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February 13, 2011


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February 13, 2011


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Always Remember to Read Between the Lines

October 28, 2010

Felled Not! does not endorse candidates.  Our organization is nonpartisan and our intent here is to make sure the public is well-informed on the issues regarding our veterans.

Recently the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) put out a Congressional Report Card to inform us about who in Washington really supports our troops and veterans. I pay attention to everything IAVA puts out as they seem to be spot on when it comes to the issues facing our veterans and the issues that need attention. I check their website frequently, I receive their Daily News Brief each day, and I have come to rely on the IAVA as a powerful resource.

When the Congressional Report Card arrived in my inbox, I immediately began to review it. Having worked very closely with several lawmakers over the past year, I was excited to see the glowing report of those who have spent countless hours fighting the system to ensure that our wounded warriors across the nation receive the best possible care. I’ll admit, I was also extremely anxious to view the failing grades by those who had not put any effort into the issues facing our wounded warriors. One of the main reasons I dropped what I was doing to view this report is because, as I have already mentioned, I regard the IAVA as one of the most reliable sources to find out what is really going on and I trust that they are completely dedicated to advocating for the best possible treatment for our veterans.

Imagine my surprise when I found that my congressman, Ben Chandler, who has done very little to help my efforts, received an A on his report card. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. I quickly looked to find the grade for Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina. This man has gone far beyond the call of duty to help my son and countless other Marines based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Fully expecting to see an A+, I nearly fell out of my seat when I saw his report card grade was a C.

Once I was able to lift my jaw off the ground, I figured there had to be some mistake. How can a man who has dedicated himself to fighting an uphill battle for our wounded warriors be described in a nutshell as an average lawmaker? Congressman Walter Jones is far from average. Not only does he have at least one liaison for our military and veterans who is 100% dedicated to revealing the truth and solving problems, the congressman has gotten personally involved and has spent countless hours on our case alone. I can’t imagine that the man has time to sleep. I’ve heard that he never takes a vacation and I believe it!

Even harder to fathom is the A sitting next to Ben Chandler’s name. I’ve never spoken to him. I’ve had to fight tooth and nail to get any attention from his staff. How did I get attention? First I wrote a strong letter informing his staff that I would be sure to let everyone know during the campaign of the “real” efforts of Congressman Chandler should anyone ask me for my opinion on how he supports veterans and troops. When I stopped by the office a few weeks later, I was greeted with hostility and a coldness that I regarded as unprofessional. I did not verbally mention my intent to share my opinion, but my letter must have struck a nerve because I was bluntly told, during my visit, that I could just go “vote for someone else!” As the months have passed, the relationship between me and the staffer has actually become more positive, but we both had to turn the other cheek to move forward. I’m pretty sure that the only reason I got any action is because I was seen as a threat, viewed as one who would likely spout off an opinion that would not be positive PR for the congressman. Even more convincing, I am sure, was the relationship that I had established with Congressman Jones office.

There is a difference between Congressman Walter Jones and Congressman Ben Chandler. Congressman Jones really listens. He looks into the situation from all sides. He takes action when he sees the need to do so, and most importantly, he is approachable.

It seems to me that the case workers in the many of these offices are told how to handle a situation, and these people make all of the decisions. If I had to guess, I would say that Chandler has never heard my name before. He probably never got personally involved at all. It is my belief that he would have been a little bit curious about this particular case because of the path it has taken over the past year. His name is stamped on all the letters written for this case, but he didn’t put it there himself. An aide likely made the assumption that this issue was not important enough to bring the the congressman’s attention. The aide was likely instructed to handle things that way the day he was hired. I don’t believe Congressman Chandler can really be described as a representative who is focused enough on veteran’s issues to receive an A on his report card.

I spent months documenting problems at Wounded Warrior Battalion East, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I was extremely concerned about the health care my son was receiving and I noticed that his was not an isolated case. I made sure I had enough evidence so that someone would actually believe me, and when I felt I had enough documentation, I finally moved forward. My motivation – I feared for my son’s life.

I approached every senator and congressman sitting on the Armed Services Committees in the House and the Senate. Only a handful replied. Senator Bunning and Senator McConnell must have replied out of obligation since I am from their state of Kentucky, but I know for a fact that they weren’t interested. The grade of D received by Senators McConnell and Bunning seems generous, but those are the most accurate of the four lawmakers mentioned here today. I would guess that neither of these men has ever heard my name or that of my Marine.

Several lawmakers sent an initial inquiry. The Marine Corps did an “investigation”. The report came back with nothing but positive remarks about their incredible program and fabricated answers to all the questions. In every case, except one, I received a reply from lawmakers stating that they were glad to see that the Marine Corps was doing such a wonderful job taking care of our wounded Marines. They stated that they were happy to be of service and that they hoped they could be of service to our family again in the future. Translation: We believe in what the big guy has to say. You must be a crazy mom with time on your hands and we are far too busy to waste our time on an overprotective mother.

With the exception of Congressman Jones, not one of these lawmakers (or their case workers) bothered to ask me for my evidence. Each of them blindly accepted the Marine Corps findings and went on with their lives. During the months that I had waited for the truth to be revealed and for the wounded warriors to get the treatment they deserved, the command was retaliating because they didn’t like the fact that Mommy had opened Pandora’s Box. Things got worse instead of better, and the Marines assigned to WWBN-E gave up on ever getting any real help.

Fortunately, Congressman Jones knew better. He got personally involved, taking the time on numerous occasions to speak with me and my son. He wrote letters and spoke to the highest officials in the Marine Corps many times. He worked for months to present information to the Department of Defense Inspector General’s office and was finally able to convince the IG that this problem must be assessed. He never gave up and the Inspector General’s office finally launched a nationwide assessment of wounded warrior facilities for the Army and Marine Corps.

Almost two years after my fight began, I was seated across the table from two members of the Inspector General’s team who flew to Lexington, Kentucky, specifically to speak to me. They spent three days interviewing me and looking over my documentation. They thanked me for my tenacity, and then they headed to Camp Lejeune to assess the Wounded Warrior program. The report should become available in January.

I can’t explain Congressman Jones voting record, but I know if I picked up the phone right now, I could get an honest answer to that question. He knows my name. He knows the name of my son. He knows the name of many other Marines and family members who are fighting for proper treatment, and he knows something about each of us as individuals. Amongst countless other bills he has introduced is HR 1701: PTSD/TBI Guaranteed Review for Heroes Act which was signed into law in October, 2009. I know he works hard every day to make sure that our wounded warriors, veterans, active duty military, and their families get what is needed and deserved. Maybe part of the reason he gets it is because he, himself, is a veteran.

I’m not here to say any of the information included in this document released by IAVA is false. I’m sure it is accurate. I realize that IAVA’s intent is to inform. and for that I am greatly appreciative of the countless hours that went into the publication. I do think, however, that we owe it to ourselves, our veterans, our troops, and our military families to do more than just look at the information in this report. We need to read between the lines and do our homework in an effort to be fully informed. Our representatives should be doing more than showing up for a vote. Let’s look at the entire picture and find out about the other efforts our representatives are making so we can make an informed decision before we vote next Tuesday.

http://media.iava.org/iava_action/IAVA_Action_2010_Congressional_Report_Card.pdf

 

Let’s 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 realize that 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 PTSD, TBI, 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 MarSOC, back 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-East. I’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 does Semper 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 News reporter, 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 Commandant, his 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.

 

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Silence Among the Generals

October 12, 2010

August 27, 2010 - It’s been two weeks since my letter was hand delivered to General Amos.  I’m still waiting to hear from him and the silence is deafening.  I’ve been told the letter is too long.  Yes, it is….but not nearly as long as the wait has been for someone in Marine Corps leadership to do something about this problem.

Dear General Amos,

I know that you are a very busy man.  You have an enormous responsibility and there are probably never enough hours in your day, therefore, I will thank you right up front, for giving my letter your time and attention.  It is greatly appreciated.

I have recently become aware of your determination to take care of our Marines who have willingly stepped up to serve our nation and as a result of their service, have found themselves disabled by Post Traumatic Stress and/or Traumatic Brain Injury.  I am very optimistic, knowing that you will have the opportunity to influence the way these invisible wounds are viewed and currently treated.  If you are willing to take an honest look at PTSD and TBI, and the current problems with ongoing care and treatment for these conditions, and if you are willing to demand that those Marines who suffer from these wounds be treated with the same respect and care given to those with severe physical injuries, I believe that you will be effectively saving thousands of lives.

I know that the experience with SSgt Ownbey was life changing, not just for him, but for you as well.  I recently had the privilege of reading Greg Jaffe’s article in The Washington Post,  Military Reckons with the Mental Wounds of War. I was immediately struck by the obvious compassion you had for Ssgt Ownbey’s situation, and especially by the fact that you knew something needed to be done and it needed to be done now.

Because you had the opportunity to see the MRAP and meet the Marines who survived the explosion back in 2007, and because you happened to be at Bethesda Naval Hospital on that day two years later, SSgt Ownbey became more than just another Marine serving under your leadership.  You basically got the “before” and “after” picture because at the time of your original meeting, everything with SSgt Ownbey appeared to be fine.  When you stepped into his hospital room, you immediately saw the physical affects that resulted from the traumatic brain injury, but I believe that you were also affected deeply by the emotional toll that the invisible wounds had taken on SSgt Ownbey and his wife.

Fascinated by your compassion for SSgt Ownbey, I decided to dig a bit further into your views and efforts with regard to PTSD and TBI. I discovered a video clip of your keynote speech given at the Partnership for Military Medicine Symposium on November 6, 2009.  (I use the word fascinated because it is my belief that you are in the minority with regard to military leadership.)  I heard the words of introduction spoken by LtGen Eric Schoomaker.

It is my hope that our military leaders do, in fact, serve, first and foremost, the medic and the soldier in the field. LtGen Schoomaker described you as a one who “has never forgotten the pain, suffering, and trauma of the Marine on the ground who guts through the difficult tasks set before him.”  As you partner with Gen. Peter Chiarelli, you are seen “as a force and conscience that will likely deliver to the Marine and his family, timely, effective, evidence-based devices and practices that will protect them, save their lives, and restore them fully to function.”

I have the utmost respect for your leadership because you appear to possess humility.  You are willing to admit that things are not perfect and you are willing to learn from past mistakes.  Yes, we, as a nation were ill prepared. As you have said, no one knew that the war would last eight years and counting.  No one knew that so many would survive their injuries because of the advances made in technology and medicine.  No one knew that this fearless “Millennium Generation” would serve numerous deployments. No one ever thought that the numbers would be so staggering and as you stated, “We had not thought about how we were going to take care of families and parents and wives.”

Gen. Amos, I know it took a lot of courage for you to tell those listening to you at the symposium that SSt Ownbey “lost his life in the two years that followed” the IED explosion. Even more courageous was the truth of these words, “I’ll be honest with you, we let him down. and I’ll just leave it at that.”

Yes, at first, the system did let SSgt Ownbey down, but when he was brought to your attention, you did something about it.  Your actions exemplified the motto, Semper Fidelis. You did the right thing, and now SSgt Ownbey will get the medical care he needs. Your attention to his situation will make a difference in his life as well as in the lives of his family members.

Imagine, Gen. Amos, if you had not taken the time to go see SSgt Ownbey.  He had asked to see you, but what if you were too busy that day? Or what if you had made a brief visit and walked out the door, never looking back?  What if you had not met him two years before?  What if you could not witness the obvious changes in SSgt Ownbey that had taken place?  What then?  Where would he be today and what quality of life might he have?  What about his wife?  She said, “You guys got him home, but it was like watching a slow death happening.” Her words chill me to the bone because that is what has happened to my Marine and many others like him.

When I compare SSgt Ownbey’s story with that of my Marine, I see many similarities.  My Marine also survived numerous blasts during his first two deployments in 2005 and 2006.  He’s got a photograph of his truck, just after one of the worst explosions.  The Marines all managed to walk away that day, celebrating because they were alive to tell about the experience.  I even got a phone call from him.  The command wanted the Marines to call their families rather than hear about the explosion through the grapevine, figuring that this would prevent panic on the home front.  The fact that the Marines were knocked unconscious, had headaches, and experienced nausea seemed irrelevant at the time.  They were Marines and they wanted to get right back to work.  Back in 2005, no one was checking them carefully or asking them to rest their brains.  Nobody knew that in time their balance, memory, judgment, and reasoning would become more and more difficult to control.  No one was looking for these symptoms.  When the symptoms manifested themselves in behaviors viewed as ‘out of character’, no one thought to find out why these men no longer seemed to be themselves.

Another similarity in SSgt Ownbey’s story that struck me was that of the pothole. If you recall, it caused him to drive across a neighbor’s lawn in an effort to avoid the possibility of driving over what looked to be a hole that contained a roadside bomb.  On the day my Marine returned to Camp Lejeune from his second deployment, I was driving along Holcomb Boulevard.  He was sitting in the front passenger seat.  In mid-sentence, he becomes silent and turns ashen. His posture is immediately different. He utters a small scream and I nearly drive off the road.  He quickly realizes that what he thought was an IED was actually a Burger King bag that had been discarded on the roadside.  I didn’t even notice the bag. We all see garbage on the side of the road. The experience left my son shaken, but he did not want to talk about it.  Later it would be revealed to me that his unit had just spent 7 months looking for IED’s every single day.  They found hundreds of them during their tour.  Even more interesting to me than my son’s reaction was the fact that when we met several of his buddies for dinner later that evening, they were all talking about the Burger King bag.  One little bag had been scaring the life out of the Marines all day long.

I recall another night, in the wee hours, when my son wandered into my bedroom.  He was home on leave. He had a nightmare. He thought he was in Iraq.  My husband and I were frightened.  We weren’t sure if we should wake him.  We’ve heard that’s not such a good idea.  With gentle coaxing we were able to reach him and show him that he was safe at home, on leave, but we could see that deployment experiences were weighing heavy on his mind.

On another evening, my son was standing with several of us in his uncle’s backyard.  There was a six foot privacy fence standing between us and the neighbor’s yard.  We heard their voices but had no idea, until we heard the boom, what they were doing next door.  Naturally, we were all a bit startled, but our Marine flew into combat mode.  Before we had a chance to take it all in, he had gone over the six foot fence and tackled a woman, thinking he was protecting her from the IED that was going off in her backyard.

We knew things weren’t normal, but our Marine was training for MarSOC by then. We had heard that everyone had these issues after returning from combat.  He wouldn’t talk about it except to say he wasn’t going to tell anyone he had a few nightmares or that he was startled by fireworks and Burger King bags. It was just a part of the job.

Just as there are many similarities in the stories of SSgt Ownbey and my Marine, there are also many differences.  The most striking difference is simply the fact that you can not see any physical evidence of my Marine’s injuries.  Fortunately, his brain injury does not involve his endocrine system and we are grateful that that he does not have to fight that particular battle.  Instead, he fights one that is surely as difficult, perhaps even more so, because in most situations, if the wounds can not be seen, they simply could not exist.  If they don’t exist, then they can’t be treated.  If they can’t be treated, then they can’t be overcome, and no healing will ever take place.

Nothing in this world is perfect, General, but when a problem is brought to one’s attention, and that problem involves the quality of life and medical care for another who has stood willing to give his life for our nation, what type of leader simply turns and walks away?  You have referred to Gen. Chiarelli as your soul mate.  You both agree that “PTSD is not a figment of someone’s imagination”, but rather “a cruel physiological thing.”  You have agreed that PTSD and TBI are real injuries that demand immediate care. You have sought the expertise of military and civilian doctors and have admitted to being frustrated over the fact that no one could agree on anything at a meeting set up for the sole purpose of solving this problem.  I believe Gen. Chiarelli described the meeting as “three hours of hell”.

I recently had the privilege of participating in a discussion on suicide prevention withColonel Christopher Philbrick, director of the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force.  He spoke highly of the determination that you and Gen. Chiarelli have for solving the mental health crisis in our military.  This gives me hope.

I’m pleased to see that research has revealed more insight into the reality ofPTSD and TBI. I’m pleased to know that our military is serious about facing the problem head on, and that adjustments are being made during training, prior to deployment, as well as in theater.  I’m impressed with the fact that leaders such as yourself and Gen. Chiarelli are determined to educate and foster awareness so that those new to military service will not have to experience the deplorable care that has existed, in many cases, up to this point in time.

General, I must now ask you to answer this question.  What will you do for those who are still suffering, whom have not been brought to your attention?  What will you do to eradicate the stigma?  Sir, do you realize that the stigma is far more damaging to the lives of your Marines than the actual brain injury or the battle with Post Traumatic Stress?

How would you handle a situation if you knew that one of your officers, a man chosen to lead by example, was chastising Marines because of the way they were dealing with depression?  Would you allow it to continue?  Would you look the other way because this man was regarded with importance?  Would you confront this leader?  Would you believe what he had to say with blind faith when he gave his version of the story or would you take the time to find out something about the young enlisted Marine who was struggling and what was causing the behavior in question?

What if you found out that this leader and his staff NCO’s were running their unit for Wounded Warriors like a victory unit?  Would you be more concerned for the order and discipline of the unit or would you be more concerned for the health and welfare of the patients?  Would your concern for what people might think of the Marine Corpscare of wounded warriors be more important than the lives of a few enlisted men who could easily be explained away as behavior problems?

Would you be concerned if you found out that prescribed medications were destroying your Marines?  Would the hair on the back of your neck stand up at the thought that some of these men have come close to death because they were taking their medications as directed by their doctors?  Would you send one of your Marines, or better yet, one of your own children, to an inpatient PTSD program, halfway across the country from Camp Lejeune, just because it was listed as approved by Tricare?  If he were your child, and if you knew the government had paid the quarter-million dollar price tag to have him trained for Special Forces, would you just pick a program off of a list or would you investigate the program prior to sending your child into lockdown?  It is my belief that you would protect your child and your investment.

How long would it take you to wonder why someone good enough to become a part of MarSOC was now being brought to your attention as just another problem child who needed to be discarded?  Would you make all of your decisions based on the small amount of information in front of you, or would you go back in this Marine’s service record and take a look at who he was before his injury?  Would you simply look online at his service record, or would you take a few minutes to call his former commander and get to know something about this kid who served three deployments?  Would you consider calling his next of kin to find out some history on this Marine? Would you dig long enough to find out that he had wanted to be a Marine since he was old enough to know Marines existed?   Would you learn that he entered the Corps through the Delayed Entry Program?  Would you know that he worked at the recruiting center for a full year before he graduated from high school?  While others were paid to work in the high school co-op program, he received nothing but the benefit of being around Marines.  Would you learn that he turned 18 at boot camp, 19 in Falllujah, 20, again in Fallujah, 21 training for MarSOC after reenlisting, 22 deployed again, 23 in a hospital setting that turned his life upside down, and recently turned 24 with the realization that Semper Fidelis is just a bumper sticker on the back of a few cars aboard Camp Lejeune, North Carolina?

Would you take the time to find out that this Marine was given great responsibility, that he had been through many challenges, that he, like many others, had dealt with the loss of buddies, been blown up a dozen times, lost a roommate and teammate to suicide, and lost a fiancee who just couldn’t take it when PTSD and TBI became the dominant force in his life?  Would you take the time to discover that his once close relationship to his family had drastically deteriorated?

Would you take the time to talk to his doctors and ask some questions?  Would your interest lead you to discover that he begged for help for months?  Would you come to know that he complained about his medications and said they weren’t working?  Would you believe it when the doctor told you that this young man was doing his own research trying to find help?  Would it surprise you to know that many of these Marines turn to substance abuse just to get through the day, the night, or even the hour?  I know you are aware of the magnitude of the problem, Sir.  We are all aware of it.

Corps leadership has promised that the stigma is gone and leaders practice an open door policy.  I’ve read all the leadership guides for Marines in distress. I’ve read the materials on suicide prevention.  I’ve watched the videos that are shown to the Marines.  You have a great plan!  Sadly, there has been no plan to develop accountability.  You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.  Just because all hands must sit through training sessions on how to handle delicate situations doesn’t mean that those who walk out the door will actually adopt these new practices.  The Marine Corps is a war machine.  There just isn’t any place for someone who appears weak.  Not only is this true in infantry battalions, but it is true in the Wounded Warrior Battalion as well.

Those with physical wounds are viewed as heroes.  Most have battled long and hard to get to a point where they have left specialty hospitals and are assigned back to Camp Lejeune.  They should be viewed as heroes.  But why is it that if the wound can’t be seen, it simply must not exist?  Why is it that the invisible wounds are shamed and written off as malingering, bad behavior, or personality disorders?

It would be my assumption that leaders are carefully chosen for each battalion.  The man who commands each unit must be experienced in his field and he should have proved himself as one who is capable of doing his job.  I would also make the assumption that he would be constantly re-evaluated.  Should he take his unit to the front lines, he is ultimately responsible for every life in the battalion.  If he is not performing well, he will likely be removed and replaced.  Men of all ranks have been relieved of their duties.

What about the man who runs a unit for the wounded?  What are his qualifications?  Is it simply being wounded?  Is it simply an infantry commander who needs to fulfill his B-Billet for promotion? Does he have any experience in medicine or counseling?

Would you hire your gardener to perform your open heart surgery?  Would you allow your best infantry commander to do your root canal?  If the answer to both of those questions is no, Gen. Amos, I believe that you wouldn’t allow an angry, disgruntled, wounded Marine to lead your wounded warriors.  He’s got too many of his own issues and he’s not the right man for the job.  As well, your B-Billet leader is secretly marking the days off his calendar the minute he gets home each night.  He’s just looking ahead to the next assignment.  This assignment is simply a stepping stone in life’s path.

General Amos, I realize that this is far too lengthy, but Sir, I just do not know where to go from here or how I can scream loud enough for my voice to be heard.  I have spent the past 20 months desperately trying to help my son.  At this point in my letter, you should know him almost as well as you knew SSgt Ownbey the day you saw him at the hospital.  Once a proud Marine, willing to give his life for his country and for his brothers-in-arms, my son is but a shadow of the young man who signed his commitment on the dotted line seven years ago.  Worse than suffering TBI, worse than suffering with PTSD, worse than being removed from his position and being forced to walk away from his career, worse than losing his fiancee, worse than being misdiagnosed, and misunderstood, worse than any of it is the reality that this Marine Sergeant was destroyed by none other than his own, the US Marine Corps.

This Sergeant was drugged by his own doctors, a victim of overlapping drug side effects, who, even when reported to doctors and leaders, was ignored.  This Sergeant was virtually ignored when he arrived at Wounded Warrior Battalion-East. This Sergeant was subject to screaming sessions dished out by disgruntled NCO’s.  This Sergeant was treated with disrespect and forced to watch his friends endure the same.  This Sergeant was humiliated publicly.  This Sergeant was made to endure Alpha inspections and watch his comrades be ridiculed for being overweight, no longer able to fit into their uniforms because of medications or the forced lack of exercise dictated by their injuries. This Sergeant was told that he was a “poor excuse for a Marine” by his Captain in a room where NCO’s stood by and witnessed the event.  Two days later when he attempted to take his life, as any “worthless Marine” would, no one came to his aide though I, his mother, called repeatedly begging for help.  This Sergeant asked for help and was demoted for being honest.  This Sergeant was a victim of sloppy drug testing or, perhaps, set up to take the fall.

Why, you ask, is this just now coming to your attention?  It’s certainly not because we haven’t tried to speak out.  It’s because no matter what we do, we are shoved aside.  We are ignored.  We are discredited.  We are blamed.  We are, more than likely, framed.

For over a year, I have been trying to help my son get the help he desperately needs. If the first person had responded properly, our lives would be very different.  Instead, problems within the command were ignored.  The louder we shouted, the more stubborn leaders became.  As we rose through the ranks, the responses became more and more absurd.  We asked lawmakers to inquire on our behalf.  They did.  Things got worse.  With the support of Congressman Walter Jones, we have pursued every single avenue in an attempt to have our voices heard.  We have made contact with the Commandant, the Secretary of the Navy, and countless others in powerful positions.

We have offered our documentation for review.  Not one person has ever asked to see a piece of it.  We have written documents stating specific problems and have been met with responses that are vague, untrue, and often unrelated to the subject at hand.  I’ve been met with the same condescension afforded my son by officers in WWBN-E.  I’ve spent hours talking with wounded warriors right under the noses of the leadership. I’ve spent countless hours researching care, programs, and protocol.  I honestly believe that I know more about some of the aspects of the program than those sitting in the building all day.

After initiating an inquiry in November, I received an Information Paper in February, via several congressmen, to which I wrote a lengthy rebuttal. I specifically askedGen. Conway and BGen Simcock to dignify my letter and rebuttal with a response.  I’m still awaiting their reply.

In June, I received another Information Paper, also via lawmakers, filled with more fabricated explanations.  This document was sent to carefully chosen lawmakers, and was deliberately not sent to other carefully chosen lawmakers. Even though my son and I were the subject of the fabricated materials, we were not afforded a copy of this document from the authors.

I won’t tell you about the countless hours I’ve spent on the phone with the Lt. Colonel.  I won’t tell you how many times the truth was twisted. I’ve lost count. I’ve already heard the Lt. Colonel’s defense, but I’m not buying it and neither should you, Sir.

I believe that the main reason no one has asked to see my documentation is because there might just be some truth to all of it.  If I was to be proven correct, there would be a lot of people who would need to be held accountable.  What a mess that would be and what a frenzy for the media!  It must seem far easier to keep ignoring us…..at least for now.

It won’t be long before another suicide or drug overdose will take place.  The last one should have raised a red flag, but sadly, it just fine-tuned the art of cover up.  The warning from Dr. Kernan Manion in the spring of 2009 was not enough.  The death of Sgt. Thomas Bagosy in May of 2010 was not enough.  The 52 Marine suicides in 2009 and the rest in 2010 not mentioned here have not been enough either.

Careers are ended, families are pulled apart, and lives are destroyed.  When will there ever be enough death and despair to make some real changes?  I can tell you that my son’s life has been forever altered.  Right now I’d simply classify it as destroyed or annihilated. I’m not sure there are enough years left and enough counselors out there to  help him put the pieces of his life back together.

He’s repeatedly been told he is worthless and now he believes it to be true. He has walked the “walk of shame” for so long that he can’t find his way off the path. The self-fulfilling prophecy has proven itself effective.

He once lived by the motto, Semper Fidelis, but he was betrayed by his own.  He was brainwashed back on Parris Island to believe that his Corps would never let him down, that he could trust every Marine with his life, and that this bond was something he could find nowhere else.  What does it do to a man when he relies on something that simply doesn’t exist?  He translates the hurt and pain into all of his relationships and thus, destroys the lives of those closest to him.

My son defined himself as a Marine for most of his life.  He grew up wanting to be a Marine.  He became one who proudly wore the uniform.  He served his country well with three combat tours and six years of service.  He was willing to give all for his country and the Corps.  When he looks in the mirror he sees a Marine.  He is reminded of it when he walks out to his car.  He wears it tattooed on his skin.  It’s evidenced in his posture, and in his reflexed reaction to Taps, the National Anthem, or the sight of an officer in uniform.  So what does it do to his psyche to look in the mirror and see the representative of the very entity that has defined him and destroyed him?

It’s just like Mrs. Ownbey said, “You guys got him home, but it was like watching a slow death happening.”

Gen. Amos, I want my son back.  I gave him to the Corps for six years.  Now I just want him back.   I’ve been mourning the death of my son for over a year.  I can’t bury him and move forward because, he is still breathing. For that I am grateful, and it gives me hope.  I can’t find closure because though the man who we once knew has died, his look-alike walks in the door several days a week.  My mind and heart envision my son, but my ears hear the words of a stranger. I can no longer reach him because he isn’t the kid that grew up in my home. We, his family, his brothers and his parents, can try to restore his honor, however, I’m not sure we can do it because we are not the ones that stripped him of his dignity.

Sir, I ask you to please be open to the reality that stigma is your worst enemy.  It will destroy your Corps and it will ultimately destroy you.  At the rate these problems are growing, and the rate that we are losing Marines to the war in Afghanistan, it’s a scary thought to ponder what things will be like when you leave the office of Commandant. Be open to the fact that those whom appear to be your most loyal and dedicated leaders might only be interested in someday sitting in your seat of power.  A good leader is well respected by his lowest ranking subordinates. The leaders of WWBN-E, who have dramatically shaped my son’s life, are not well respected by those under their leadership.

It is my hope, Gen. Amos, that you will take some time to look into this situation.  It is my hope that before you go and read all of the fabricated information and listen to all the excuses, that you will listen to the rest of the story, our side of the story.

Respectfully submitted,

Proud Marine Mom

cc:   Congressman Walter Jones

Congressman Joe Sestak

Congressman Ben Chandler

Senator Jim Webb

Senator Jim Bunning

Senator Mitch McConnell

Senator Claire McCaskill

Col John L. Mayer

Gen. Peter Chiarelli

LtCol Oliver North (Ret.)

Here are three links you might be interested in watching.

Gen Amos interview with Washington Post 1

Gen Amos interview with Washington Post 2

Gen Amos Interview with Washington Post 3

Pat Tillman, His Voice is Our Voice

October 12, 2010

August 16, 2010 – There is a film coming out in theaters this Friday and I’m counting the minutes until I can purchase my ticket and take a front row seat.  It may surprise you to find out that this film is a documentary, and for many, that automatically suggests it will be boring and educational.  I can promise you it will not be boring, and I predict that once you see it, you will start thinking from a different perspective.

How can I be so sure of this movie’s impact before any of us have had a chance to see it?  I’m sure because I can relate to just about everything Mary Tillman has been saying about the military’s systemic problems and the way the death of her son, Pat Tillman has been handled.  You see, they lied to the wrong family.

I am not the mother of a fallen soldier, and I don’t know what it’s like to mourn the physical death of a child, but I do know what it’s like to deal with the deception and duplicity of the military.

I do know what it’s like to see powerful military leaders go to great lengths to orchestrate evidence and events to cover up for their own errors, rather than simply admit they made a mistake.

I do know what it is like to feel disillusioned when congressional leaders look the other way rather than do the job that we elected them to do. I’ve seen, firsthand, how all of these things can destroy entire families and I’m glad that the Tillman family has had the determination to keep fighting for the truth.

It seems that some people have asked why Pat was so special and why his death got more attention than the deaths of countless other troops.  His mother, Mary, will tell you it isn’t that Pat, or his death, were more important than any other person’s death, but rather that his noteworthy career in football gave the Tillman family a voice, ‘our voice’, if you will.

Frankly, I’m thankful that the Tillman family realized that they would be negligent not to exercise ‘our voice’.  The fact that they were given the responsibility to be ‘our voice’ by something as unrelated to war as a their son’s talented football career is irrelevant.  How and why they acquired the responsibility of being ‘our voice’ is insignificant.  What they do with ‘our voice’ is monumental.

It has always driven me crazy to think that the world is full of people who are far too caught up in who’s who.  I’m typically turned off by name droppers, and I am proud to be just one of the “little people”  who stays off of social ladders to get the job done.  I have recently come to realize however, that there are times when utilizing a renown spokesperson is the only way to get ‘our voice’ heard.  If I can live with the sincerity of my intentions than I am going to make an exception to my personal rules of engagement and allow Pat Tillman’s voice to speak on my behalf.

There are countless military families who have been victims of this ‘game of life’ played so casually by our military leaders and government officials.  I’m not just referring to those who have died by fratricide, but those who have been wounded or perhaps who have been made to take the fall for another’s mistake.  Careerism is the driving force behind decisions made by powerful leaders at the top. It is with that filter most outcomes are decided.  For those at the bottom of the food chain, we have no chance of being heard if we don’t join forces with someone that has a louder megaphone than the one we have been given.

The Tillman family could have dropped this whole thing a long time ago.  Nothing they can do will ever bring their boy back.  Though they’ve likely learned to move forward, they really can’t get very far from the pain as long as they have to get up every day and jump back into this fight.  So why do they do it?   I think I’ve got a pretty good idea.

I’ve been fighting the same system for over a year.  My boy was not felled by fratricide, but he was destroyed, in a system of sloppy care for wounded warriors, by his own, those who proclaim the motto of Semper Fidelis.  The more I investigated, and the more I discovered, the uglier the game became.  The true victim, unfortunately, has been my Marine, and I don’t think I’ll ever really get him back, but I can’t deny that our entire family has suffered greatly for having taken on this burden.

Back when I first sensed that something wasn’t right, I thought it was just one fallacious captain who needed to be reminded of his obligations or perhaps, even relieved of his duties.  I made sure I had all the facts and evidence to back those facts up before I proceeded.  I knew I was stepping into dangerous and forbidden territory as mothers don’t typically get anywhere when they take on the almighty military machine, and my Marine was very hesitant to allow this to take place.  If he had not been desperate to get out of his situation, and had not come to the realization that he did not have a voice, or a better choice, he would never have looked the other way as I made my move into the game. I entered with the confidence that six months of documentation would suffice and we’d be on a better path within a week.

As soon as I stepped into the mire, I quickly realized that I was a very naive individual.  I suddenly found myself in the middle of a bad movie that wouldn’t stop.  I had never seen such lying and manipulative behavior, and I was beginning to understand what real fear feels like.  I’ve often wondered what our lives would be like if we had not taken that first step and opened Pandora’s Box, but once the step was taken there was no going back; and besides, what choice did we really have?  Our son’s life was at stake.  I guess you could say that once again, they lied to the wrong family.

It’s been a long, lonely, scary road and the answers are still hanging in the balance, but our family has come too far to turn around now, and we’ve got renewed strength and energy, thanks to the Tillman family and their efforts to find the truth no matter the cost.  Their situation is not exactly like ours, but the source of the problem is the same.  If they can expose the corruption that lies within our nation’s military leadership, the rest of us can benefit from their victory.

In her Senate testimony in 2007, Mary Tillman made many powerful statements. I’ve tried to condense the main concepts together here.   Mary said, “This isn’t about what they did to Pat……. We have an institution in place to find out what happened to him…..Pat died for his country and he believed that it was a great country……it’s your job to find out what happened to all the other soldiers……by making up all of these false stories, you are diminishing their true heroism……this is really a disservice to the nation and the nation needs to realize that this is an ugly war……everyone should be a part of what’s going on and we shouldn’t be allowed to have smoke screens thrown in our faces.”

Mary pointed out in a 2009 interview that when soldiers enlist, they know going in that they could die, be wounded, or damaged mentally or emotionally, but they don’t expect their government, and the military in which they serve, to disrespect that service by lying to their families.

Words could not be more true.  I shudder to think of how Pat Tillman would feel if he were alive today to see how this has all turned out.  I can attest to the fact that physical and mental wounds are not nearly as debilitating to the soul as the wounds inflicted by those in leadership who serve themselves rather than their country.

When Pat Tillman decided to walk away from his promising football career to enlist and serve his country, he knew that he was essentially giving up his voice.  Once a soldier has signed his name on the dotted line, he gives up his identity and becomes a piece of property owned by the US Government.  He is expected to follow orders, whether or not be believes in these actions.  He is no longer able to exercise his constitutional rights such as the right to speak freely and whether he realizes it or not, he will be dependent on outside advocates when he finds himself in the middle of a bad situation.

I’m grateful that Pat Tillman was willing to take off his Arizona Cardinals jersey, and walk away from millions of dollars just so he could put on the uniform that would allow him to serve his country as an enlisted soldier.  I’m appreciate his willingness to give up his voice for the short time he was enlisted. I’m thankful that Pat Tillman’s voice has been restored, and his family members are willing to share it, and make it ‘our voice’.

Take time to go see The Tillman Story which opens this Friday at a theater near you.  You will find even more detail in Mary Tillman’s book, Boots on the Ground by Dusk – My Tribute to Pat Tillman.

President Obama, You Are Only Fooling Yourself

October 12, 2010

August 13, 2010 – President Obama, last Sunday I saw an brief article written by Natasha T. Metzler, Associated Press entitled, Basketball Stars, Obama Play Hoops for Troops.  It was mentioned that this informal basketball game was played for the purpose of entertaining wounded US troops.  According to the article, the assigned reporters were kept out of the gym and forced to wait in vans outside. Your Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, said that you “just wanted to play”.

I am sure that your intent was to convince all of us that you are simply a thoughtful man doing something special for our wounded warriors. I know you wanted us to believe that you didn’t want any attention for yourself, and you were simply suffering through the experience of playing ball with the legends of the game in an effort to provide some encouragement to our wounded warriors.  I suppose that is why the first articles emerging on the internet kept us all in the dark with what must have been taking place inside the gym.

I’m sorry to disappoint you, Mr. President, but we are not buying one bit of this garbage!  For starters, prior to the event, information was released by the media.  Perhaps that is why the reporters were sitting outside the gym, in vans, awaiting a glimpse of what they hoped would turn into a big story.  I’ve got a gut feeling that you made sure those reporters were sitting there that day.

You are a smart man, therefore you know we are always more interested in the forbidden.  If it is even suggested that something must be kept secret, that makes all of us more curious and we certainly feel more compelled to find out every detail and then share the information.  It’s just our human nature.

President Obama, if you really wanted to keep this event out of the press, you could have easily done that.  You are the President of the United States of America!  You are protected by the Secret Service.  If you want to leave the White House for another destination and you want your activity to be kept under wraps, you have the power to make sure that effort is accomplished.  In fact, I’m sure it happens countless times each day.  Sir, as a typical American citizen, I have no idea what you are doing with your time unless YOU decide to make it known to all of us.

It is my belief that you wanted all of us to know that you played this informal game of basketball with more than a dozen current and former basketball pros.  It is my belief that you wanted us to know that greats such as Bill RussellMagic JohnsonGrant HillShane BattierDwayne WadeLeBron JamesCarmelo AnthonyChris PaulJoakim NoahDerrick Rose, and Maya Moore were present.  Why do I believe this to be true?  Because I heard about it, I read about it, and I have been inundated all week long with articles, pictures, and video footage of the event.

Sure, the reporters were made to wait outside, but you allowed them to film the unfolding events as you left the gym.  You know that you could have kept them completely away from the area.  After all, you are the President of the United States of America.  I’m not sure if you and your Secret Service agents noticed, but somebody was in the gym with a camera. There’s at least one photo circulating online to prove it.

Curiosity got the best of me so I did a Google search with the key words “Obama, basketball, wounded warriors” and got 32,100 results.  I’ll admit I didn’t click on every single link, but I did notice as I clicked through many of the pages that each link was making mention of your informal game, played last weekend, that was supposed to be under the radar.

President Obama, this is the last straw!   It is my belief that you exploited these wounded troops just so you could play ball with some NBA stars.  You took advantage of your powerful position and played on the heart strings of our basketball legends and the American people. You figured out a way to make your childhood dream come true and you packaged it as an opportunity to appear as a Commander in Chief genuinely concerned for his wounded.

I’m sure the wounded troops carefully selected to attend the event last weekend were thrilled at the opportunity.  I’m sure that they enjoyed their afternoon and went home with a few photos and autographs to place in their memory albums.  In all honesty, Mr. President, I have to ask you this.  What did you really do to enhance the quality of these lives? And what about the others?  There are thousands of wounded warriors who did not get a chance to attend your well-orchestrated event.  How did you decide who was chosen?

Frankly, I’m sick of hearing how you and your wife are such an amazing support to our military families and our wounded warriors.  Back on May 25, 2010, Mrs. Obama and Dr. Jill Biden hosted a meeting with military leaders to discuss ways to build a lasting national commitment to support and engage military families.  Michelle spoke to thousands at Camp Pendleton on June 14, 2010. She told Marines, and their family members, that her defining mission as First Lady was to help the rest of our country better understand and appreciate the incredible service demonstrated by these military families.

I continue to hear stories of your wife’s speaking engagements, but what exactly is she doing to support the families?  Is she simply speaking out to be sure we ‘understand and appreciate’ the sacrifice being made by our military families? While this is important, Sir, it’s just not enough.  In order to ensure that our troops know they are appreciated, we need to stop ‘talking the talk’ and start ‘walking the walk.’

Is the mission of Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden simply to get the rest of us to support the military families while they coach from the sidelines?  Many of us are already working tirelessly to support our troops, and have been doing so for years.  Frankly, we are all waiting to see the First and Second Lady put words into action!  The only evidence I can see at this point is a host of barbecues, speeches, and photo ops for these women that exploit wounded troops.  Case in point: the Bidens hosted a barbecue for Wounded Warriors back in May.  Mrs. Biden also visited Wounded Warrior Battalion-East, Camp Lejeune in October 2009, where she ate Carolina barbecue with specially chosen wounded Marines.  Why, you even hosted a barbecue last Sunday after the informal, low-key basketball game, and fortunately, Michelle had just returned home from her vacation in Spain so she was able to join you.

You have taken a lot of credit lately for supporting our troops and veterans suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  You signed H.R. 2647, The Fiscal Year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, into law in October, 2009.  This legislation included a key provision based on Congressman Walter Jones’ bill H.R. 1701, the PTSD/TBI Guaranteed Review for Heroes Act. While you do have the power to veto, and we are all very grateful you did not exercise this option, frankly, Sir, you just signed your name on the dotted line.

The recent ruling which has made it easier for disabled veterans to quality for benefits and services for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder through the Veteran’s Administration has also taken place under your watch, however, I’m fairly confident that it was not your blood, sweat, and tears that made that happen.

Earlier this month, you spoke to our Disabled American Veterans.  You told our veterans that they would be cared for when they returned home. You said it was our ‘sacred trust’ and a ‘moral obligation’.  You promised more treatment centers, case managers, and the best care available for our wounded.

You promised unprecedented resources to treat this war’s signature wounds – Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and even went as far as to say these words: “…..I want to say to anyone who is struggling – do not suffer in silence.  It’s not a sign of weakness to reach out for support; it is a sign of strength.  Your country needs you and we are here to help you stand tall again.”

How exactly are you demonstrating this new era of support?  How do you implement change to ensure that these warriors are treated in such a way that their efforts to reach out for support are regarded as signs of strength?  Have you ever taken a serious look at the true effects of the stigma that permeates the ranks of our military?  Has it ever occurred to you that the stigma is far more damaging to a soldier than the effects of TBI and PTSD?  If this concept has you scratching your head, then you are not nearly as well informed as you need to be, Sir.

Is your only real strategy to simply play a pick up game of hoops on a Sunday afternoon and invite these soldiers to watch?  Not only have you exploited them to live out your childhood dream, but you have just rubbed it in their faces that, in many cases, these troops are no longer able to play a game of basket ball themselves.  I’m sure the opportunity to have met our basketball legends will always bring a smile to the faces of the chosen few who attended your birthday party last week; but Mr. President, how will that help these men find work, obtain necessary medical services, and put the broken pieces of their lives back together?

When you celebrate your next birthday, Mr. President, instead of exploiting our wounded  warriors so you can have your cake and eat it too, I suggest you go look under the nearest bridge and consider what you can do for the homeless veterans who are waiting to receive some real help.

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