, so he wanted to get on an antidepressant for the sessions. He took Celexa, prescribed by a corrections psychiatrist, for about a year, awaiting the counseling. But the VA never came, prison officials say, because there weren’t enough veterans seeking such help there. Linley says he stopped being “doped up” on the medicine, which made him “foggy and nauseous,” once it became clear the VA wasn’t coming.

A prison official, who declined to discuss the specifics of Linley’s case because of privacy restrictions, said it’s possible he is being seen only twice a year by a psychiatrist “because he’s not behaving poorly, so there’s no issue that has to be addressed by a psychiatrist.”

There are 49,000 inmates in Illinois prisons–a fourfold increase since 1980–and 20% of them receive mental-health care. “There’s a real lack of capacity to deliver any meaningful mental-health care, especially specialized care like PTSD treatment for veterans,” says John Maki, who heads the Chicago-based John Howard Association of Illinois, dedicated to improving the state’s prisons. “It’s so overcrowded and underresourced that delivery of this kind of care, even when it’s ordered by a judge, is extremely difficult if not impossible.” Linley earns $125 a month keeping the furniture shop’s electronics humming; he spends much of it on phone calls to his kids and on instant coffee in the prison commissary. “Hey, I was in the military–I need my coffee,” he explains.

Some days I feel an overwhelming shame. When you strive to do your best, work hard and be honest in life, it’s not supposed to end up like this.

The state appellate court upheld Linley’s sentence in 2011, and he now has a clemency appeal pending before Governor Pat Quinn. “One week in a mental-health facility probably would have prevented this whole affair, and he would be happily married, raising his kids and working,” says Bruce Benson, who worked alongside Linley in the cable-TV business in the 1990s. “He had one bad day in his life, and it has cost him 16 years plus his marriage.”

Kristin divorced Linley in 2011. Struggling to make ends meet, she and the children rarely make the four-hour drive to visit him. “The divorce has nothing to do with the fact that he’s in jail,” she says. “It has to do with what the military did to him. The man who came back from Iraq wasn’t the man I married.”

Linley, like all those who wore their nation’s uniform after 9/11, volunteered for duty. “They have been proud to serve their country,” the Institute of Medicine said in a 2010 report detailing troops’ service and its consequences. “If they have been wounded, physically or mentally, they expect their government to return the favor.”

With time off for good behavior, Linley is slated to leave prison on April 28, 2020. Maybe then he will get the help he needs.

TIME Veterans

Are U.S. Veterans Selfish?

MOAA

As the Pentagon budget vise tightens, those who served complain over cuts

It’s an impudent question, but one that naturally surfaces given the outrage rolling in from assorted veterans’ groups as Congress and the Pentagon seek ways to trim government spending that sometimes affect those who have volunteered to fight America’s wars.

It’s also the predictable downside to enlisting only 1% of the nation’s citizens to fight, and possibly die, to strive to achieve national goals.

When presidents and congresses insist on waging war with no shared sacrifice, it should come as scant surprise that those who have done all the sacrificing squawk when their expected benefits end up on the chopping block.

But it is disquieting. It suggests that the nation is developing a military caste, separate and apart from the nation. It seems the military is in danger of becoming just another special interest group.

SaveOurBenefit.org

Congress set off the latest fireworks when it proposed trimming the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for working-age veterans by 1 percentage point late last year. Then last week, a new storm arose when the Pentagon said it was considering cutting the subsidies it pays to military commissaries—on-base grocery stores boasting lower prices that are reserved for military personnel, including many veterans—that could force many such facilities to close their doors.

“This is yet another undeserved blow to our men and women in service—and their families—in the name of ‘necessary cutbacks’ to reduce an ungainly national deficit,” American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger said, after learning of the commissary proposal. “Like the trimming of expenses to be made by reducing military retirees’ pensions, this is an inexcusable way of attempting to fix a fault by penalizing the blameless.”

The notion that vets are seeking more than their fair share upsets some of their leaders. “Vets are anything but selfish!” says Norb Ryan, president of the Military Officers Association of America. “If anything, vets are too selfless. They are also idealistic…Vets are fair and therefore, they expect others to be fair.”

Recent veterans agree. “I don’t think veterans are any more or less selfish than the general public,” says Brandon Friedman, who served as an infantry officer with the Army in Afghanistan and Iraq. “However, I do think veterans are very vocal about protecting the benefits they’ve been promised.”

Alex Lemons, a former Marine sniper who served three tours in Iraq, is torn by the debate. “As a vet, I feel like we have made ourselves into a protected class and anyone else who isn’t in it can go to hell,” he says. “I took lives and watched lives be taken.” He says he’d prefer to see weapons cut before commissaries:

The commissary is where you bump into wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, children, chums and old vets, some of whom have family down range. They might ask you, `Will the guys in that platoon like this beef jerky or these potato chips?’ or `How have things been, emotionally, since you got back?’ Would anyone out there in the civilian world ask these questions? No. We don’t get the luxury of living in one house and in one community all our lives so places like this offer something else beyond cheap groceries. I know that won’t be popular amongst economists but this intangible stuff is what makes doing such a shitty job that much more manageable.

Besides, in the overall scheme of government spending, the veterans make a fair point: civilian entitlements, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have ballooned, while dollars dedicated to defense have shrunk markedly as a share of the federal budget.

But that masks the growth in per-troop compensation, which has increased by 60% since 9/11, not counting inflation. “Military compensation has outpaced civilian wages and salary growth since 2002,” the Pentagon’s most recent Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation said. The average enlisted person now earns, in all forms of compensation, more than 90% of his or her civilian counterparts; officers are paid more than 83% of civilians with similar education and experience.

Congress has routinely boosted military pay raises, which also increase pensions, beyond that sought by the Pentagon. More than four out of five veterans never get a pension because they have served fewer than 20 years in uniform, although they are eligible for health care and other benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Those who “make 20”—so-called “military retirees”—collect a pension worth at least half their basic pay.

VFW

“Such cost growth is unsustainable, and the leadership of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines all agree that the costs of benefits for personnel are starting to crowd out other important investments that support training, readiness and modernization,” four senior retired officers said in a statement in support of the pension trim issued by the nonprofit the Bipartisan Policy Center. “Such a change is much needed—but it’s only a first step. Additional reforms to compensation to ensure benefits are both fair and sustainable will be essential to slow the rise of personnel costs and to ensure the military is able to make the necessary investments to maintain sufficient capability to fight and win wars.”

It appears likely that Congress will reverse course on the veterans’ pension cut. The fact that lawmakers can’t make a minor trim to a benefit enjoyed by a minority (retired veterans under 62) of a minority (once again, less than one in five vets is eligible for a pension) doesn’t bode well for the wholesale revamping that the World War II-era military personnel system needs.

MOAA

But this slugfest comes as no surprise to anyone who has been monitoring the defense-budget debate in recent years:

– Former defense secretary Robert Gates, in his new book, Duty, views much of Congress as little more than scavengers, plucking carrion from the U.S. Treasury to keep wasteful military spending pouring into their districts. “Any defense facility or contract in their district or state, no matter how superfluous or wasteful, was sacrosanct,” he writes. “I was constantly amazed and infuriated at the hypocrisy of those who most stridently attacked the Defense Department as inefficient and wasteful but fought tooth and nail to prevent any reduction in defense activities in their home state or district.”

– Over the weekend, as if to prove Gates’ point, boosters of North Carolina’s Fort Bragg said they were readying to fight any proposal to shrink or close the post. As the Army’s most-populated installation, it’s not going to shut down. Congress, in fact, has recently barred the Pentagon from conducting additional base closings, even though the U.S. military has 20% more real estate than it needs. But it’s telling that Bragg’s backers already are preparing to preserve the post’s 70,000 soldiers and civilians, and are seeking even more. “In the past, we worked to keep what we have,” Greg Taylor, executive director of the Fort Bragg Regional Alliance, said. “This time, we intend to go after what we want.”

– Last week, William Hartung and the independent Center for International Policy said Lockheed Martin, the builder of the F-35 fighter, is inflating how many jobs production of the plane will create (Lockheed denies the charge).

SaveOurBenefit.org

Lockheed has said the $400 billion program—the most costly weapons system in world history—will produce 125,000 jobs. “There’s just one problem with Lockheed Martin’s assertions about job creation,” Hartung says. “They are greatly exaggerated.”

Hartung says using job-creation yardsticks from prior Pentagon programs suggests the program is likely to create only half that number of jobs.

But look at the bright side.

For decades, contractors exaggerated the threats that they said only their weapons could deter. Today, they’re allegedly exaggerating how many jobs assembling their weapons will generate.

That shift in emphasis—from deployment to employment—speaks volumes.

With Congress. communities and contractors now focusing so intently on themselves, why shouldn’t veterans?

TIME Veterans

The Wages of Foolish Wars

My friend William McNulty, the co-founder of Team Rubicon, has a very smart piece linking the appalling suicide rate among recent veterans to the existential emptiness of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Just think of it this way: Say you were a Marine in Fallujah in 2007 or 2008. You experienced one of the few unalloyed successes of that benighted war: with the help of local tribes that had grown sick of Islamic extremism–and new counterinsurgency tactics provided by Gen David Petraeus–you helped rid the city of Al Qaeda in Iraq. You saw it become civil, peaceful.

You may have lost some friends in the effort. You may have been wounded yourself. But you could still rationalize it: “I won my war,” a Fallujah veteran once told me. And that was sort of true, until a few weeks ago. Now Fallujah has slipped back under the control of Al Qaeda. How on earth could that happen? There are more than a few theories–although I’d put my money on the anti-Sunni bias and incompetence of the Maliki regime. But that’s not the point.

McNulty makes an important distinction: between depression and despair. Depression is one of the prevalent symptoms of post-traumatic stress. It is a natural reaction to the unimaginable terror that comes with combat, the survivor’s guilt that comes with the loss of friends, the frustration that comes with the loss of a limb or a traumatic brain injury. Despair is more profound: it comes when you’ve experienced any or all of those things–and you come to the conclusion that it was all in vain, that there was no earthly reason to have invaded Iraq in the first place or extended the war in Afghanistan beyond the counter-terrorist effort to snuff out Al Qaeda.

The latter feeling is beginning to settle in among far too many veterans. Will McNulty, who has one of the biggest hearts on the planet, spends hours on the phone with veterans who are ready to pull the trigger. Recently, a Team Rubicon volunteer with whom I served during the tornado cleanup in Moore, Oklahoma, nearly hung himself–his girlfriend cut him down just in time. I remember this fellow as an utterly sweet kid, with a big smile and lots of enthusiasm for the work. I am stunned by the despair beneath that smile. McNulty isn’t. He has lived his life with it; he has had close friends kill themselves.

And he is pissed off, because none of it needed to happen. The rest of us should keep this in the very front of our brains as assorted ‘patriots’–who aren’t really patriots, just ill-informed military zealots–would have us go back into Iraq, or into Syria, or would try to replace the promising nuclear talks with Iran with an unprovoked act of aggression. The rest of us should make it our number one priority as citizens: to stop those who would needlessly shove us toward war.

TIME Veterans

Report: Suicide Rate Soars Among Young Vets

The number of male veterans under 30 ending their own lives jumps by 44 percent in two years

The number of male veterans under the age of 30 who commit suicide jumped by 44 percent between 2009 and 2011, the most recent year for which data was available, according to numbers released Thursday by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Roughly two young veterans a day commit suicide.

Suicide rates for female vets also increased by 11 percent between 2009 and 2011. The suicide rate among veterans remains well above that for the general population, with roughly 22 former servicemen and women committing suicide every day.

The troubling spike in suicide rates among younger vets comes as overall suicide rates for people using the Veterans Health Administration have held relatively steady in recent years. Suicide rates among older veterans decreased 16.1 percent between 1999 and 2010, while the overall population of older U.S. males ages saw a 27.3 percent increase in the rate of suicide over the same period.

The leap in rates for the youngest vets has officials especially worried, Stars and Stripes reports. The cause of the increase remains unclear, but officials searching for reasons point to post-traumatic stress disorder, combat injuries and the difficulties young veterans face in re-entering civilian life.

“Their rates are astronomically high and climbing,” Jan Kemp, the VA’s National Mental Health Director for Suicide Prevention, told Stars and Stripes. “That’s concerning us.”

[Stars and Stripes]

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