Set the Record Straight

Set the Record Straight

October 13, 2010 ~ Author’s Note -This is a long read.  It’s impossible to put two years of life into one or two paragraphs. If you want to understand this story, start at the top.  If you just want to read about the story errors from Team Surveys Wounded Warrior Battalion as Troubling Reports Mount” then scroll down until you see ***************** .  If you want to really get an in depth understanding, spend some time reading the other blog posts here on this site.

Though many seek their “fifteen minutes of fame”, most of us are content to stay out of the spotlight and live our lives out quietly. Merge the proverbial rumor mill and the power of media and technology as it exists today, and it only takes about five minutes for one’s life to be totally destroyed, even when the leaked information is false.  Innocent people are victimized every single day by the press and it will never stop as long as we all buy into it.

There are a lot of misconceptions out there, so you need to realizethat you just can’t believe everything you read in print. The reporter is writing from his own perspective.  His perspective is different from the one about which the news article is being written.   He can’t help it.  He hasn’t walked in the other guys shoes.  The reader also enters in with his own perspective.  There is going to be a lot of information lost and a lot of information assumed in the translation.

The reporter likely has constraints about which the audience knows nothing.  For one thing the reporter is limited on space.  It’s very difficult to tell a story that took a year to develop in a few short paragraphs.  Have you ever noticed how many people write books?  I’m certain that each publication has guidelines which the reporters must abide by, and I’m quite sure the reporter is supposed to report the facts that can be verified, rather than just inform us of people’s opinions.

My story began almost two years ago in early November, 2008.  I’ve had plenty of opportunities to put my story out there, but I’ve turned all of them down. For the past year it has been strongly suggested by many that I head to the media to get something done about a problem that seems to have no solution.  While I liked the idea of cutting through the bureaucratic red tape from which I could not escape, I knew that a media circus would not benefit my son’s recovery from war injuries, nor did I see the value in broadcasting our family name across the air waves.  I felt that move would be synonymous with waving a red flag at a bull.

Just recently, I finally agreed to an interview with Hope Hodge, a reporter from the Jacksonville Daily News.  Hope and I have talked several times over the past six months, but I never felt that it was the right time to give her the green light for the story.  I only had one purpose, that being to ensure that our wounded Marines get the health care they deserve. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my own son’s recovery so I waited.

Over the past year, I’ve paid close attention to the newspaper in Jacksonville.  More interesting than the actual articles published are the comments made by the readers.  Because a large percentage of Jacksonville’s population is directly related to the Marine Corps, it doesn’t take much to ascertain that the Corps defines the population. Whether people are part of it, or just surrounded by it, they are defined by it, at least to some extent, whether they realize it or not. This isn’t a negative, but it likely explains the perspective from which news is digested.

After careful consideration, I decided that Jacksonville, North Carolina, was NOT the right place to make my media splash.  If I was going to put myself out there, I didn’t want to start with a place where I would be eaten for lunch by the stalkers who have nothing better to do than rip innocent people to shreds.  The negative and defensive tone was made very clear to me when a Marine committed suicide in a public place last May.  His widow, unlike most people in her situation, was willing to put herself out there to call attention to the issues of PTSDTBI, and suicide in the military.  She didn’t want anyone else to suffer as she and her children had done, but that is not what the Jacksonville crowd understood.  They played the role of judge and jury knowing nothing about what it was like to walk in her shoes.

When Hope called me again three weeks ago, I simply said NO.  I had made this decision two months prior, so it was easy to just spit my answer right out when she called.  I wasn’t even listening to her after I’d said my rehearsed lines….until I heard her saying something about the Inspector General’s office and Congressman Jones. I asked her to repeat herself and I finally realized that she was calling because she had discovered that I had been working with Congressman Jones and had recently been interviewed by the Department of Defense Inspector General’s assessment team.

It was at that point that I realized maybe it was for such a time as this that I had been waiting.  I still did NOT want to see my name in the morning paper.  All I really wanted to do was close the door on this nightmare and never look back.  My son finally got his medical discharge at the end of August.  He’s been a veteran for almost six weeks.  He still has a long road to recovery, but he never has to go back to that wounded warrior facility.  I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel where I might actually get my own life back.  Now that he’s out, I can stop taking notes, making phone calls, writing letters, and doing research.  I can stop lying awake at night wondering if my son is ever going to make it out of that place alive……

But then I remember the others left behind.  I see their faces and I hear their voices. I hear their stories rushing through my mind.  I think about all the Marines who aren’t even injured yet; the ones bravely serving in Afghanistan who will inevitably end up assigned to WWBN-East. I think about their families and the pain that they might go through if I just take the easy route back to my normal life at home.   I think about all the hard work, and the countless hours that Congressman Jones,and his military liaison, Jason Lowry have put in, trying to bring attention to the problems with the purpose of making positive changes.  I think about some of the moms and wives I’ve met who have become my dear friends.  We’ve been walking a difficult road together and I can’t leave them back there on their own.  It also occurs to me that if I walk away now, and someone else takes their own life, I will have to add myself to the list of those accountable who stood by and did nothing.

Almost everyone in this situation is afraid to speak up.  They know the result is command retaliation.  They have all seen what happened to my son because I got fed up and spoke up anyway, without my son’s permission.  I had no idea when I first started out on this mission that I would put my son at risk.  I have learned over the past year, just how naive I have been simply trusting that the United States Marine Corps is going to “take care of their own.”  Once I discovered the Corps did not have my son’s best interest at heart, it was too late to turn back.  Once exposed, I had no choice but to keep moving forward.  Others saw the risks I was taking and were cheering me on, but were afraid to stand up beside me.  I’ll admit that this bothered me a bit at first, but I knew I had the truth on my side and I knew I couldn’t let my son, or the others down.  Some of us are called to play a supportive role.  Some of us are called to blaze the trail.  Most of us blazing the trail have no desire to be there but somehow we end up holding the torch. For those who make judgment calls about the torch bearers, I challenge you to pick one up, and walk the walk.  Only then do you have the right to spew your venom at people like me who are taking all the risks and doing all the work to make changes.

In spite of my son’s pleas for me to keep my mouth shut, I disobeyed my “Marine Mom Orders”.  His life was at stake and I had no choice.  The biggest fear throughout this entire situation has been knowing I was putting my relationship with my son in jeopardy.  I was breaking the most important rule he had ever given me.  Don’t call the Corps. Ever.  My mother’s gut kept telling me to call, and eventually, instinct won and I decided that I could repair and restore the relationship if need be, but I could not bring back a life lost.

A humvee explosion redefined my son’s life, but it was a subtle redefinition, and like so many who carry the invisible wounds of war, he suffered in silence. Not even his family knew for a very long time.  When he began to struggle, he didn’t tell us.  When he did finally ask for help, he didn’t tell us about the scrutiny he received from the command.  He didn’t tell us about the multitude of medications that were thrown at him.  He didn’t talk about how bad it felt to have no purpose now that he was unable to do his job that he trained so hard to get.  He didn’t tell us any of it because he didn’t want us to worry about him.  He really believed he would be able to get past the problems, once he transferred to Wounded Warrior Battalion.  After all, that was where everyone got the best medical treatment, or so he thought.  When he first transferred in, it was supposed to be for 90 days.  He honestly thought that in 90 days he would be back in MarSOCback on his team, and everything would be back in order.

For the past five years up to that point, I never called the Marines.  Not while he was in boot camp, not while he was deployed the first time, the second time, or the third time.  I never called his infantry unit and I never called MarSOC.  Never!  Moms don’t call the Marine Corps.  Everyone knows that!  In fact, I didn’t even call the Marine Corps for the first two months my son was assigned to WWBN-EastI’ve heard all those feel good stories about wounded warriors getting great care with state of the art equipment and top doctors, and I was a bit confused when a satisfaction survey arrived in my mailbox one afternoon.  The survey was asking me to share how I felt about the care my son was receiving and the communication going on between the command and our family.  It was at that point I became angry enough to start making phone calls.  I did it without my son’s blessing and I also did it with great fear knowing the risk I was taking.

At first, I believed everything they fed me.  Most of the information didn’t really make sense, but I had complete trust in the Marine Corps.  Unfortunately, the more I began to pay attention, the more I realized that things really weren’t adding up so I started asking pointed questions and taking notes.  It wasn’t long before I realized that it wasn’t just one bad leader who needed to be reminded of how to do his job.  It was an entire system of leaders who didn’t know how to solve a very big problem.  It became obvious that they just kept shoving everything under the rug.  Funny how the rug won’t lay flat once too much garbage has been shoved underneath.

I don’t think anyone really set out to intentionally do anything wrong.  I just think too many people came home injured.  Too many people came home with invisible wounds.  Too many people were taking too many pills. The war didn’t end.  People redeployed. The caseload was too big and no one knew what to do.  It was easier to ignore the problem at first, hoping they would go away or that someone else would come along and fix it.

Unfortunately, when the problems became obvious, and people were put in place to take action, many of these people didn’t do their jobs.  They weren’t suited for the task at hand, and they didn’t dare risk their own careers to admit that to anyone.  No one was willing to reinvent the wheel.  They just kept trying to solve problems in the same old way because after all, it’s the way it has always been done. If it works for war, it will work for everything else!

To some in leadership, a leadership position at WWBN-East might just be a less than desired assignment that will end with time.  Maybe it’s easy for them to leave it at the office when they go home each night, but for those who suffer with war’s injuries, this is life, 24/7.  In the past year, I’ve informed officers of specific situations that were downright abusive.  They have looked me in the eye and told me that if anyone in their command was committing those actions, they would be disciplined and held accountable.  They told me they just needed names and then they would take action.  Imagine the courage it took, after an entire year, to give up the names.  Imagine the rage felt when, after saying the name out loud, the officer looked me in the eye and said, “Well, I can’t just destroy a career because of what you are saying.”

I insist that I can back this up but he doesn’t want my evidence.  As he said, he can’t just destroy a Marine’s career.  Hmm. Has he noticed that he IS destroying a Marine’s career? Why is one Marine more important than another?   Since when doesSemper Fidelis only apply to officers?  If I’ve got to choose the most valuable Marine, from where I’m standing the Marine with the most value is the one I brought into this world.  I’m not really too worried about the career of the guy who’s abusing his position.

So, as I was saying, no one set out to intentionally do anything wrong, but somewhere along the way, people started looking the other way, covering up mistakes, and the result is lives destroyed.  You’re excused if you don’t know there is a problem, but once you do, if you don’t do your part to fix it, you are an accessory to the crime.  A good leader puts all of his men before himself. The meaning of the expression “The Few, The Proud” is starting to make a lot more sense to me these days and it’s not a positive feeling I get when I think about it.

 

My son still doesn’t want me to say anything, even though he is medically retired and no longer serving.  He just wants to get on with his life.  He is certain that if I continue to push for change in the battalion, his buddies who must still live there will pay the price with command retaliation.  I know I’m onto something.  The Marines have fought too hard to discredit me and shut me up.  I just can’t walk away and leave other people hanging.   I guess my biggest fear is that my son would be able to look at me one day and say, “I told you so.”  Maybe he is right.  Maybe there is just no way to fix a problem this big.  I sure hope he’s wrong.

 

**********************

Considering the fact that the Jacksonville Daily Newsreporter, Hope Hodge, had two years worth of facts to squeeze into one article, one can’t expect her to get every single detail correct.  She did a good job considering she didn’t live through the experience herself.  I will, however, set the record straight on the issues brought forth in the article, “Team Surveys Wounded Warrior Battalion as Troubling Reports Mount.”

** My son was not sent to WWBN to battle severe depression. He asked for help and requested the transfer there because he had symptoms suggesting that he had a traumatic brain injury and he was also exhibiting symptoms of PTSD.  His case manager at MarSOC suggested that he could get a diagnosis and treatment more quickly if he were assigned to WWBN-East. This would speed up the process so he could return to his job.  He had reenlisted and trained for over a year to be a MarSOC Special Operator.  He had the job of his dreams, and he was good at it.  He wanted to get better and get back to work.  He was never depressed a day in his life until he followed doctor’s orders and took his prescribed medications.  (Take a moment and research the side effects of the medications typically prescribed to our troops for PTSD, anxiety, etc.)

** The changes in his personality, which were mentioned in the article, were a direct result of medications prescribed.  Medical tests later proved that fact.

** Thirty bottles of pills was a fact given to our family by the doctor that discovered our son was being overmedicated.  No one has ever stated that he was taking all of them at once.  I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. He was asked to bring his medications in so the doctor could figure out what was going on.  He did what he was asked.  Extensive testing proved the medications were causing many of his problems.

** With regard to the comment about the nickname Elvis, there is a long story behind it, therefore it doesn’t belong in the article because it can’t be explained.  Rather than try to understand it, one should disregard it altogether.  You can read about it when the book comes out.

** There were not repeated complaints made by my son.  As I have explained, I went forward without my son’s permission.  If I had listened to him, and done things his way, he would still be sitting in the Wounded Warrior Battalion waiting on his med board, or worse, he might be dead.  There isn’t a mother out there who loves their child who would leave them sitting in a situation that was destroying him.  Shame on the mother who would look the other way just because the Marine Corps views the individual as a piece of property.

** The Information Paper was released by the Headquarters Marine Corps not the Wounded Warrior Regiment,after they spent several months investigating only one side of the story – their side.  All information stated in the document was irrelevant to our situation and had nothing to do with our case.  It was just a variety of statements pulled out of publications and off websites, which was organized into a four page document.

** My fourteen page rebuttal was sent directly to the Commandanthis legislative assistant at the time, and all of the lawmakers who were involved in the inquiry in March.  By the time I wrote the rebuttal, I had given up on the Wounded Warrior Regiment entirely.

A brand new building is not the answer to the problems at hand, therefore I don’t know why it was mentioned in the article.  If you go there for a “tour” that is likely all you will hear about.  Anyone I’ve ever met gets the tour.  They leave talking about the facility and all the future plans, and have no idea they didn’t get any information about what is actually going on now. I got a tour of the facility and told the commanding officer that I would prefer my son live in his old barracks if he could be treated with dignity and respect.

**The conditions are not “better than ever” for everyone.  There are still many problems in the battalion.  I’ve been told about some problems just this week, and the word “retaliation” was used in the description.

** For the record, when I shared the fourteen page rebuttal with Hope Hodge, I blacked out every single name.  I told her that I would only agree to the interview and be mentioned in the article if she kept my son’s name out of the article altogether.  I told her that I chose to leave the names out simply because it was my intent that this article will be about the issues and not a “he said, she said” fiasco.  Once names are mentioned, people start defending themselves rather than addressing the issues.  That has been the problem from the beginning.  As much as I would like to see some of these people be held accountable for the lives they have destroyed, it is far more important to get to the root of the many problems and find solutions which will make lives better rather than destroy them.  From the defensiveness of some of the comments made by online readers, it is apparent that I’ve struck a nerve.

I wish I could remove my son completely from this entire ordeal.  Unfortunately, the very fact that I am the mother is what gives me the credibility to speak out.  I can’t expect my next door neighbor to do it.  He doesn’t know what’s going on.  If I speak anonymously, everything will be denied.  I have to identify myself and that has been the hardest part of this whole thing.  If I had just ignored the entire situation, my son would likely be dead and others as well.  If you can’t see the sacrifice in this situation, then you don’t understand the meaning of the word from the personal perspective of truly sacrificing your privacy and your family life for a cause greater than yourself.  If you haven’t figured out by now that it is not about me, then let me remind you that I’ve had the opportunity to go forward to the national media more than once.  I don’t need my “15 minutes of fame”.  I just need my son back and while I’m working on it, I’m going to see if I can help a few other families retrieve their Marines too.

I don’t want one more Marine to go through the same situations that my son faced.  Even with TBI and PTSD, he would have been far better off had he never darkened the door of WWBN-E, for the command climate was far more devastating to his recovery than his actual injuries.  Our story must serve the purpose of saving the lives of those who are there now, as well as those who will end up at WWBN in the future.  We must restore honor to the Marines who have already had their dignity stripped away from them.  It’s the least we can do after all they have done for us through their service.

Originally published by the author on fellednot.com.

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