Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Army recruiting standards at a dangerous low

Emily documented the case of Steven Green, a former Army private who was sent to Iraq despite a history of drug and alcohol abuse, and criminal record and recently indicted on 17 counts of murder, sexual assault and obstruction. She mentioned that Green wasn’t the only one; that the Army had lowered its recruiting standards to allow thousands of people with criminal records to serve in Iraq.

Well it seems that the Army has since been digging even deeper for new recruits. Take for example, Spc. Anthony Vanderpool:
"The government's own military doctors knew that Spc. Anthony Vanderpool was mentally unbalanced. He had been admitted to the Bronx and Manhattan Veterans hospitals for major depressive disorder, dizziness, spells, auditory hallucinations and suicidal ideation, according to his V.A. records. And this was before he even went to Iraq." More
Vanderpool was in Iraq for ten months where he was depressed, paranoid, suicidal and on heavy medications. At one point he was treated by a psychiatrist in Iraq who recommended that Vanderpool’s weapon be confiscated as he was a threat to himself and others. This was not enough to send him back home, though eventually Vanderpool was honorably discharge after he “spun out of control."

Vanderpool’s story is not unique: The US has sent thousands of mentally unfit soldiers to Iraq since the war began. In May of this year the Hartford Courant reported on the Army’s practice of sending soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other combat-related illnesses back to battle. I suggest you read the entire report as it is very interesting, but it is the case of Sgt. Syverson that really got me.
"Eight months ago, Staff Sgt. Bryce Syverson was damaged goods, so unsteady that doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center wouldn't let him wear socks or a belt.

Syverson, 27, had landed in the psychiatric unit at Walter Reed after a breakdown that doctors traced to his 15-month tour in Iraq as a gunner on a Bradley tank. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and was put on a suicide watch and antidepressants, according to his family. Today, Syverson is back in the combat zone, part of a quick-reaction force in Kuwait that could be summoned to Iraq at any time.

He got his deployment orders after being told he wasn't fit for duty.

He got his gun back after being told he was too unstable to carry a weapon."
He got his gun back after being told he was too unstable to carry a weapon?! This is unbelievable. Are we really so desperate for new troops that we will send soldiers to Iraq that could potentially put the lives of their fellow soldiers and the Iraqi civilians they are supposed to protect at risk? Where is the oversight? Isn’t this where congress is supposed to step in?

Apparently in June, Sens. Boxer, Kennedy, Lieberman and Clinton sponsored an amendment to the last Defense Appropriations Bill that called for more thorough mental health screening and detailed guidelines on what precludes deployment to a combat zone. However, the final legislation dropped a provision that would have required screeners to take a mental health history. And so those who suffer from mental health issues continue to be deployed to Iraq.

I'm horrified to think what it will take for the Army to address this issue.

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