30 May 2011

Scott Kimball and Aaron Hughes : Ft. Hood: 'On Watch' for Traumatized Soldiers

Memorial Day:
Ft. Hood 'Watchtower' on lookout
for mistreatment of soldiers with trauma

By Scott Kimball and Aaron Hughes / The Rag Blog / May 30, 2011

FORT HOOD, Texas -- Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), and representatives from Under the Hood GI Outreach Center and Café, erected a three-story watchtower outside Ft. Hood’s East Gate.

“We put up this guard tower to announce that we are putting General Campbell [Lt. Gen. Don Campbell Jr.] on watch for mistreatment of traumatized soldiers. As Third Corps commander, he is now accountable for the treatment of all the soldiers under his command," said Malachi Muncy, Under the Hood intern and member of IVAW. “This is how we are remembering our brothers and sisters for Memorial Day, by fighting for their right to heal.”

The veterans took turns standing guard on the tower while others handed out purple ribbons to soldiers heading into the East Gate.

“We are asking people to wear the ribbons this Memorial Day in remembrance of the service members we lost to suicide as well as those who are suffering from military sexual trauma, post traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injury” said Sergio Kochergin, member of IVAW and Disabled American Veterans.

Operation Recovery, a campaign led by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, calls for an end to the deployment of service members who have been diagnosed with trauma. The Operation Recovery campaign has been attempting to meet with General Campbell for over a month, sending certified letters and over 600 emails from supporters urging Campbell to meet with the Operation Recovery organizers at Ft. Hood.

According to representatives from IVAW, General Campbell has not responded to these requests.

On Wednesday, May 25, members of the Operation Recovery team went to Third Corps headquarters in an attempt to meet with Campbell. The organizers were turned away and questioned by security officials about their presence on post.

“We went to Third Corps with the hope that General Campbell would meet with us so that we could hear his plans for making changes at Ft. Hood. Instead, we were denied a meeting and questioned by the MPs,” said Kyle Wesolowski, manager of Under the Hood and member of IVAW.

The team was able to hand deliver a letter that listed Operation Recovery’s specific requests to one of Campbell’s aides. In the letter, the organizers requested a meeting with Campbell as well as information regarding Ft. Hood’s treatment of soldiers with trauma. The letter states specific demands including a threefold increase in the number of healthcare providers, mirroring the same increase in suicides at Ft. Hood last year.

The Operation Recovery campaign team chose Ft. Hood as their base of operations because of its reputation as the post with the highest suicide rate. The Army’s official suicide count for Ft. Hood last year was 22, nearly twice as many suicides as any other post.

“We are now holding General Campbell accountable for each and every suicide under his watch,” said Aaron Hughes, former sergeant, Iraq veteran and the Field Organizing Team Leader for IVAW. “Furthermore, we hold him responsible for every soldier under his command who is forced to deploy with military sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, or post traumatic stress disorder.”

Members of Ft. Hood’s mental health care staff are burdened with over 4,000 patients every month. The veteran organizers feel that this and other statistics support their claim that mental health care at Ft. Hood is subpar.

“The Ft. Hood command is providing inadequate care for its soldiers,” Said Scott Kimball, veteran of the Iraq War and an Operation Recovery organizer. “As of last year, there was only one counselor for all military sexual trauma cases on Ft. Hood. Current Army-wide statistics report that one in three women in the military report sexual assault.”

According to reporting from the San Antonio Express News, Ft. Hood spokesperson Chris Haug claimed that Campbell would respond when the organizers “are ready for a two way conversation.”

“We are ready and have been ready. This is what we have been asking for, an opportunity to sit down with General Campbell to help him understand the seriousness of these issues and what he can do right now to combat suicides and provide the care his soldiers deserve,” said Wesolowski.

[Scott Kimball is an organizer for Operation Recovery and Aaron Hughes is a field organizer for the Iraq Veterans Against the War. Operation Recovery is a national effort led by IVAW to stop the deployment of traumatized troops and the abuse of troops’ right to heal. For more information, go here.]

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