Stressed-Out Soldiers

U.S. soldier in Iraq
Lucian Read/World Picture Network
According to a recent report from the Veterans Administration, more than 50,000 vets from Iraq and Afghanistan are believed to be suffering from mental health problems — nearly half of them from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. It's well documented and, says the Pentagon, well treated both in the field and at home. But CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports that at least in one large military base in Colorado, soldiers are saying members of the Army Command are simply paying lip service, at best, to PTSD — hindering their treatment and upending their careers.

The 2nd Brigade Combat Team in Fort Carson, Colo., is training to go back to Iraq after experiencing some of the fiercest combat last year. The unit lost soldiers at double the rate of other Army posts around the country, including Pfc. Sam Lee, who committed suicide at a Ramadi Army barracks.

"As he was going outside, that's pretty much when I came in the room and saw him fire on himself," says Pvt. Tyler Jennings.

"The second round actually came by and just missed my head and hit my weapon," adds Pvt. Corey Davis. "So I had to use his weapon. And I mean I got it with his blood on it still."

Jennings and Davis say that surreal scene, among many others, led to nightmares, flashbacks and anxiety attacks — classic symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"I had panic attacks every time," says Jennings. "And I had it all set up, I was going to hang myself."

In a recent report, more than one-third of Iraqi war veterans sought help for mental health problems, including PTSD, within a year of returning home. A report from a congressional watchdog group detailed failures by the Department of Defense to identify and deal with anxiety issues like PTSD.

In the face of what some are calling an epidemic of PTSD in the military, nearly a dozen soldiers at Fort Carson told CBS News that their cries for mental health either went unanswered or they found themselves subject to unrelenting abuse and ridicule.

The Colorado Springs Independent contributed to this report.

Kaye Baron is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Colorado Springs, Colo. Each week, she counsels up to 25 soldiers and their families who are either unwilling or unable to face their problems while on base.

"I think it's a very big problem," says Baron. "They could potentially lose their promotion potential, or just feeling like they're not able to advance in their career. That it's kinda over for them."

Lt. Col. Eric Kruger, Commanding Officer of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team at Fort Carson, says he's concerned that soldiers aren't seeking help due to fears of fearing ridicule or reprisal.

"It's a tremendous concern," he says. "You don't want a soldier not to seek help for anything. They're our No. 1 asset. Leaders have to engage that every day — and in my experience here, we do.

Col. Kruger says the Army offers ample means to get help for PTSD without jeopardizing one's career — such as a comprehensive screening program in which soldiers are asked to answer questions about their mental state.

"You take this step; you fill out the boxes," says Keteyian.

"I did the right thing, 'cause I knew I needed help," Davis says.

"A cry for help, and nobody hears it?"

"No, there was no answer."

Today, Davis, like Jennings, has seen a once-promising career upended. Demoted to private for drug abuse — something experts say is a common coping mechanism for those suffering from the disorder — both face dishonorable discharges.

Both were forced to seek treatment off-base and have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Like many soldiers, they feel deserted by the Army they once so proudly served.

Update from Armen Keteyian July 19, 2006:

A footnote on the story we aired July 12, 2006 on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the military focusing on two Iraq war veterans posted at a huge Army base in Fort Carson, Colorado. Not so surprisingly, after our piece aired, reaction from a superior to comments made by Privates Tyler Jennings and Corey Davis about the lack of on-base help and treatment for PTSD was antagonistic and unsympathetic.

When I heard that news I found myself retreating to a conversation with Lt. Col. Eric Kruger, the commanding officer of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team at Fort Carson, in a parking lot outside his headquarters shortly after our interview ended. During that interview, Lt. Col. Kruger, a poster boy for the Pentagon, had made clear his feelings. Soldiers should feel comfortable seeking help, he said. To quote: "They're our number one asset. Leaders have to engage that. And, in my experience, we do."

In that parking lot I told him once again that wasn't our experience. Soldiers were afraid. Afraid of being labeled weak. Afraid of seeing their career scuttled. Afraid of being called a s**tbag or worse. Having covered the story for a while it seemed inconceivable to me the military would purposely turn its back on the very young men it sent to war to protect our freedom. As I shook Lt. Col. Kruger's hand for the final time he assured me he would not let that happen — which made the news about the initial reaction to Tyler and Corey's public cry for help all the more unsettling.