For those of you who care about the well being of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the following should be a real pick-me-up. I found this article at “The Nation” and it describes the peculiar experience of a Sgt. Chuck Luther, a 19 year veteran of the Army who joined the service in 1988. The story begins with the incident of a mortar attack on his position at Camp Taji in Iraq in May, 2007:

Disposable Soldiers

The mortar shell that wrecked Chuck Luther's life exploded at the base of the guard tower. Luther heard the brief whistling, followed by a flash of fire, a plume of smoke and a deafening bang that shook the tower and threw him to the floor. The Army sergeant's head slammed against the concrete, and he lay there in the Iraqi heat, his nose leaking clear fluid.

"I remember laying there in a daze, looking around, trying to figure out where I was at," he says. "I was nauseous. My teeth hurt. My shoulder hurt. And my right ear was killing me." Luther picked himself up and finished his shift, then took some ibuprofen to dull the pain. The sergeant was seven months into his deployment at Camp Taji, in the volatile Sunni Triangle, twenty miles north of Baghdad. He was determined, he says, to complete his mission. But the short, muscular frame that had guided him to twenty-two honors--including three Army Achievement Medals and a Combat Action Badge--was basically broken. The shoulder pain persisted, and the hearing in his right ear, which evaporated on impact, never returned, replaced by the maddening hum of tinnitus.

Then came the headaches. "They'd start with a speckling in the corner of my vision, then grow worse and worse until finally the right eye would just shut down and go blank," he says. "The left one felt like someone was stabbing me over and over in the eye."

He goes onto say:

Doctors at Camp Taji's aid station told Luther he was faking his symptoms. When he insisted he wasn't, they presented a new diagnosis for his blindness: personality disorder.

"To be told that I was lying, that was a real smack in the face," says Luther. "Then when they said 'personality disorder,' I was really confused. I didn't understand how a problem with my personality could cause deafness or blindness or shoulder pain."

Now the story gets really interesting:

Luther insisted to doctors at Camp Taji that he did not have personality disorder, that the idea of developing a childhood mental illness at the age of 36, after passing eight psychological screenings, was ridiculous. The sergeant used a vivid expression to convey how much pain he was in. "I told them that some days, the pain was so bad, I felt like dying." Doctors declared him a suicide risk. They collected his shoelaces, his belt and his rifle and ordered him confined to an isolation chamber.

Extensive medical records written by Luther's doctors document his confinement in the aid station for more than a month. The sergeant was kept under twenty-four-hour guard. Most nights, he says, guards enforced sleep deprivation, keeping the lights on and blasting heavy metal music. When Luther rebelled, he was pinned down and injected with sleeping medication.

It goes into more detail:

Following the May 2007 mortar attack, Luther entered the base's clinic and described his concussion symptoms to Capt. Aaron Dewees. Dewees, a pediatrician charged with caring for soldiers in the 1-7 Cavalry, grew suspicious of Luther's self-report. "It is my professional opinion," Dewees wrote in his medical records, "that Sgt. Charles F. Luther Jr. has been misrepresenting himself and his self-described medical conditions for secondary gain." The doctor suggested that Luther was faking his ailments to avoid reconnaissance duty. He called the sergeant "narcissistic" and said Luther's descriptions of his injuries were a mixture of "exaggeration and flat-out fabrication."

Luther's medical records document severe nosebleeds and "sharp and burning" pain. Still, the sergeant says he could sense that his doctors didn't believe him. It was at that point--frustrated, plagued by blinding migraines--that he spoke of pain so severe he wished he were dead. "I made clear that I was not going to kill myself, that it was just a colorful expression to explain how much pain I was in." Dewees agreed. In their records, Luther's doctors note a "suicide gesture" and "'off-handed' comments" that the sergeant was going to kill himself, but Dewees said those gestures were "unlikely to have been a serious attempt" at self-harm. Nonetheless, Dewees wrote, such statements "must be taken seriously and treated as such," that Luther "remains a threat to himself and others given his need for attention, narcissistic tendencies and impulsive behavior."

Luther was taken to an isolation chamber and told this was his new sleeping quarters. The room, which Luther captured on his digital camera, served as a walk-in closet. It was slightly larger than an Army cot and was crammed with cardboard boxes, a desk and a bedpan. Through a small, cracked window, he could look out onto the base. Through the open doorway, the sergeant was monitored by armed guards.

Both Dewees and Lt. Col. Larry Applewhite, an aid station social worker, declared Luther mentally ill, suffering from a personality disorder. The next step was to remove him from the military as fast as possible. "It is strongly recommended that Sgt. Luther be administratively separated via Chapter 5-13," wrote Applewhite, citing the official discharge code for personality disorder. In a separate statement, Dewees endorsed the 5-13 discharge and urged that it be handled rapidly. "I feel the safest course of action," he wrote, "is to expedite his departure from theater."

That didn't happen. For more than a month Luther remained in his six-by-eight-foot isolation chamber, weeks he describes as "the hardest of my life." He says the guards would ridicule him and most nights enforced sleep deprivation, keeping the lights on all night and using a nearby Xbox and TV speakers to blast heavy metal into his room. "Every night it was Megadeth, Saliva, Disturbed." The sergeant pulled a blanket over his head to block out the noise and the light, but it was no use.

Why would anyone do this to an injured service member you ask? Well, the answer is simple. They needed him to sign some paperwork:

…Luther was called to his commander's office. Major Wehri was frank. He held the personality disorder discharge papers in his hand. "And he said, 'Sign this paperwork, and we'll get you out.' I said, 'I don't have a personality disorder.' But it was like that didn't matter," says Luther. "He said, 'If you don't sign this, you're going to be here a lot longer.'"
The sergeant signed. "They had me broke down," he says. "At that point, I just wanted to get home." Luther's voice grows quiet as he recounts that final meeting. "I still remember Wehri's face," he says. "He was smiling."

The commanding officer also weighed in when he was interviewed:

"Soldiers are conniving," he says. "They are manipulative. If they get in their minds they want to do something for personal gain, including going home, they'll go to any lengths to get it."

Wehri rejects the idea that the mortar attack and subsequent concussion could have triggered Luther's woes. "That mortar attack was nothing," he says. "Insignificant. Maybe he fell down. Sure. I've fallen down lots of times." The major wonders aloud whether Luther is using that injury to justify his instability. He says if he thought the attack was significant, he would have investigated it fully and gotten the ball rolling for a Purple Heart.

The article goes on to explain why this was done and that Sgt. Luther’s experience is far from uncommon:

For three years The Nation has been reporting on military doctors' fraudulent use of personality disorder to discharge wounded soldiers [see Kors, "How Specialist Town Lost His Benefits," April 9, 2007]. PD is a severe mental illness that emerges during childhood and is listed in military regulations as a pre-existing condition, not a result of combat. Thus those who are discharged with PD are denied a lifetime of disability benefits, which the military is required to provide to soldiers wounded during service. Soldiers discharged with PD are also denied long-term medical care. And they have to give back a slice of their re-enlistment bonus. That amount is often larger than the soldier's final paycheck. As a result, on the day of their discharge, many injured vets learn that they owe the Army several thousand dollars.

According to figures from the Pentagon and a Harvard University study, the military is saving billions by discharging soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan with personality disorder.

In July 2007 the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs called a hearing to investigate PD discharges. Barack Obama, then a senator, put forward a bill to halt all PD discharges. And before leaving office, President Bush signed a law requiring the defense secretary to conduct his own investigation of the PD discharge system. But Obama's bill did not pass, and the Defense Department concluded that no soldiers had been wrongly discharged. The PD dismissals have continued. Since 2001 more than 22,600 soldiers have been discharged with personality disorder. That number includes soldiers who have served two and three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"This should have been resolved during the Bush administration. And it should have been stopped now by the Obama administration," says Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense. "The fact that it hasn't is a national disgrace."…

…Luther's case is not an isolated incident. In the past three years, The Nation has uncovered more than two dozen cases like his from bases across the country. All the soldiers were examined, deemed physically and psychologically fit, then welcomed into the military. All performed honorably before being wounded during service. None had a documented history of psychological problems. Yet after seeking treatment for their wounds, each soldier was diagnosed with a pre-existing personality disorder, then discharged and denied benefits.
That group includes Sgt. Jose Rivera, whose hands and legs were punctured by grenade shrapnel during his second tour in Iraq. Army doctors said his wounds were caused by personality disorder. Sailor Samantha Stitz fractured her pelvis and two bones in her ankle. Navy doctors cited personality disorder as the cause. Spc. Bonnie Moore developed an inflamed uterus during her service. Army doctors said her profuse vaginal bleeding was caused by personality disorder. Civilian doctors disagreed: they performed emergency surgery to remove her uterus and appendix. After being discharged and denied benefits, Moore and her teenage daughter became homeless.

Sgt. Luther has been more fortunate than those above in getting the VA to reinstate his benefits after a long fight:

Yet all of those soldiers, he says, faced serious repercussions because of their discharge. "Many of the soldiers can't get hired anymore. Every time they go for a job, they'll have this paper that says they've been diagnosed with a personality disorder. Employers take one look at that and think, 'This guy's crazy. We can't hire him.' For most of the soldiers," says Daniels, "it becomes a lifetime label."

Luther luckily has secured a job, as a truck driver for Frito-Lay. Securing benefits has proved a bit tougher. Since being released from the Army, the sergeant has been locked in battle with the VA, fighting to prove that despite his PD discharge, his wounds are war related and thus worthy of disability and medical benefits.

Those efforts stumbled at first. In May 2008 the VA declared Luther "incompetent" and demanded that a fiduciary collect any disability benefits he may receive. Eventually, following a slew of paperwork and medical exams, the sergeant re-established his full standing. This past December--after VA doctors found Luther to be suffering from migraine headaches, vision problems, dizziness, nausea, difficulty hearing, numbness, anxiety and irritability--the VA cited traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder and declared Luther 80 percent disabled. "PTSD, a consequence of the TBI," wrote one VA doctor, "is a clear diagnosis."
However, other problems have persisted:
Some nights he doesn't sleep. Others he's back in Iraq, in the aid station, in endless isolation. The blinding headaches and piercing shoulder pain still plague him, he says, along with panic attacks and bursts of post-traumatic stress-fueled rage. Luther broke four bones in his hand punching a hole in his bedroom wall. His family's hallway is pocked with holes from similar incidents.

"He's not the man I married," says Nicki Luther. "And when I'm honest with myself, I don't think I'll ever have that man again. He wakes up screaming in the middle of the night, sweating, swearing." Nicki says he tries to be a good dad to their kids. "He used to wrestle around with them. But his body's like an old man's now. And he's so quick to anger. The kids say, 'We want our dad back.' I don't know what to tell them."

Three years after the mortar blast, Luther's life is still on shaky ground. Some days he's posting love notes on his wife's Facebook page and hand-delivering her favorite salad to her office at lunchtime. Another day, in the midst of an argument, he knocked down a family photo, then ripped the furniture out of the living room and dumped it in the garage, scaring his children. Soon after the birth of their fourth child, Marlee Grace, Luther and his wife separated. They reunited a few months later, in time for their eighteenth anniversary.

Despite all this, Sgt. Luther is determined to help fellow veterans like himself who have been shortchanged by the system no matter the cost:

With or without the Army, Luther says he will continue to serve. With his health gradually improving and the bulk of his battle over, the sergeant is taking on a new mission: fighting the military on behalf of other soldiers like himself. Luther is now the founder and executive director of Disposable Warriors, a one-man operation that assists soldiers who are fighting their discharge and veterans who are appealing their disability rating.
Luther's organization did not receive a hero's welcome. Soon after founding the group, he discovered a threatening note on his windshield. "Back off or you and your family will pay!!" it read, in careful, black ink cursive. Weeks later, thieves broke into the home of a veterans' organizer who worked closely with Luther, taking nothing but the files of the soldiers they were assisting.

The sergeant, characteristically, is undaunted. "This is the right path for me," he says, his voice resolute. "I got to be there for these other soldiers. I'm not the only one who needs help."

Seems that other problems are lurking in the shadows as well:

U.S. military goes hungry in Afghanistan

Sgt. Hill, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, has been in Afghanistan only a few months as part of the new troop surge into the country. The troops are mainly focused on training and promoting the Afghanistan army and police force. The training is the United States' attempt to "teach a man to fish," in the security department of the ever turbulent country, a country which is still undecided if it wants to break free from Taliban influence. With these larger issues at hand the need for proper amounts of food and water have fallen by the wayside.

This anonymous source goes onto to say:

At Camp Mike Spann some soldiers have been forced to skip up to three meals a day, and are forbidden to eat Meals Ready to Eat (MRE's) unless they are on an evening mission to save on the lack of available rations. The Chow Hall at Camp Mike Spann is not open 24 hours and civilian and military workers are not happy if anyone attempts to even serve themselves prepackaged bowls of cereal when the cafeteria is not open.

The infrastructure has not been freed up a significant amount to allow for the proper shipping of food and beverages, Sgt. Hill says. At Camp Mike Spann, in particular, there have been times when they have run out of drinks and other food items. There is no potable water available so troops rely on bottled water for hydration.

The Camp chow hall is now closed for lunch and only serving breakfast and dinner to be able to stretch out the available food since another troop wave hit. Today Sgt. Hill casually mentioned the situation behind being able to get food. To be able to speak with me, he has to wait up to a half an hour in a line for 10 minutes on the computer.

When he finally gets on the computer, he communicates this:

Sgt Hill: The chow hall just now opened. While I'm here and the line is already (an hour and a half long). Guess I am not eating again..

Digital Journal: Wow. Somebody should do something about that. Maybe call congress?
Sgt. Hill: Nah. Conservatives think we should just suck it up because we are in a war zone, and Liberals want us all to die anyway. Nobody gives a F***.

Finally, in the news, we get a response from a couple of veteran’s who were at the scene of recently leaked Wikileak’s footage showing an Apache gunship shooting up a couple of journalists.

U.S. Soldier on 2007 Apache Attack: What I Saw

First, it does seem that there were guns and an RPG around (in defense of those shooting up the place). 33 year old Army Specialist McCord says this:

However, when I did come up on the scene, there was an RPG as well as AK-47s there…. You just don’t walk around with an RPG in Iraq, especially three blocks away from a firefight…. Personally, I believe the first attack on the group standing by the wall was appropriate, was warranted by the rules of engagement. They did have weapons there.

However, his experience left a serious mark on his psyche: At the time you arrived on the scene, you didn’t know what had happened, is that right?

Ethan McCord: Right. We were engaged in our own conflict roughly about three or four blocks away. We heard the gunships open up. [Then] we were just told … to move to this [other] location. It was pretty much a shock when we got there to see what had happened, the carnage and everything else. But you had been in combat before. It shouldn’t have surprised you what you saw.

McCord: I have never seen anybody being shot by a 30-millimeter round before. It didn’t seem real, in the sense that it didn’t look like human beings. They were destroyed. Was anyone moving when you got there other than the two children?

McCord: There were approximately two to three other people who were moving who were still somewhat alive, and the medics were attending to them. The first thing you saw was the little girl in the van. She had a stomach wound?

McCord: She had a stomach wound and she had glass in her eyes and in her hair. She was crying. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I went to the van immediately, because I could hear her crying. It wasn’t like a cry of pain really. It was more of a child who was frightened out of her mind. And the next thing I saw was the boy…. He was kind of sitting on the floorboard of the van, but with his head laying on the bench seat in the front. And then the father, who I’m assuming was the father, in the driver’s seat slumped over on his side. Just from looking into the van, and the amount of blood that was on the boy and the father, I immediately figured they were dead.

So, the first thing I did was grab the girl. I grabbed the medic and we went into the back. There’s houses behind where the van was. We took her in there and we’re checking to see if there were any other wounds. You can hear the medic saying on the video, “There’s nothing I can do here, she needs to be evac’d.” He runs the girl to the Bradley. I went back outside to the van, and that’s when the boy took, like, a labored, breath. That’s when I started screaming, “The boy’s alive! The boy’s alive!” And I picked him up and started running with him over to the Bradley. He opened his eyes when I was carrying him. I just kept telling him, “Don’t die; don’t die.” He looked at me, then his eyes rolled back into this head.
Then I got yelled at by my platoon leader that I needed to stop trying to save these mf’n kids and go pull security…. I was told to go pull security on a rooftop. When we were on that roof, we were still taking fire. There were some people taking pot shots, sniper shots, at us on the rooftop. We were probably there on the roof for another four to five hours. How much sniper fire were you getting?

McCord: It was random sporadic spurts. I did see a guy … moving from a rooftop from one position to another with an AK-47, who was firing at us. He was shot and killed.

After the incident, we went back to the FOB [forward operating base] and that’s when I was in my room. I had blood all down the front of me from the children. I was trying to wash it off in my room. I was pretty distraught over the whole situation with the children. So I went to a sergeant and asked to see [the mental health person], because I was having a hard time dealing with it. I was called a pussy and that I needed to suck it up and a lot of other horrible things. I was also told that there would be repercussions if I was to go to mental health. What did you understand that to mean?

McCord: I would be smoked. Smoked is basically like you’re doing pushups a lot, you’re doing sit-ups … crunches and flutter kicks. They’re smoking you, they’re making you tired. I was told that I needed to get the sand out of my vagina…. So I just sucked it up and tried to move on with everything.

I’ve lived with seeing the children that way since the incident happened. I’ve had nightmares. I was diagnosed with chronic, severe PTSD. [But] I was actually starting to get kind of better. … I wasn’t thinking about it as much. [Then I] took my children to school one day and I came home and sat down on the couch and turned on the TV with my coffee, and on the news I’m running across the screen with a child. The flood of emotions came back. I know the scene by heart; it’s burned into my head. I know the van, I know the faces of everybody that was there that day. Did you try to get information about the two children after the shooting?

McCord: My platoon sergeant knew that I was having a hard time with it and that same night … he came into the room and he told me, hey, just so you know, both of the children survived, so you can suck it up now. I didn’t know if he was telling me that just to get me to shut up and to do my job or if he really found something out. I always questioned it in the back of my mind.
I think that we can all agree that war is a horrible business. It has the ability to destroy the lives of those who serve on the winning side every bit as much as those who lose leaving physical as well as mental scars that may never heal. In reading these stories, what I found to be the most sickening was the repeated victimization of the people who serve our country not only from the scars of combat and the lack of supplies but also what happens to many of them once they leave.

It becomes even more disconcerting if we put the use of our military into an economic context. Our military has been used throughout American history going back to the late 1800’s as the mailed fist that enforced American economic policy on weaker states. In today’s parlance, we would call these “Police Actions, “ but labels merely hide the reality behind their purpose: to insure that a few extremely wealthy interests would continue to receive an uninterrupted cash flow from their investments.

Today is no different. The U.S. military operates more than 700 bases worldwide to enforce the continued dollar hegemony and the economic dominance of the United States for the benefit of an oligarch class on Wall Street and a small number of multi-national firms that seek to off-shore your job to nations with poverty level wages and no worker protection or environmental laws. Iraq is a case in point. Years ago, I was strongly in favor of the invasion. Saddam was a bad guy and we were going to go in and take care of business. However, it has since come out that the decision was heavily influenced by our desire (along the British) to get our hands on the oil resources. Many politicians have since come out and said as much. 60% of the world’s oil reserves are located in an area the size of Kansas, and the U.S. military is parked firmly on top of it.

At the end of the day, this should give you an idea of the kind of psychopaths we are dealing with. They live in a different world of power and money far removed from the daily hardships of the average American. They could care less about the human cost and destruction wrought on the lives of people halfway around the world or even our own service people: those who have vowed to protect and uphold your freedom and mine. We are all nothing more than a market, a resource, something to be exploited in a sadistic game of high finance. It’s all about the money and the power because nothing else matters. Their wealth and position are sourced from blood, human misery, and the screams of children caught in a warzone halfway around the world.