Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike & Friends Blog

Michael Prysner

Michael Prysner is a veteran of the war in Iraq and an anti-war activist

May 11th, 2012 8:52 PM

Hands off Spc. Etterlee and all soldiers with PTSD!

No punishment for PTSD!

The crisis in mental health care at Fort Lewis, Wash. is a well-known scandal in the United States. As a result of public pressure from soldiers and their families, the Army has launched an official internal investigation, fired top doctors and commanders, and overturned hundreds of refusals to diagnose PTSD.

But the crisis is far from over. There has been no meaningful change whatsoever in the military’s mental health failure. The story of Spc. John Etterlee exposes the reality of the situation. He needs our support right now, as do all service members whose lives are being thrown away.

Please take a moment to email Spc. Etterlee’s command which is threatening to punish him for having PTSD.

The story of Spc. John Etterlee

John Etterlee joined the U.S. Army in 2001, was honorably discharged, then enlisted again in 2006. From a working-class town in rural Louisiana, lack of jobs and student loan debt led him to join both times.

In 2003, Spc. Etterlee was part of the invasion of Iraq, attached to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Unit.

He deployed to Iraq a second time and spent 15 months in Baghdad with 2/30th Infantry, 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain Division. Spc. Etterlee was a chemical specialist, but spent most of his deployment performing the duties of an infantryman in his unit, including raids, tower guard and convoy operations.

Those deployments would change his life forever—as they did for countless other GIs and an entire population of Iraqis.

On April 28, 2008, Spc. Etterlee’s close friend on the deployment and neighbor back in Louisiana, Sgt. Marcus Mathis, was killed in action. Spc. Etterlee told March Forward!:

“He was standing on the back of a flatbed truck when the mortars hit. It hit him and just blew his body all over the place. Three other people were killed that day” said Spc. Etterlee of the incident.

“I basically froze. I didn’t really talk. At this point I started to realize that the war was bullshit. I was reading a lot about it—there’s a lot of stuff you’re not going to know unless you dig, and I started getting that feeling. I started feeling empty, like ‘what the hell am I doing here.’ That pride I had once all went away. I didn’t really have any emotion, I was just there.

“That’s when sleep problems and anxiety really started. Initially I tried to get counseling for it, after about two or three weeks, but it got swept under the rug. I went to see the only combat trauma professionals available to us, but their main focus was to keep people in theater instead of treating them. Like anyone else I kept my mouth shut and kept going. When I got back my sleep problems never stopped, I’ve been battling that ever since.

“I never sleep more than a couple hours at a time. I’m waking up constantly from explosions, witnessing attacks, the trauma of having a couple of close calls myself. I’ve taken sleeping pills for the past 2 years, but they don’t work. I thrash around constantly in my sleep. I even had to stop sleeping in bed with my wife because it was too dangerous for her.  

“After trying so hard to get help I felt empty. The emptiness I felt came from not getting help from the people I turned to, my leaders. I didn’t know who to turn to. When that happens, you’re lost, there’s nothing you can do but live with it. I even got ridiculed for asking for help. My first sergeant laughed it off, told me to ‘suck it up.’”

“Help” at Fort Lewis

Depression, anxiety, and symptoms associated with the inability to sleep plagued Spc. Etterlee. When he arrived at Fort Lewis, he sought help for the life-changing symptoms he was experiencing. A doctor at the VA hospital made the obvious diagnosis—that Spc. Etterlee had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

One would expect that a U.S. soldier who dutifully followed all his orders, went to war twice, then had horrific experiences that left legitimate, life-altering wounds would be cared for, given treatment, and allowed to recover from his trauma.

But that’s not the way things work in the U.S. military. Despite a PTSD diagnosis from a VA doctor, Spc. Etterlee was told at Ft. Lewis’ Madigan Hospital that he didn’t have PTSD, but “adjustment disorder.” He was one of several hundred at Fort Lewis whose diagnoses were improperly overturned under Col. Homas, who was trying to “save taxpayer money” on therapy and compensation. Spc. Etterlee was offered next to nothing in terms of treatment.

“I’ve been to counselors, doctors, chain of command, everyone. Nobody would help. I went to see brigade chaplain and told him everything. Once I told him what was going on, he said ‘it seems like you’ve talked to everyone I can refer you to, so I don’t know what I can do for you.’”

The criminal neglect of GIs with PTSD throughout the entire U.S. military came under the spotlight at Fort Lewis, as over the past two years March Forward! members and other activists have been exposing the crisis and organizing soldiers against it. Just two months ago, this resulted in the firing of Col. Homas and two of the top doctors at the base hospital. More than 300 soldiers had their PTSD diagnosis re-instated, including Spc. Etterlee.

Punishment for having PTSD

Spc. Etterlee is currently undergoing the process of being medically discharged from the Army. But this process is notoriously long and arduous. Soldiers are expected to remain in their units and perform normal duties—a bizarre expectation, as the basis of their medical discharge is the inability to continue to perform required duties. Soldiers can be transferred to the Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB), which provides a much more stress-free, treatment-oriented unit while the medical discharge is in progress.

Soldiers always report that trying to seek help for PTSD and endure the medical discharge process while still in the original unit is far from adequate.

 “My anxiety level has increased so much. I’ve gotten no help whatsoever on it. I haven’t been able to concentrate on getting better at all, in fact I’m getting worse. I feel like I’m going to blow up. I feel like I’m on the edge.”

And officers still scratch their heads over why so many soldiers are committing suicide.

Spc. Etterlee has been trying to get reassigned to WTB, so he can get better treatment and focus on recovery while being medically discharged. The potential for that to happen is now under threat, as Spc. Etterlee is facing disciplinary action—for having PTSD.

Spc. Etterlee’s Battalion Commander, Colonel Sean Kirschner, has threatened to give him an Article 15 (legal disciplinary action) because Etterlee allegedly missed a doctor’s appointment. If Etterlee is charged, he then becomes ineligible to transfer to WTB for treatment.

“My sleep problems were taking over. I had two alarm clocks, and I’d sleep through both. I wasn’t late for anything one time my entire career in the Army. The medication they were giving me wasn’t working. Sleep kept getting worse. My chain of command didn’t want to hear that.”

Consider the absurdity of this situation: Spc. Etterlee is being medically discharged because doctors have ruled that his trauma and sleep disorder make him incapable of performing the duties required from him as a soldier; he is then being threatened with punishment for not being able to perform his duties as a result of that disability; punishment for symptoms of his disability will then prevent him from getting adequate treatment for that disability.

Spc. Etterlee has been active with March Forward! for several months, helping to expose the problems at Fort Lewis. Now he needs our help. We must unite to put pressure on his Battalion Commander so he does not issue an Article 15. We must also demand that Spc. Etterlee be immediately transferred to WTB until he is discharged.

Please join us in building pressure on Spc. Etterlee’s command to not punish soldiers with PTSD and transfer them to WTB.

Please take just a moment to click here to send an email to the Battalion Commander!

Spread the word and encourage others to participate. It is only by building a movement of soldiers, veterans, military families and supporters can we prevent our lives from being thrown away.

Disclaimer from Spc. John Etterlee: "In this interview I am only speaking for myself. The opinions are mine and not that of the U.S. military."

You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

If you have a moment today, I hope you can read the obituary for my father Francis (Frank) Moore, who died this past Saturday at the age of 92: Francis...

Apr 22nd
6:33 PM
Read More

My father, Francis (Frank) Moore, passed away this morning a few months shy if his 93rd birthday. He was a great dad I am blessed to have had him in my life. I...

Apr 20th
2:58 AM
Read More

Time to put the cuffs on Chris Christie -- not for the bridge scandal, but for this: Chris Christie's $300m pension proposal broke state anti-corruption...

Apr 18th
7:31 PM
Read More

George W. Bush Debuts New Paintings Of Dogs, Friends, Ghost Of Iraqi Child That Follows Him... President Bush has a new hobby -- painting! --...

Apr 17th
7:28 PM
Read More

Big new story from David Sirota and Pando on top Christie adviser and appearance of corruption at New Jersey's pension fund: REVEALED: Gov....

Apr 17th
12:41 PM
Read More

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law Donna Smith Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? Donna Smith We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa Nick Turse Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch Donna Smith The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles