March 7, 2008 – Secretary of the Army Pete Geren will be asked today to convene a panel of officers to investigate “Army policies and practices which permit the deployment of medically unfit soldiers.”
Spec. Bryan Currie, 21, of Charleston, S.C., will ask Geren to convene a Court of Inquiry — a rarely used administrative fact-finding process — to investigate top generals at Fort Carson; Fort Drum, N.Y.; and Fort Hood, Texas.
A Court of Inquiry is composed of at least three high-ranking military officers and can subpoena civilians. Geren can refuse the request.
“It’s very important for the Army and very important for my clients. This is an investigation that is long overdue,” said Louis Font, a Boston attorney who represents Currie and Spec. Alex Lotero, 21, a Fort Carson soldier from Miami.
The request says the Court of Inquiry should “investigate the extent to which the (generals) have been derelict in failing to provide for the health and welfare of wounded soldiers.”
Font and Citizen Soldier, a veterans advocacy group, plan a news conference today in Watertown, N.Y. Copies of the request will be provided to the House Armed Services Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee, Font said.
Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, commander of Fort Carson since September 2007, said: “We have caring and competent commanders who make these decisions every day. I’m confident in our Soldier Readiness Processing site here at Fort Carson.”
“Not full-mission capable”
The request for the Court of Inquiry says the panel should be assembled on behalf of Currie and four Fort Carson soldiers. They include:
• Lotero, a soldier diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder “who was subjected to ridicule and threats for seeking medical attention.”
He said his commanders took his medications away from him, saying it was for his own safety.
• Master Sgt. Denny Nelson, who had a severe foot injury and was deployed to Kuwait. A physician in Kuwait urged in an e-mail to the brigade surgeon that Nelson be sent back to the United States: “This soldier should NOT have even left CONUS (the U.S.). . . . In his current state, he is not full-mission capable, and in his current condition is a risk to further injury to himself, others and his unit.”
• An unnamed Fort Carson soldier who was deployed from Cedar Springs psychiatric hospital in Colorado Springs before he could finish a 28-day treatment program for alcoholism. An Army e-mail, dated Dec. 14, 2007, shows the soldier was taking psychiatric medications, pending a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, “but that information was not passed on” before he was discharged.
• Staff Sgt. Chad Barrett, 35, a Fort Carson soldier from Saltville, Va., who died in Iraq on Feb. 2. The Army is investigating the cause of his death.
“He allegedly was found not deployable by military medical personnel, but he was deployed anyway and reportedly committed suicide in Iraq in February 2008,” the request says.
Barrett’s wife, Shelby, who lives in Fountain, said Thursday that she does not believe her husband killed himself. She said she believes he died of a heart-related ailment, a condition that runs in his family.
Before he was deployed on Christmas Day 2007, Chad Barrett was undergoing a medical evaluation board for issues related to post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury from two previous tours, his wife said. He had a permanent profile — meaning he did not meet retention standards — but he asked Fort Carson to halt the medical board process so he could deploy, she said.
After an evaluation by a psychiatrist, he was sent to Iraq on the condition that he work in a light-duty job. He worked as a radio operator, she said, but was taking Klonopin for anxiety, Pamelor for severe migraines, and Lunesta and Ambien to help him sleep.
Barrett said she believes her husband was under stress because five soldiers in his unit were killed days earlier and that he worried about her being alone as well as his extended family. All of that, she said, could have brought on heart failure.
“I don’t want someone using my husband’s name as a way of furthering their cause,” Barrett said. “If that is what’s necessary, I will personally do that myself.”
Soldier will turn himself in
Currie said he served with the 10th Mountain Division for 10 months in Afghanistan. He was driving a vehicle that was blown up by a roadside bomb and suffered combat-related injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
He returned with his unit to Fort Polk, La., but he said his commanders harassed him for being injured.
“I suffer from physical injuries incurred in combat. Military medical personnel found that I am not deployable. My commanders, however, disregarded the medical findings,” Currie says in the request. “Also, I sought medical attention for PTSD but was rebuffed.”
Currie left Fort Polk, La., and is considered to be AWOL from the Army. He plans to turn himself in today at Fort Drum, where the general who commands the 10th Mountain Division is stationed.
Lotero had received a 30 percent disability rating at Fort Carson for PTSD and traumatic brain injury. In June, three weeks before he was to leave the Army with a medical retirement, he deserted because he said harsh treatment from commanders made him feel as if he would harm himself or others.
He was apprehended in Florida on Feb. 1 and spent 29 days in jail. He’s now back at Fort Carson in a Warrior Transition Unit. He will undergo a new medical board process after his legal issues are settled.