Helping Soldiers Cope with Stress Disorder

Temple Daily Telegram

January 9, 2009, Copperas Cove, TX – Carissa Picard had been working nearly non-stop for 36 hours on a Fort Bragg soldier’s case, and it didn’t appear, at least to her, that she’d be stopping any time soon.

With piles of legal papers and files scattered about, her young son, Connor, was rousing himself early Wednesday morning, while Picard was hoping the prospect of a few good winks of sleep was not too far in her future.

Regardless, she was not going to stop until she had the answers to help the soldier suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and in the process of having his Army career come to an abrupt end as a result.

That was the case for Sgt. Adam Boyle, the Fort Bragg soldier, who, like soldiers at other Army posts, returned home after serving two combat tours in Iraq expecting the Army to take care of him, but was instead forced out and administratively discharged.

Picard, who is an attorney, formed the Military Spouses for Change in July 2008 to provide soldiers and their spouses a way to advocate and address the needs of service members and their families.

The group helps promote the implementation of policies and programs, public and private, that effectively identify and meaningfully address the complex needs of service members and veterans, one of which is ensuring the well-being of the family, particularly during times of stress, hardship, injury and transition.

Right now, many of those in need are soldiers and their families who find themselves dealing with post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury – the signature wounds of the Iraq war.

Boyle, who in October was diagnosed by an Army medical board with PTSD and traumatic brain injury, did what a lot of his peers in the same situation often do.

He drank a lot.

He drank so much that the former model soldier began to get into trouble and, as a result, the career he loved began to spiral.

In December, Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, signed an order forcing Boyle out on an administrative discharge for a “pattern of misconduct,” and ordering that the soldier pay back his re-enlistment bonus, which totaled more than $13,000.

Chuck Luther knows Boyle’s story all too well.

That’s because he was living the same sad chapter last year.

Luther served as a cavalry scout in the 1st Cavalry Division in Taji, Iraq, during the height of sectarian violence.

During that last tour, he was in a guard tower when he was hit by a mortar blast and suffered a mild traumatic brain injury.

Early on, Luther suffered from headaches and nosebleeds, commonly associated with traumatic brain injury.

“I was a cavalry scout and we were right there in the enemy’s face,” Luther said. “I was told by my commander I needed to drink water and drive on. I tried to do it for a little while, and I just couldn’t do it.”

In 2007, shortly after he returned from his second combat tour, Luther was diagnosed with having a personality disorder and in July 2008, found himself stripped of the career he’d embraced for 12 years.

A lot of things went through Luther’s mind.

Where would he go?

What would he do?

Who would care?

“This was my life,” he said.

At one point, Luther even considered ending his life.

“I was going to go to III Corps – the heart and soul of Fort Hood – and I was going to commit suicide on their front steps,” Luther said. “I felt like my life was over.”

But, all that changed after he spoke with Picard about his case.

Luther eventually filed a federal lawsuit seeking to have the nature of his discharge overturned.

Since he filed his lawsuit, Luther has been diagnosed by the Department of Veteran Affairs as having acute PTSD and traumatic brain injury, and is considered 70 percent disabled.

“They found out I do not have a personality disorder,” Luther said. “My injuries were suffered from combat and I needed to be medically retired.”

Shortly after that, Luther offered his services to the organization as a case manager to help other soldiers and their spouses who are dealing with PTSD or traumatic brain injury.

“That’s why we do what we do,” he said.

Today, Luther is overseeing six cases, none of which involve Fort Hood soldiers, and is committed to making sure no soldier is falling through the cracks.

“I don’t want these guys to feel what I have felt,” Luther said.

There are still broad changes that have been proposed at Fort Hood in regard to the treatment of soldiers suffering with PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, III Corps commanding general, has proposed creating a center on Fort Hood to treat those ailments and help soldiers either return to their units or successfully transition into the civilian work force.

Luther is hopeful that Lynch makes good on helping those troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I was told that Lt. Gen. Lynch was committed to supporting the troops at all costs,” Luther said. “He’s going to have to show me. We want the American public to know what is going on with their soldiers.”

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