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Off track


Major law-enforcement and psychological agencies in Colorado Springs are not tracking incidents involving returning soldiers and their families in a way that would spotlight pathways for help.

Pikes Peak Mental Health, a community nonprofit that treats families from Fort Carson and other military installations, has seen the need for soldier care surge since the war began, says spokeswoman Cynthia Zupanec. But she cannot say whether post-traumatic stress disorder is predominant among the issues at hand.

While the El Paso County jail gathers data on the arrests of military personnel, it does not record the specific unit the soldier is with a measure that would help indicate whether there is ebb and flow into the jail for crimes generally associated with the mental health of soldiers returning from war.

Georg-Andreas "Andrew" Pogany, a former Fort Carson soldier who leads Operation Just One, a group that helps Iraq war veterans obtain confidential, free counseling, says local agencies should be gathering data to see if PTSD is causing a rise in social ills.

"We know it is out there," he says. "But how will they know how and where to target resources how to help these soldiers if they aren't taking the time to track what happens when soldiers return? How will they prevent problems before they escalate?"

One of those problems is drunk driving. The base acknowledges a rise in arrests, but does not necessarily connect the problem to PTSD although many doctors and therapists say alcohol abuse can be a symptom of untreated PTSD.

"[Given] the people I come in contact with, that is not necessarily an issue I see," says Ernestine Richardson, Fort Carson's substance abuse prevention officer. She adds that soldiers seem more prone to drink simply because they tend to be young.

The 2nd Brigade Combat Team has recently sent ranking soldiers in uniform to cruise popular downtown bars like Rumbay and Tony's. They remind drinking soldiers to designate a sober driver.

And Fort Carson's substance-abuse program recently hosted several voluntary events, such as visits from tough-talk nurses.

Last fall, Fort Carson stopped referring drunk-driving arrests to a federal magistrate downtown.

"The command was under the impression that [court] action, if any was taken, was slow in the coming, and that it led to the appearance that nothing much was happening to soldiers who got caught driving under the influence of alcohol on Fort Carson," says Maj. Tiernan Dolan, Fort Carson's chief of military justice.

Base commanders now dole out punishments including extra duty, docked pay and, sometimes, discharges, he says.

Yet the drunk-driving arrests continue.

In the six months through June 30, Fort Carson had logged 75 drunk-driving arrests involving soldiers on base putting the base on pace to top arrest totals in each of the past three years. In fact, the 2006 total to date already surpasses the total arrests for soldiers and civilians on base in all of 2003.

There are also numerous arrests of soldiers off base, says Sgt. L.C. Morgan of Colorado Springs police. But he doesn't know how many, or whether PTSD plays any role.

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