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Not one more soldier


Nine U.S. senators have signed a letter demanding a military-wide investigation. Specifically, they want to know what is happening to combat veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental-health issues.

They along with anyone who has followed the news over the past year are agitated by disturbing reports that many veterans are being misdiagnosed, mistreated and forced out because of conditions directly related to combat.

Back in December, the nine senators originally requested an examination of such practices. They never heard back from the Department of Defense. Now they are formally demanding an investigation.

In their letter, they cite reports of Fort Carson soldiers being denied treatment, being called malingerers and being redeployed to Iraq without treatment reports detailed in media outlets at home, including the Colorado Springs Independent, and across the country, including CBS and National Public Radio.

Here are the senators who signed the letter: Barack Obama, Barbara Boxer, Kit Bond, Joseph Lieberman, Daniel Akaka, Tom Harkin, Patty Murray, Bernie Sanders and Claire McCaskill.

Six Democrats, one Republican and two independents.

And not one of them is from Colorado.

"There are allegations of commanders at Fort Carson, Colorado, denying soldiers access to mental health care and instead ordering them redeployed for additional tours in Iraq," the senators wrote. "We have also heard of cases in which service members with PTSD are diagnosed as having "personality disorders' that the Army considers 'pre-existing,' thus depriving otherwise eligible combat veterans of disability benefits and much-needed mental healthcare."

Cody Wertz, spokesman for Sen. Ken Salazar, explains that his boss "believes the issue, PTSD, is a national issue and not specific to one base."

In other words, the senator, Wertz says, supports a "system-wide" review.

OK. Except that the nine senators' current demand while specifically referencing Fort Carson is for a system-wide review.

Steve Wymer, spokesman for Sen. Wayne Allard, offers this rationale as to why neither his boss nor Salazar was included among the signatories:

"It is probably the result of both senators being in frequent communication with the commander [at Fort Carson]," Wymer says. "[Allard] has received assurances from the commander, and we have not been contacted by one soldier who has complained about treatment."

Therein the problem may lie. If a soldier complains to a United States senator that he or she is suffering from PTSD, or having hallucinations, or being disciplined or threatened or being called a "shitbag," what are the chances that commanding officer is going to tell all when a senator calls him up? Chances are it's not going to be, "Yes, sir! Was calling the private a 'shitbag,' sir! Will halt all reference to the 'shitbag,' sir!"

Nope, the commander is far more likely to play along these lines: "We'll certainly look into it, but it all sounds like a terrible misunderstanding, Senator. Thank you, certainly, for bringing this to my attention. As you know, we take these complaints very seriously..."

If that sounds harsh, so be it. If that's happening now, it needs to change. And that's exactly what Andrew Pogany and others are describing.

Pogany, a former Fort Carson soldier working with Veterans for America, has brought forth 25 cases of other soldiers who believe they were improperly discharged. During the course of his work, he says, he has encountered the above scenario with regularity. There is, he notes, virtually no chance for independent oversight of complaints lodged with members of Congress.

Which means, of course, Salazar and Allard not only should sign that letter calling for an investigation, but they should lead immediate efforts to further empower soldiers who look to their government representatives for help.

It's the very least that the soldiers at Fort Carson and, yes, system-wide deserve.

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