Soldier, After Bipolar Treatment and Suicide Attempts, Sent Back to War Zone
Published: February 11, 2008 7:30 AM ET
FORT CARSON A Fort Carson soldier who says he was in treatment at Cedar Springs Hospital for bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse was released early and ordered to deploy to the Middle East with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
The 28-year-old specialist spent 31 days in Kuwait and was returned to Fort Carson on Dec. 31 after health care professionals in Kuwait concurred that his symptoms met criteria for bipolar disorder and “some paranoia and possible homicidal tendencies,” according to e-mails obtained by a Denver newspaper.
The soldier, who asked not to be identified because of the stigma surrounding mental illness and because he will seek employment when he leaves the Army, said he checked himself into Cedar Springs on Nov. 9 or Nov. 10 after he attempted suicide while under the influence of alcohol. He said his treatment was supposed to end Dec. 10, but his commanding officers showed up at the hospital Nov. 29 and ordered him to leave.
“I was pulled out to deploy,” said the soldier, who has three years in the Army and has served a tour in Iraq.
Soldiers from Fort Carson and across the country have complained they were sent to combat zones despite medical conditions that should have prevented their deployment.
Late last year, Fort Carson said it sent 79 soldiers who were considered medical “no-gos” overseas. Officials said the soldiers were placed in light-duty jobs and are receiving treatment there. So far, at least six soldiers have been returned.
An e-mail sent Jan. 3 by Capt. Scot Tebo, the brigade surgeon, says the 3rd Brigade Combat Team had “been having issues reaching deployable strength” and that some “borderline” soldiers were sent overseas.
Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, was outraged.
“If he’s an inpatient in a hospital, they should have never taken him out. The chain of command needs to be held accountable for this. Washington needs to get involved at the Pentagon to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
“First, we had the planeload of wounded, injured and ill being forced back to the war zone. And now we have soldiers forcibly removed from mental hospitals. The level of outrage is off the Richter scale.”
The soldier said that on Nov. 29, he was called to the office at Cedar Springs. His squad leader, his platoon leader, his Army Substance Abuse Program counselor and two counselors from Cedar Springs “came and ambushed me.”
He said an Army alcohol counselor told him alcoholism and anxiety could not stop him from being deployed.
“They said, ‘You know what? Tough it out. All of us like to drink.’”
In the December e-mail, Tebo tells brigade leaders: “Evidently, while at Cedar Springs, he was started on psychiatric medications that should have made him non-deployable, but somehow no one was notified. He may have been pending a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, but that information was not passed on at discharge. He deployed with his unit and has not been doing well here.”
In Kuwait, the soldier isolated himself. He said he had “racing thoughts” and couldn’t keep still.
“I was … burning my fingertips with cigarettes, just anything to keep my mind off of things,” the soldier said. “I had homicidal thoughts. I don’t know at the time if I intended on doing anything. But at the time, it was there, I had homicidal and suicidal thoughts.”
Since his return, he has been in treatment. He said his medical record contains a permanent profile for bipolar disorder, an illness that makes him unfit for military service. He is undergoing the process to be medically discharged from the Army.