Friday, February 5, 2010

Soldier to be Court Martialed In Iraq, Away From Counsel

US military plans to extradite stop-lossed Iraq war vet to Iraq for court martial over protest rap song

Fort Stewart, Ga. – The US military plans to extradite a stop-lossed Iraq war veteran to Iraq “within a few days” to face a court martial for allegedly threatening military officers in a protest rap song he made.

Spc. Marc Hall has been jailed in the Liberty County Jail near Fort Stewart, Ga., since Dec. 11 because he wrote a song called “Stop Loss” about the practice of involuntarily extending military members’ contracts.

"It is our belief that the Army would violate its own regulations by deploying Marc and it would certainly violate his right to due process by making it far more difficult to get witnesses. It appears the Army doesn't believe it can get a conviction in a fair and public trial. We will do whatever we can to insure he remain in the United States," said Hall’s civilian attorney, David Gespass.

Gespass claims the Army's attempts to deploy Hall violate Army Regulations 600-8-105 and the Army's conscientious objector regulations. Hall applied for a conscientious objector discharge Monday. The military’s move would also separate Hall from both his civilian legal team and military defender.

"The Army seeks to disappear Marc and the politically charged issues involved here, including: the unfair stop-loss policy, the boundary of free speech and art by soldiers, and the continuing Iraq occupation. The actual charges are overblown if not frivolous, so I'm not surprised the Army wants to avoid having a public trial," explained Jeff Paterson, executive director of Courage to Resist.

An Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) member, Hall served 14 months in Iraq. He was scheduled to end his military contract on Feb. 27 but received a stop loss order that he would have to stay on active-duty to re-deploy to Iraq with his unit.

"Marc served his tour of duty to Iraq honorably,” said Brenda McElveen, Hall's mother. “To his dismay, he was told that he would be deployed again. When Marc voiced his concerns over this matter, his concerns fell on deaf ears. To let his frustration be known, Marc wrote and released the song. Marc is not now nor has he ever been violent."

Using stop loss orders, the US military has stopped about 185,000 soldiers from leaving the military since 2001. An additional 13,000 troops are now serving under stop-loss orders. President Obama said he thinks the practice should be stopped.

Hall, 34, was charged Dec. 17 with five specifications in violation of Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Conduct, including “wrongfully threatening acts of violence against members of his unit.” His arrest came about a month after 13 people were killed in a shooting incident at Fort Hood, Texas. Hall, whose hiphop name is Marc Watercus, mailed a copy of his “Stop Loss” song to the Pentagon.

Based at Fort Stewart, Hall said the song was a “free expression of how people feel about the Army and its stop-loss policy” not a threat. “My first sergeant said he actually liked the song and that he did not take it as a threat,” Hall added.

A South Carolina native, Hall wanted to leave the military to spend more time with his wife and child.

Hall’s song:

A copy of the US Army’s press release about transferring Hall to Iraq is available on request.

IVAW is a national organization of veterans and active-duty service members who have served since September 11, 2001 – including those who took part in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. IVAW also is dedicated to fighting for adequate physical and mental healthcare, full benefits, and other support for returning veterans.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Did You Really Need A Survey To Find Out The WTUs Are Broken?

Today I checked my AKO email for the first time in a little bit, and found a survey ostensibly from General Cheeks, wanting to know about the WTU system, what was helpful, what was not. It was phrased in relentlessly positive seeking which drove me a little bit crazy. (An example: It had 'What has your greatest challenge been?' but did not list a place where you could put down all the things that were actually screwed up with your unit or the WTU system.

Hopefully the Army will forgive me for saying so, but I'm just a little skeptical of the redemptive power of surveys. In my time in the Army, I've taken Command Climate surveys as regularly as the changing of the seasons, and I can't recall a single instance in which any of the issues we raised were fixed as a result. At best, we would get a face-to-face with our commander, who would put powerpoint slides on a projector and explain why our problems didn't matter. Sometimes we would get promises that answers to our questions were going to be compiled and made available to someone else, who we could then check with. (I'm looking at YOU, Wiesbaden Garrison)

I know that the naysayers are immediately going to comment that none of the problems listed were probably real problems. This is entirely inaccurate. Problems that I knew were listed ranged from "Commander is sexually harassing soldiers" to "Pay problems are forcing me to literally starve" to "Our unit is falsifying paperwork". And maybe the answer is that things were happening behind the scenes, commanders were being yelled at quietly for their units getting so bad. And that's great and all, but it still leaves the soldiers with the perception that no one cares.

For example, the WTU system. Some problems I can think of offhand:
1) Despite it supposedly being a place that focuses on transition, from my experience and that of other soldiers I know, once you actually start transitioning, they don't tend to give a damn. The WTU was envisioned as a place where all your problems could get taken care of. It's supposed to be one of the things helping to stop disabled vets from turning into disabled homeless vets on the corner. And it's doing almost none of that. There's a lot of focus on transitioning back to the force, but for all their talk, they are almost useless at helping transition to civilian life except for making time for you to go to ACAP.

2) Discrimination within the system. Providers take their own prejudices (from what counts as a Real Injury to Where You Were Injured) and apply them to the soldiers. We had one soldier who had an injury to her back from an accident in the leadup to deployment. She was pretty much treated like her injuries were immaterial. But another soldier who had a similar injury, but got it downrange, was treated like gold. Or the weirdest part was when soldiers would come in with multiple injuries, some received in combat, some noncombat. There would be discrimination on the /same soldier/ about their injuries-some would get treated and cared for, and others would be judged "not relevant" even though they were more disabling.

3) People are trying too hard to get soldiers out the door so they don't actually have to take care of them. I've heard this from everyone from squad leaders to nurse case managers to first sergeants and commanders. The WTU is not supposed to be a long term assignment, or so they say. The thing is, though, if the WTU isn't supposed to be a long term assignment, what DO you do with people who are complex care longterm? What do you do with people who still have not reached Maximum Medical Benefit? (The point at which they decide whether to medically discharge them or not) You have someone receiving multiple surgeries and having to recover from them. They need a WTU, they're not capable of functioning in a real unit. But because of the prejudice against having soldiers there longterm, someone is trying to hurry this soldier out the door, to their detriment.

Any other WTs who want to chime in, let me know.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Fort Hood Shootings: My View

Now that all IVAW members of the Fort Hood chapter have been accounted for, I can breathe a little easier, and will give some of my thoughts on this situation.

The first and foremost is that it IS telling that the shooter is an Army psychiatrist. It's telling for a lot of reasons, and yes, whether or not the shooter himself had PTSD, it does relate to the Army's PTSD treatment.

When I first began receiving treatment for my own PTSD, I had to deal with a couple people who were flat-out incompetent. At one point, I was in an intensive therapy situation, and a Major that I dealt with tried to give me some "helpful advice" - that I should deny my PTSD to anyone who might care about me until they'd known me for years, at which point it would then be appropriate to spring it on them. This Major, who I wish I remembered the name of, spent more time talking about her own sex life to me, and her own personal life issues, than my trauma. This woman was in no position to be treating soldiers, and especially not in the wing area I was, where a lot of the soldiers had been medevaced out for trauma.

What did I do? I complained. What happened? Really, nothing. They added my formal complaint to a stack of other previous complaints, and said every complaint helps to build a case.

This was far from the last terrible military mental health treatment I received. If it were not for one provider I saw within the last six months, I would still to this day think that there was absolutely NO quality mental health care in the Army.

Let's be honest: the military mental health system is breaking. If it's not already broken, it is definitely breaking, hard. It cannot sustain high quality mental health care for the number of soldiers that need it. So what are they doing? Well, they don't have the funds to attract truly competent civilian providers in the numbers they need. We don't have scads of psychiatrists trying to sign up for the Medical Corps. So the military does what they can with what they have: which includes not looking into their own very closely.

Whatever this major's reasons, whatever went wrong in his head that he thought trying to murder an entire roomful of soldiers was okay, I am not going to argue here. The fact that I hope no one will dispute is that he was absolutely crazy at the moment he did so, and crazy does not, counter to some people's beliefs, happen overnight.

Let me make it clear: I am not interested in arguing here whether it was secondary PTSD or garden variety crazy or religious fanatic crazy. I don't know, and at the moment, I don't care. Any of these three still add up to crazy, and none of them happens in a vaccuum.

Where were the screenings? How did none of his fellow psychiatric colleagues recognize that this man was a problem? No, not a problem because he was a Muslim, not a problem because he may have been against the war, but a problem because he was FLAMING FUCKING CRAZY and they were IN A JOB WHERE THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO RECOGNIZE CRAZY.

And if they are not competent enough to recognize a major crazy problem in someone they work with every day, how are they supposed to recognize problems in soldiers they only see for one hour a week?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Letter From Seth Manzel (With My Personal Appeal On Top)

Allow me to remind you all that the cost of being a sustaining donor is very low, and the things that can be done with it are incredible. Speaking purely from the membership and active duty perspective, for $5 a month, you can ensure that 12 member packets can be mailed to new members. For $10 a month, you can ensure that 6 active duty organizer packages are mailed to members in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Remember that these things are crucial and necessary. If fellow members of the peace and veteran community can't help us by spreading this cost around and shouldering some of it, it will be falling squarely on our organizers - often those who can afford it least. Because this work must and will be done, and we are absolutely committed.

Without further ado, I give you the appeal letter from Seth Manzel, on IVAW's Board of Directors.

Letter from Seth Manzel,
Iraq Veterans Against the War Board of Directors

Dear Friends,

Since the election of Obama the public perception has been that the wars are winding down and that the objectives of the peace movement are now being embodied in the Administration's policies. A common myth that is being perpetuated by the media is that we are preparing to withdraw from Iraq.

These lies that Americans are telling themselves may make them feel better about the Obama Administration, but they are of little consequence to the Soldiers who are being deployed at a rate not seen since the surge. The lies mean nothing to the families left behind by soldiers going to spend a year deployed in the most dangerous period of the conflict yet. They mean even less to the widows who will never see their partners again.

We have forgotten the people of Iraq who have to live under the corrupt and dangerous puppet government that Obama is supporting, and we are all to quick to look the other way at the dead bodies piling up in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Iraq Veterans Against the War has not forgotten these things and we are one of the few groups out there who are still speaking out on these issues. One only needs to open major publications like the New York Times, The Army Times or the Stars and Stripes to see that we are getting the word out.

But we aren't just talking about the problems. Recently, IVAW sent a delegation to Iraq to help bolster Iraqi oil unions fighting back against corrupt and exploitive oil companies. Our members were participating in direct action in the latest round of G20 protests. Some members are actively involved in pressuring politicians to end these ruinous conflicts.

IVAW needs your support to continue our work. Without continuing help from the Peace Community we could not continue our work. Please, become a sustaining donor for IVAW and help us bring about an end to these wars by clicking on this link.

Thank you for your support,
Seth Manzel, IVAW Board of Directors

Please repost this and spread it far and wide. Your help is appreciated.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Not stopping

I can't even begin to describe the frustration that I felt over seeing blog after promising blog rise up in the milblogosphere, only to die down after a short period of time. Sometimes the writer came home, and so the deployment blog stopped. Sometimes they got shut down by their command. Sometimes they just stopped blogging, and no one could figure out why.

Anyway, that's not going to be me.

Something I've noticed over the past week is how people get treated differently according to the differences in their symptoms of the same disease or condition. I'm sure it won't be a surprise to longtime readers of the blog to hear it once again: I have moderate-to-severe PTSD. It manifests in a lot of ways, but the coping skill that I've tended to take and run with is overwork. If you throw yourself into your work, you don't have time to think. If you're working long hours, and giving your heart and soul to something, your heart and soul don't have to think about how they may have been damaged by trauma. If your fight is every day in the work you're doing, you don't go seeking it out externally.

It sounds great, to those people who haven't done it. "Oh, yeah, you work too hard, what's the problem?" Certainly not nearly as bad as my fellow sufferers, some of whom wind up with major substance abuse problems and getting in regular barfights.

But to look at these things as separate problems is to do a disservice to both.

To look at me and say that because I'm working really hard, I must just have a good work ethic, and not have a problem, is to completely ignore the underlying facts. When I had some time to adjust to having days off, with long blocks of time accountable to none but myself, I couldn't handle it. I had to be working. I could not /survive/ without working. I recognize that this is unhealthy-but it's hard to find someone to talk to about it.

To look at vets with substance abuse and problems with the law and to say that they're just bums, no-goods, that they have a problem but they don't have to be that bad, is also not doing them any favors. Everyone finds their own addiction to take their time, energy, and thought off the real problem. The fact that mine was work and theirs was dissolution doesn't make me any better than them. At the same time, it doesn't mean that they're having symptoms any more severe than mine-it just means that the manifestation of their problems is causing their lives to objectively suck more.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

IVAW's Resolution 3 (Nonviolence Resolution) Passes

There was some confusion over resolution three resulting from a clerical computer error in the tabulation of online votes. The Board has released a statement giving more details of the error which they will be emailing out and passing to the membership. However, the resolution was in fact passed by a majority of IVAW voters and currently stands:

Resolution proposing that IVAW only use, supports or endorses, non-violent and peaceful actions

Whereas there is no official statement regarding Iraq Veterans Against the War’s stand on methodology for achieving our goals; namely, ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ensuring all returning veterans have adequate health care, and repairing the damage done in Iraq and Afghanistan by the occupations;

Whereas calls for violence and sabotage are both illegal and immoral, and will only serve to do great damage to Iraq Veterans Against the War’s efforts to end the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan;

Whereas any endorsement, passive or active, of violence would lead to IVAW being banned from active duty bases, Reserve centers and National Guard armories; being declared an extremist organization and thereby making it illegal for a member of the military to become a member of IVAW;

Whereas, the Board of Directors has stated that it is the position of IVAW that only non-violent, peaceful methods are to be used to accomplish our goals;

Therefore be it hereby resolved that Iraq Veterans Against the War only uses, supports or endorses, non-violent and peaceful actions in seeking to accomplish its goals of ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; providing proper medical care to all returning veterans and repairing the damage done by the occupations.

Additionally be it resolved that any member found promoting violence in pursuit of the goals of this organization, will be subject to immediate discipline, including the termination of his or her membership, in accordance with the procedures outlined in the policies governing termination of memberships."

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Different View

I think I have a little different view than some of the other milbloggers about the VA's attempts to make everything right on the Post 9/11 GI Bill. And I think that view just may be connected to the fact that I'm still on active duty, and have within the last few months tried to get dollars back from Uncle Sam that I was owed.

And that is, man, at least the VA seems to be /trying/.

Sure, it is far, far from perfect. And yes, they did owe the veterans those payments already, and it has been a magical clusterfuck to rival all clusterfucks.

But how many times have you had to deal with some brilliant but poorly detailed plan in the Army? Something grandiose got thought up (usually by officers) and it was always a great plan, but the devil was always in the details, because officers always forgot about things like how many people they had available and how much equipment there was and gee golly whiz, soldiers need sleep too.

That's about how I feel about this VA situation. Except it's SUCH a brilliant plan that as long as they can roll with the FRAGOs, I'm thinking it's still good news.

I was a fan of the "Drive to your VARO and get a check" answer, but maybe that's because I'm used to being posted at lonely outstations and having long drives to get anywhere. For example, now, if I want to go see the company area, it's an hour-and-a-half drive. Three hours of driving doesn't seem too much for me. I am carefully avoiding stating how many miles that could entail, lest any police be licking their chops for my over-the-speed-limit ass. Anyway, I recognize it's not for everyone.

And you know what? So does the VA, with remarkable speed. They came up with a kludge, a quick fix, a way to duct tape it together so it will work. That's what they did the first time with the concept of checks at all, and that's what they're doing now.

So now, thanks to the VA (Which I've had to compliment twice in one week, what's with that?) you can now get your emergency checks arranged for online, with a six day turnaround time from the moment you sit down at your computer and make with the clicky clicky to the time the check is in your happy happy hands.

This is really good news and once again yet more evidence that the VA is slowly creaking its way towards the 21st century (and who knows, maybe I can hope for a delivery of automated 9/11 GI Bill processing sooner than Dec 2010?)

Also, fellow milbloggers: if the IVAW chick is more hopeful about government implementation of taking care of veterans than you? You're wrong.