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THE SOLDIER'S HEART

WRITTEN, PRODUCED & DIRECTED BY
Raney Aronson

 

STEVE ROBINSON, National Gulf War Resource Ctr.: You don't have to be an amputee to be wounded. There is a psychological cost to this war that is no less debilitating.

JACOB MARTIN, 1st Marine Division: I couldn't pick up a weapon without thinking about shooting myself or somebody else when I first got back.

ROB SARRA, Fmr. Sergeant, 1st Marine Division: It was like this switch flipped inside me, and I was just, like, "OK, what— why can't I function right now?"

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, stories from The Soldier's Heart.

STEVE ROBINSON: I've talked to soldiers that say, "I'd much rather be an amputee than to be psychologically injured. At least when you looked at me, you could see what my problem was."

KEVIN LUCEY, Jeff Lucey's Father: We never knew how deep the despair can be. We never knew how tormented he was.

 

ROB SARRA, Fmr. Sergeant, 1st Marine Division: I remember being in northern Kuwait, southern Iraq. I remember moving up to the border. I remember how flat it was. And I remember my company commander over the radio, saying, you know, "Welcome to Iraq, gentlemen. Enjoy your stay." And you know, "Here we are." And it's like, "Wow, we're— we just invaded another country." You know, "We're here, across the border."

I remember being inside the vehicle and looking through the little window ports — with my night-vision goggles on, everything's green — and seeing destroyed vehicles, dead Iraqis, dead Marines. And you're talking on the intercom to the driver, and it's, like, "Dude, did you see that tank?" "Yeah." "Oh, my God. Did you see those vehicles?" "Yeah. Did you see those dead Iraqis?" I don't know, you just— you're talking to the guys to make sure you saw what you saw.

I remember when the Fedayeen and guerrilla attacks started. It got to the point where we didn't know who was who. We didn't know who the enemy was. You started hearing reports of car bombs and people walking up to vehicles and blowing themselves up in front of the vehicles.

NARRATOR: Rob Sarra had been a Marine for seven years when the war in Iraq began. A sergeant in the 1st Marine Division, he was part of the "tip of the spear," the first troops to reach Baghdad. In late March, 2003, his unit was in Ash Shatrah in southern Iraq, standing guard at the edge of the town.

ROB SARRA: The feeling was still pretty intense. Everyone was still kind of fired up, pumped up. And there had been reports of suicide bombers, you know, for the past couple of days, and that, you know, the possibilities of suicide bombers— "Watch it." You know, "Just be aware."

So I'm sitting there on top of my vehicle, talking to one of the drivers. As I'm sitting there, all of a sudden, I see this woman walking out of the town, just slowly walking, walking, walking. And I'm, like, "OK, that doesn't look right." She was wearing all black. She was in an all-black burqa. She had a bag under her arm.

And the Marines— all of a sudden, I see the Marines in the vehicle yelling at her to stop. You know, they're putting their arms up, telling her to stop. They're raising up their weapons. She keeps coming. I said, "OK, one of two things is going to happen. We either have to shoot her, or she's going to walk up to that vehicle and blow up and kill the guys that are in that vehicle." So I picked my weapon up and aimed in.

And the sound of my rounds going out got the guys in the other vehicle to open up, as well. And they opened up on her with, I mean, 15 weapons. I mean, she just got torn to pieces. And as she fell, which was pretty fast— as she fell down, she was reaching into her bag. And she was probably 50 yards from the vehicle— hit the ground, and there was a white flag in her hand.

And right then and there, I was just, like, "What the hell happened?" I was crying, hysterical. You know, this woman got killed by my actions. I mean, that was something that plagued me.

I remember writing in my journal, "I'm not going to tell anybody about this." It's something that happened, that happens in war, and I just— your mom shouldn't have to hear about you shooting a civilian woman. That's all there is to it. I wasn't going to talk to anybody about it. But little did I know, it kind of worked itself back up to the surface when I came home.

JIM DOOLEY, VA Mental Health Counselor: When soldiers return, they begin to struggle internally with what they experienced, what they did and what they didn't do.

NARRATOR: Jim Dooley was a soldier in Vietnam and has counseled combat veterans for the last 20 years.

JIM DOOLEY: When you're finally back here and you finally make connection with your safety, which is your family, that's when you begin to vibrate with the fact of where you were. Now you can actually acknowledge how scared you were. This is the most damaging type of war, psychiatrically. You have no protection anywhere at all times, and therefore, you're in constant death threat. You're also witnessing death at an incredibly close range. And you're witnessing the carnage.

NARRATOR: Coming home, they each bring their own stories of war and survival — for many of them, stories that remain intensely private — about battles still not over.

On July 13th, 2003, a bus carrying the Marine reserves of the 6th Motor Transport Battalion arrived in New Haven, Connecticut. The unit had been in Iraq since the beginning of the war, and now they were coming home.

JOYCE LUCEY, Jeff Lucey's Mother: Oh, it was great. They had police. They had sirens ringing. It was— it was just great. Everybody had flags.

NARRATOR: Joyce Lucey was there with her family, waiting for the return of their son, Jeff, a lance corporal with the unit.

JOYCE LUCEY: The bus was supposed to go all the way around the park, but I think the guys just wanted the bus to stop and let them out.

JULIE PROULX, Jeff Lucey's Girlfriend: I actually didn't see him get off the bus because there were so many. And they are all in uniform, so they all look the same. He seemed to be doing great. And it was just really nice to have him home.

KEVIN LUCEY, Jeff Lucey's Father: He was tanned. There was no wounds. There was no cuts. He looked great. So we thought, "He's safe and sound." That was our biggest mistake. It was.

NARRATOR: Jeff and his unit were to be home for a number of months before returning to Iraq. Rather than spending this time on a military base, Marine reserves like Jeff are returned home to pick up their lives as civilians.

JOYCE LUCEY: He went back to school and he functioned well until I believe it was March. He did his mid-terms. He did well. And right after that, he seemed to start falling apart.

KEVIN LUCEY: You try to ignore it because the military told us, "He's going to go through an adjustment period. Don't push. Understand that there's going to be things maybe happening you might not understand right away. Don't be concerned. Just watch them."

JOYCE LUCEY: He drank more. He tended to stay by himself. He sat by the fireplace. He'd have a cigarette. And then he would go out on the deck and talk.

JULIE PROULX: He started to talk more about Iraq, the combat situations and things he saw of people who had been wounded and things that bothered him more.

NARRATOR: Jeff had been a truck driver in Iraq. His unit was responsible for transporting supplies and munitions along the country's perilous roads.

JULIE PROULX: When he would talk about Iraq, he was distant. He was speaking, but staring off into space, like he was reliving it almost. He was always saying, "You'd never understand. You don't understand the way it was."

JIM DOOLEY: I think what happens with the returning vet is that they have these feelings, these images, these smells, these nightmares occurring frequently, and they're quite disturbed by it. And I think that is the golden hour of being able to have someone surface or— or reach out to someone and say, "Gee, how're you doing with that experience?" They're more likely to be able to say, "These are the things that are happening to me, and I don't know what to do with them. And I'm feeling bad about myself."

Col. THOMAS BURKE, M.D., Dir. Mental Health Policy, DoD: The soldiers are not a homogeneous group. There are going to be some who are going to kind of just go through the experience, and they'll have a bad day or a couple of bad days and they'll work through it, and they won't ever get very distressed.

NARRATOR: Colonel Thomas Burke directs mental health policy for the Department of Defense.

Col. THOMAS BURKE: But nobody comes back from combat unchanged. They will have expectations about what their families are going to be like. Their families have expectations about what they're going to be like. And the one thing that is absolutely true about all of those expectations is all of them are going to be wrong.

NARRATOR: Twenty-two-year-old Jacob Martin has been home from Iraq for eight months. His parents say they noticed almost at once that their son had changed.

CECILIA MARTIN, Jacob Martin's Mother: At first, we thought it was just physical. One day, we were just sitting on the sofa, and Jake just popped out with beads of sweat just, you know, pouring down his face. And I went, "Jake, are you OK? What's"— you know, "Why are you sweating?" He goes, "Oh, Mom, I don't know. I've just been doing this since I got back from Iraq."

JAMES MARTIN, Jacob Martin's Father: He was very, very angry and very depressed and he had a lot of emotional turmoil. He told me that before they went into battle, they were taught how to just basically give their lives away, let go of their lives, consider themselves dead. I don't believe a human being can do that without a toll being taken on them.

JACOB MARTIN, 1st Marine Division: When we first went there, yeah, we were— I was scared. But after we got there, there was no reason— you know, being scared doesn't do anything for you. When you're over there and you see people that are scared, you know, you're just, like, you know, "I'm glad that's not me." You know, you don't want to— I'd rather be numb than scared, you know?

NARRATOR: Jacob was a machine gunner with the 1st Marine Division.

JACOB MARTIN: I didn't expect to come home whatsoever. That was not in the plan. My platoon is, you know, mechanized. You know, we roll around in trucks. That's all we do is roll around in trucks, you know? All the IEDs were hitting vehicles, and I was figuring, "OK, I'm in a vehicle. I'm going to die."

NARRATOR: In April 2004, Jacob's unit was called to provide support for the first major assault on Fallujah.

JACOB MARTIN: We set up a blocking position up at one of the dams, and we just sat there. You'd sit there and you'd watch the planes coming in, you know, dropping bombs, using their heavy guns. You'd hear the fighting up the street from, you know, my buddy platoons going at it.

Every day, they'd be, like, "All right, you're moving tomorrow. You're moving in tomorrow. You're moving in tomorrow." Every day, they'd tell us we're moving in tomorrow. We never moved. We'd just sat there, and we were, like, "What the [deleted] is this?"

NARRATOR: After nearly a month-long siege, U.S. troops withdrew from Fallujah.

JACOB MARTIN: We felt like we really didn't get to do our jobs. It kind of made it feel, like, "OK, all of these Marines that died over there, they died for no reason because we got pulled out." You feel like you let your friends down, you let your country down. You know, everything you were trained to do, you've let down.

NARRATOR: Back in the rear with little to do, Jacob says, his mood began to change.

JACOB MARTIN: My brain just kind of snapped, I guess. I just woke up one day and everything was different. I began hating people that were friends of mine. I couldn't stand the sight of them. If someone were to yell at me, you know, I could get mad. And sometimes, you know, after I get mad, you know, I'd— you know, I'd go into an anxiety attack, start shaking, start panicking, you know, just have a ball of emotions and have no idea what's— you know, why am I feeling like this. You know, I didn't know what the hell was wrong with me.

When I wasn't out on patrol, I'd spend a lot of my time just staring at walls. Didn't even read books, didn't even think, didn't listen to music or anything, just trying to sleep through the day when I wasn't working. I was hoping I'd die. I didn't really— you know, I was hoping it would end soon, but it never did.

Lt. Col. DAVE GROSSMAN, U.S. Army (Ret.), Author, On Combat: Gang, what I want you to understand is this. On any given day, World War I, World War II and Korea— on any given day, we had more psychiatric casualties than all the ones killed by the enemy.

NARRATOR: Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman is a retired Army Ranger and has written extensively on the psychological impact of combat.

Lt. Col. DAVE GROSSMAN: In World War II alone, we had over 500,000 psychiatric casualties.

NARRATOR: Although not part of the military's regular training, Grossman was invited to speak to this group of Marines shortly before they deployed to Iraq.

Lt. Col. DAVE GROSSMAN: At one point in World War II, we were discharging boys from the front lines because their minds went faster than we were drafting them in America. Do you understand? How many of you knew about that? Yeah. We know about the dead. We know about the wounded. But Grandpa's not going to come home and tell you about the day he went Section 8. You understand?

For those who are psychologically damaged, there's a tendency to feel that there's something wrong with them. There's not. We can track combat psychological disorders back as far as we have records of war.

NARRATOR: In the Civil War, soldiers who showed signs of such a disorder were said to have "nostalgia" or be suffering from "soldier's heart." In World War I, the condition was called "shell shock," in World War II, "battle fatigue."

Lt. Col. DAVE GROSSMAN: In World War II, we really had the first real understanding of the post-traumatic casualties and psychoses and the neuroses that would derive from it, but it wasn't until Vietnam that we really put our finger on it.

NARRATOR: Nearly one in three Vietnam veterans would eventually suffer from emotional problems. At first, they were said to have "post-Vietnam syndrome." But after years of study, it became clear that all of the various names were describing the same reactions to combat and a specific syndrome. The American Psychiatric Association created a new diagnosis which included both psychological and biological symptoms. They called it "post-traumatic stress disorder," or PTSD.

[www.pbs.org: More on PTSD]

Lt. Col. DAVE GROSSMAN: Folks, the point I want to make to you is this. Your enemy is denial.

NARRATOR: Colonel Grossman's lecture to these Marines focuses on what he believes is a deficit in military training.

Lt. Col. DAVE GROSSMAN: How do we make sure that our guys are going to instinctively, reflexively shoot the right person? What's the magic word here? Training. This is a training issue. Do we all agree? Every football coach, every basketball coach knows if we drill, drill, drill, drill, under the stress of the big game, the skill will be there for you. We turn it into muscle memory, into auto-pilot response. You all understand that?

Now, I trick you into killing, your brain is not ready to come along on the ride, who's the next victim? You are. You've got to be ready, mind, body and spirit. Embrace that dirty four-letter word "kill." You'll read 100 military manuals, and you'll seldom find that word "kill."

Through modern conditioning, we've trained them not just to shoot, but to shoot accurately. But if we haven't prepared ourselves emotionally for the act ahead of time — if we just trick you into killing — the magnitude of the trauma can be significant because we're having to live with something that your body says is not right, that you didn't want to do. And if you fail to be able to accept what you've done, to rationalize what you've done, then you spin down one of the paths to PTSD.

[www.pbs.org: Read Grossman's interview]

NARRATOR: For Marine sergeant Rob Sarra, the downward spiral began, he says, in the moments after the incident in Ash Shatrah, where he had fired on an unarmed civilian woman. Distraught, Rob had confided in his gunnery sergeant.

ROB SARRA: He said, "We'll be OK." "This happens. It's going to happen. We'll get over it. We'll be OK." I believed him when he said that. You know, "We're going to make it through, we'll be all right, and we're just going to put it all behind us." And then later on, it just— it got worse. The situation went from bad to worse.

NARRATOR: Three days later, he was ordered to lead a mission back into Ash Shatrah. He refused the order.

ROB SARRA: I couldn't understand, in my own mind, why that happened. It was like this switch flipped inside me, and I was, like, "OK, what— why can't I function right now?" And my lieutenant was, like, "I can't believe I'm hearing this from you. You're not the kind of guy that would do this. I can't believe I'm hearing you say what you're saying."

NARRATOR: For refusing an order, Rob was relieved of his leadership position and became a provisional rifleman. With his tour in Iraq over, he returned to his hometown of Chicago. But being far from combat didn't solve his problems.

ROB SARRA: I was drinking a lot. I was drinking heavily, like every night, getting into fights, like at the drop of a hat in a bar, which happened a couple of times.

NARRATOR: One of those times was at a bar in Milwaukee.

ROB SARRA: Guy was talking some trash in the bar. And we walked outside. And when we got outside, he hit me. And then I don't really remember what happened after that. And I wake up, kind of came to, and I'm sitting on the ground. I had the guy sitting in front of me. I had him in a chokehold, and the guy was going limp. And I feel somebody hitting the back of my neck, and it's my buddy hitting me, yelling at me to let the guy go. There are girls, two girls grabbing this guy's ankles, trying to pull him away from me, like I was a pit bull or a shark or something. I wasn't letting go.

And I finally let go of the guy when he went limp, and got up and walked back into the bar like nothing had happened. You know, at that point, I was, like, if I had killed this dude, I mean, if I, like, broke his neck, you know, there's no getting around that. And it scared me. And I think it snapped me into reality, where I was, like, "All right, you've got to take care of this."

NARRATOR: Returning to Camp Pendleton, the Marine base where he had trained, Rob asked to see a therapist. The decision, he says, was not easy.

ROB SARRA: There's a connotation by your name, at that point, kind of a little check by your name, like, "OK, now he's," you know, "saying he's got combat stress," or whatever. The thing is, you're not supposed to show any weakness. And refusing to go on a mission and then me saying, "I've got to go get some help" are two things that really showed weakness.

And mainstream Marines are, like, "What's wrong with this guy?" You know, "He's a sergeant. Sergeants are supposed to be supermen."

ANDREW POMERANTZ, M.D., U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs: The stigma to receiving mental health services inside the military is huge. I think the biggest barrier that I hear about is being thought of as a wimp— you know, someone who just can't hack it in the midst of a culture of people who can.

NARRATOR: Andrew Pomerantz is the chief of mental health services for the VA in Vermont.

ANDREW POMERANTZ: Many people simply either fear being exposed as a weakling, which certainly impacts on the military culture of strength, or actually fear retribution and punishment if they express psychological distress.

JONATHAN SHAY, M.D., Ph.D., Author, Odysseus in America: There is the firmly entrenched belief that, at least historically, has been based on reality, that simply being known to have consulted mental health is career-ending.

NARRATOR: Jonathan Shay is a psychiatrist and has written about combat veterans returning home.

JONATHAN SHAY: Now, there are people who pooh-pooh that and say they've changed all that. Maybe it's changed right inside the Pentagon, but there are plenty of things that happen right inside the Pentagon that never get out to the field in terms of actually influencing people's beliefs and behavior.

NARRATOR: In late September, 2003, Staff Sergeant Andrew Pogany arrived in Iraq. Andrew was a military interrogator and a member of the U.S. Army special forces, one of the most elite units in the military. Less than a week after landing in country, Andrew saw the mutilated body of a dead Iraqi and began to suffer from panic attacks.

Staff Sgt. ANDREW POGANY, U.S. Army Special Forces: I started shaking. I was sweating. It got to the point where I was hallucinating. The most frightening or bizarre thing about it was that I had no clue as to what was happening. And I couldn't turn it off and it wouldn't go away, and I couldn't clear my mind.

NARRATOR: After two days with no relief, Andrew was sent north to Tikrit, where he met with a mental health specialist in the field.

CHEYENNE FORSYTHE, Fmr. Specialist, U.S. Army: It was about time a special forces soldier was coming to see us because we know what they go through. We know what they have to put away. And they shouldn't have to put it away because that's what we're there for.

NARRATOR: Cheyenne Forsythe was part of a military initiative being used extensively for the first time in Iraq. Called Combat Stress Control Teams, they're groups of mental health specialists deployed on the front lines, right alongside the fighting forces. Cheyenne met with Andrew in one of Saddam Hussein's old palaces.

CHEYENNE FORSYTHE: What I wrote down, and what I remember, is he said he didn't want to die there. No one wants to die there, but you have a job to do, and you either make peace with yourself and— knowing that you probably will die here or you probably will go home, and then you go from there.

NARRATOR: Cheyenne recommended Andrew be given the standard treatment for someone with combat stress, three days of rest with the "Restoration Team."

CHEYENNE FORSYTHE: We delivered our recommendations to Sergeant Pogany's command one or two days later, and that's when I saw what Sergeant Pogany was up against.

NARRATOR: According to Andrew, his command had opposed his requests to get help from the start. Now his command refused the Combat Stress Control Team's recommendations. As Cheyenne looked on, he says, Andrew's sergeant major ordered Andrew to stay away from his fellow soldiers, calling him a coward.

CHEYENNE FORSYTHE: It was shocking to see how the sergeant major responded. It was shocking to see him berate Sergeant Pogany in front of us.

NARRATOR: Andrew says the verbal attacks continued the next day.

ANDREW POGANY: They berated me for an hour. They called me everything from a failure to a coward to telling me that if this would have happened 50 years ago, they would take me out back and just shoot me. And at that point, I'm just, like, stunned.

NARRATOR: Andrew was sent home by his command to Fort Carson, the base from which he had deployed. And one week later, he was charged with cowardly conduct before the enemy.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN: Heroism and cowardice: Both are in the headlines tonight. In the case of heroism, it is the story of Private Jessica Lynch. On the other side, an Army investigator who is accused of cowardice—

NARRATOR: The cowardice story made headlines—

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: —for suffering a panic attack on his second day in Iraq—

NARRATOR: —both outside the military and within.

STEVE ROBINSON, National Gulf War Resource Ctr.: The notion that you would give up on somebody after they sought mental health care treatment is what the stigma is all about. And it sent a shockwave.

NARRATOR: Steve Robinson is a Gulf war veteran and heads up the National Gulf War Resource Center, a veterans advocacy group.

STEVE ROBINSON: I got emails from soldiers who were having psychological problems. They did not know where to turn, if this was going to be their response from the military. Really, what the military was trying to do, what his— what— what the very first person that said he was a coward— and that's not the word they used. That's not what they called him. They called him a [deleted] pussy — that he was a pussy because he wouldn't go out and fight. And the reason they said that was they were trying to send a message that fear will not be tolerated.

NARRATOR: The Army has stated in the press that the reason they sent Andrew back to Fort Carson was because he had repeatedly requested to go home. Andrew says he had wanted to remain in Iraq and had only asked to go home when his command refused him treatment in the field. FRONTLINE wanted to talk to army officials at Fort Carson about Andrew's case, but they declined to comment.

[www.pbs.org: More on the obstacles to getting help]

Colonel Elspeth Ritchie, a high-ranking Army psychiatrist, also wouldn't discuss Andrew's case, but she would comment on the Army's policies.

Col. ELSPETH CAMERON RITCHIE, M.D., Consultant to Army Surgeon General: In World War I and in other subsequent wars, there were soldiers who were tried and shot for cowardice. And now, looking back, we think that it was a combat stress reaction. We've learned a lot about the way humans respond to combat. Unfortunately, in some cases, it's still misinterpreted.

NARRATOR: In fact, when the Army did their own survey of troops serving in Iraq, nearly half of those most in need of psychological help reported that they felt if they asked for such help, their leaders would blame them for the problem, that they would be seen as weak and that their unit would have less confidence in them.

JULIE PROULX, Jeff Lucey's Girlfriend: Jeff was very reluctant to do counseling, to do anything. He didn't want to show any weakness. He didn't want the Marines to think he was weak. So he was very reluctant.

NARRATOR: By the spring of 2004, Jeff Lucey had been home from Iraq for almost a year. As a Marine reserve on leave, he saw the men from his unit just once a month at training, and his fellow Marines say they saw little change in Jeff's behavior.

Cpl. DAN GAY, Jeff Lucey's Unit: Jeff was able to hide his problems pretty well.   He wasn't maybe as outgoing as he used to be. You know, when I spoke to him, you know, "How— how's things going? How you been, man?" "All right. You know, good. Fine." "What have you been up to?" "Oh, usual." But it wasn't much. I mean, it was— you really have to know Jeff in order to see things like that.

NARRATOR: The military also had no reason to be concerned about Jeff. Servicemen and women returning from duty are required to complete a post-combat questionnaire designed to target troubled soldiers. And they are offered help. Jeff had indicated on his forms that he felt fine, for the most part, and declined any help.

His fellow Marine, Dan, who was with Jeff at the time, said he wasn't surprised by Jeff's answers.

DAN GAY: We had questionnaires, you know, the standard, "If you have any problems, write them down now and we'll keep you here and we'll study them until we figure whether you're better or not." You just want to go home. Nobody wants to sit there and say, "Yeah, I— I don't sleep so good anymore," you know, "My knee hurts a little bit" or something like that. Generally speaking, you— you just say, "I'm A-OK." And you want to go home and see your family.

NARRATOR: But as the months passed since Jeff's return home, his family, says they watched Jeff deteriorate. One afternoon in late spring, Jeff and his mother, Joyce, took a walk together in the woods behind the family house.

JOYCE LUCEY: I think it was at the end of May. And he had me listen to a song that— with earphones. He put the earphones on me and he had our dog by the leash, and he said, "Let's go for a walk." The words in it talk about looking down the barrel of .45. And when I first heard that, I kind of looked at him. And he goes, "No, no, I'm not thinking of that, Mom." He said, "I'm thinking the barrel— looking down the barrel is like looking down a long tunnel." And then it says, "Whatever happened to the young man's heart swallowed in pain as he fell apart."

And I'm saying, "It's him. He's, like, telling me." He's walking beside me, I'm listening to these words, and I know it's describing him. He was falling apart right before our eyes.

I didn't know how to help him, as scared as I was. You don't know what to do. You know, you're looking at him, and you're saying, "He needs help."

NARRATOR: Jeff's family says that Jeff had always been a social drinker, but after returning from Iraq, he had begun drinking to excess, often alone, sometimes beginning early in the morning. He was now seeing a private therapist and on anti-depressants, but nothing seemed to be helping.

JULIE PROULX: We had really tried for a while to just help him ourselves. And it got to the point where we felt, like, you know, we're not professionals. We don't understand. Maybe another veteran could understand.

NARRATOR: Jeff was eligible for psychiatric services at his local Veterans Affairs medical center, and his family encouraged him to go. But Jeff refused.

KEVIN LUCEY: Jeff thought that the VA, and we thought that the VA was part of the military. And Jeff was afraid that if we brought him to the VA, what was going to happen immediately was that his unit would be contacted, his officers would be disappointed and he would have disappointed his colleagues, his men.

NARRATOR: The VA is not part of the military, and they assured Jeff's family that his records would be kept private. Finally, at the end of May, 10 months after returning home, Jeff checked into the Northampton VA. As a patient under special observation, Jeff was not allowed any alcohol.

JULIE PROULX: He stayed for a couple of days, but then he wanted to come home. He wanted to actually come home and drink, is what he said.

NARRATOR: The VA declined FRONTLINE's request to discuss the details of Jeff's case. In partial medical notes released to his family, it was written on the day he was admitted that Jeff had exhibited "a plan or intention to harm himself, plan to OD, or hang himself." But three days later, notations on these reports concluded he was no longer an imminent danger to others or himself.

JACOB MARTIN, 1st Marine Division: About two months after I came back, it all started hitting me. Once you take down all those walls, you know, of being numb over there, and you come home, you can't be numb anymore. So you numb yourself with something. After you get rid of all that crap that numbs you, you know, you start feeling that [deleted].

NARRATOR: By August of 2004, Jacob Martin had returned to Camp Pendleton. His unit was back in training, preparing for redeployment to Iraq.

JAMES MARTIN, Jacob Martin's Father: When he got back to California, and Jacob had been back maybe a week, he began to call me. And he was quite distraught.

JACOB MARTIN: I couldn't pick up a weapon without thinking about shooting myself or somebody else when I first got back. I couldn't— you know, I couldn't have any weapons, any knives or anything like that when I first came back.

JAMES MARTIN: He didn't talk about being angry about the Iraqis or the war, he talked about being angry at the Marines. He felt like he needed some help to deal with his depression, his anger, and they were discouraging him from getting it. And he felt that was a raw deal.

JACOB MARTIN: We're trained not to hurt. It's all about, "OK, just suck it the [deleted] up." That's our big deal, just suck it up. Basically, you've got to tell these guys" I'm going to kill everyone" for them to let you go to, you know, get medical help, for them to actually get off your case about it.

NARRATOR: Two months after his return from Iraq, Jacob says, he went to see a division psychiatrist, who diagnosed him with PTSD.

JACOB MARTIN: I didn't really accept what they had to tell me. The answer wasn't good enough, you know? I wanted, you know, someone to say, "OK, you're completely clinically insane." You know, "We're going to shoot you up with something, you're going to get all better." And it didn't happen like that.

GROUP LEADER: OK, well, let's go ahead and start today, and let's just do a check-in. What'd you do this week? How's it going?

NARRATOR: Instead, Jacob was recommended to join one of the few support groups offered at Camp Pendleton.

GROUP MEMBER: Since I've been back, I've been doing a lot of dangerous things—

GROUP LEADER: Could you share some of the dangerous things that you've been doing?

GROUP MEMBER: Driving fast on the freeway. I've gotten—

NARRATOR: All the men in this group have served in Iraq and have shown symptoms of PTSD.

GROUP LEADER: How about you, Jacob?

JACOB MARTIN: I cussed some lady out this weekend because, like, you know, I'm— I usually don't do that. You know, it's not like— you know, I don't do that a lot but, like, I'm not very rational anymore. Someone gets mad, I get mad, you know, pretty quickly now.

GROUP LEADER: Does it feel good in some ways, at first?

JACOB MARTIN: Yeah, during the rush, you know, I'm, like— I feel something again because usually, I don't feel much emotion.

GROUP LEADER: Yeah. Yeah.

JACOB MARTIN: Just mainly depression and anxiety. That's about it.

Talking about the way you feel with, you know, Marines— you know, we're not very touchy-feely people. But it's nice to be able to, you know, get in touch with, I guess, whatever is inside of you, stuff like that, emotions. So it's a good deal.

GROUP LEADER: How long has it been since you've had those thoughts about killing yourself?

JACOB MARTIN: Oh, I thought about it last week, but I mean, used to always thinking about it, you know, 24/7.

You do go in for help, yeah, you know— you know, everyone's going to look at you a little bit different. But I had this one guy, he came up, you know, he was really ripping into me for going to this counseling. And you know, he was chewing my ass pretty bad and telling me how much of an idiot and a loser I was. And then somehow, by the end of the conversation, he told me, "Hey, you know, if this helps you, come tell me because I'd like to get help myself." Most of the people that are yelling at you, you know, they got problems, too, they just don't want to get help, either.

GROUP LEADER: I want you to focus your attention on the muscles in your foreheads, and I want you to tighten up the muscles in your foreheads—

NARRATOR: The group Jacob is in will last 10 weeks. After completing it, Jacob is scheduled to be redeployed to Iraq. This therapy group is in keeping with the military's mental health initiative, known as "resiliency training."

Col. THOMAS BURKE, M.D., Dir. Mental Health Policy, DoD: People can experience some sort of stressful or traumatic event, and they— they can bend under that stress and then spring back. I mean, I guess that's the metaphor that they're using with resiliency. For the vast majority of the soldiers, if they get help for their problems, they'll get better and go back to work.

FRED GUSMAN, National Center for PTSD: There's an interesting phenomenon that's occurring right now as this war goes on and on and on. There is a concern of maintaining a ready force. And there is a concern that, you know, they don't— they don't really want to hear that the people they're responsible for might be having, quote, "PTSD." They don't get PTSD.

NARRATOR: Fred Gusman was in the Air Force during the Vietnam war and is now a director of the National Center for PTSD.

FRED GUSMAN: But the other side of that reality is that the two different communities, the mental health people and the line company people, the people that actually are in battle, have never really had an opportunity to really work closely together. It's usually when somebody's severely wounded, they go to the rear, and that's it. You don't see them. You know, they're removed.

I think that the closer that we can work together, the combat leadership, the arms people, and the medical people, the more we're going to improve the care and the resiliency and the ability to keep a force together.

NARRATOR: Few major studies have been completed on the consequences of redeploying soldiers who are known to have experienced PTSD, but some in the mental health community are concerned.

JONATHAN SHAY, M.D., Ph.D., Author, Odysseus in America: Redeploying someone who is already injured could make the injuries worse. Trauma seems to be cumulative, rather than people getting stronger as a result of prior trauma. A woman who has been raped once, and is carrying psychological injuries as a result, is not going to just shrug off being raped again.

Col. THOMAS BURKE: I don't think that it's good for them, but I don't think that's the point. I think that— that combat— that the job that we ask our soldiers and Marines to do, and sailors and airmen to do, is risky, and that they understand that risk, they're willing to accept that risk. It's our job to minimize that risk and to be ready to take care of their problems whenever they come back.

NARRATOR: On June 5th, 2004, Jeff Lucey attended his sister's college graduation. Drinking more than ever now, Jeff arrived at the ceremony drunk.

JOYCE LUCEY: He was so impaired, he could barely walk. They were assisting him. We saw him coming, and we went, "Oh, my God." The fear— your heart— everything just goes- you say, "Oh, God, Jeff is— look at him."

NARRATOR: Home from Iraq for 11 months, Jeff's depression had grown steadily worse. Neither his girlfriend, Julie, nor his family had been able to convince him to return to the VA for help. And eventually, his increased drinking had taken its toll on his relationship.

JULIE PROULX: Things had gotten very difficult between me and Jeff. I was really upset and frustrated. We were kind of taking some space because it was— it was hard for me.

NARRATOR: Having been with Julie since high school, his parents say, Jeff took the separation hard. He isolated himself in his room and began to talk of hearing voices and hallucinating.

KEVIN LUCEY: He felt hands on him at night. He saw faceless old people. He saw a fox's head walking behind him.

NARRATOR: Jeff spoke more often of his time in Iraq, seeing body parts, dead Iraqis, maimed children. He told his family stories that now don't appear to be true, tales of burying dead bodies and being ordered to kill Iraqi prisoners, stories that his fellow Marines who were with him in Iraq say never could have happened.

[www.pbs.org: More about Jeff's stories]

KEVIN LUCEY: We saw the pain. We saw the turmoil. We saw the torment. But we always thought that somehow, be it Julie, be it his love for us, be it anything, he would always find refuge in something. We never knew how deep the despair can be. We never knew how tormented he was.

It was about 6:45 in the evening when I drove into the driveway. I saw the TV on through the picture window, and I made the remark that, you know, Jeff must be smoking on the floor again, resting on the beanbag. So I got out of the car, came in. Jeff wasn't there, so I went to his room and I looked in his room. He wasn't there. I went back through the addition. I happened to see the cellar door open. And then from the corner of my eye, I saw him. He was hanging from the garden hose, and I rushed over to him right away.

I looked at him. For the first time in months, he looked so peaceful. He was in total rest. He didn't show any distress. I don't know if I screamed or howled. I was calling his name, I know that. I was rubbing a piece of flesh that I thought was warm, but I knew he was gone.

NARRATOR: Many of the men from Jeff's unit attended his funeral. The Marines who had served with him were stunned. None had seen it coming.

JOYCE LUCEY: Jeffrey had felt alone, you know. And then you see all these people and you say, "You weren't alone," but he didn't know it.

TIM FOLEY, Fmr. Sergeant, Jeff Lucey's Unit: I wish that Jeff would have talked to me. I wish that I would have gotten some kind of hint, some kind of clue, some phrase or some sentence that would've set off a red flag. I would have done everything within my power, and I would have pushed for everything to be done within my superiors' power to help Jeff out, whether he wanted it or not.

Cpl. DAN GAY, Jeff Lucey's Unit: A Marine asking for help is pretty rare. Being willing to get help. that's almost admitting that you're failing, that you can't do it by yourself, you need somebody else to help you. I think just being the way that we are, he didn't really want to ask for help. And I almost feel guilty sometimes because I felt like I should have picked up on some of the signals.

ANDREW POMERANTZ, M.D., Vermont VA Mental Health Services: We don't win wars by people being overwhelmed by the stress of combat. We don't win wars by people having a hard time killing other people. The military's purpose is to win wars, so someone who is suffering is not a big help to the military, and they know that. And you're surrounded by your buddies, and we're all in this together and we're all going to fight to the bitter end, who am to say, "I don't think I can do this today. I don't think I can go out there. I don't— I want to go home. I can't stand it. I think I'll go look for some help." That doesn't fit when everybody else is charged up to do what we're supposed to do.

Col. THOMAS BURKE, M.D., Dept. of Defense: It's not just a matter of issuing an order and saying, "There will be no more stigma." You don't change the culture of an organization that quickly. It's an ongoing process, and you've got to keep doing it. If we do that long enough, then eventually, the message will get through that it's not a matter of weakness, it's not a matter of being weird because you have emotions and you need to talk about them.

NARRATOR: In January, 2005, the Department of Defense announced plans for a new mental health screening requirement. In addition to screening all servicemembers immediately upon their return, they will now require a follow-up three to six months later, in case problems have emerged. A senior DoD official said in announcing the program, "We've learned there is a concern or stigma about coming in for this. One of the ways we think we can get at that is to require this to everybody."

Lt. Col. DAVE GROSSMAN, U.S. Army (Ret.) Author, On Combat: The military is making progress, but it's an incremental process. People talk about the military as though they were a monolithic entity, and the truth is, the Marines will go one way, the Army will go another way. One division does this, and another division doesn't. One commander will institute something, the next commander will stop it. We think of the military as this great monolithic entity marching through history. In reality, what they are is— is a million different people, all of them taking two steps forward and one step back at any one time.

NARRATOR: More than one million men and women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. A study commissioned by the Army of troops who had returned from Iraq found that one in six was suffering from symptoms of anxiety, depression or PTSD. Already, the war has brought an increase in demand for mental health care from the VA, and some inside the VA fear funding from Congress will not keep pace.

ANDREW POMERANTZ: You hear a lot of talking about reengineering mental health services. We're going to "right-size." We're going to only do what we have to do to get the job done. Well, you know, when they tell us it's time to reengineer, that's just another way of saying you're going to get screwed.

FRED GUSMAN, National Center for PTSD: The real danger for the men and women returning is that they could be forgotten. It's not about parades, it's not about monuments, because those things get acknowledged for a day, a week, or whatever. It's just a matter of getting people to not forget that these people are putting their life in harm's way and they're going through hell, and just because it's not on CNN every night, that we shouldn't assume some responsibility, not for the war, but responsibility to take care of our own people.

NARRATOR: Nearly a month after the initial indictment of cowardly conduct was filed, the Army reduced its charge against Andrew Pogany to willful dereliction of duty. After Andrew fought to clear his name for nearly a year, the Army dropped all charges. But Andrew says he's still battling to clear his military record.

Having fulfilled his military contract, Rob Sarra tried to reenlist. Rob says the Marines told him he would have to return to Iraq, and when he refused, his request was denied. He has now returned to civilian life and is part of a group called Iraq Veterans Against the War.

With the 10-week Marine support group completed, Jacob Martin is being redeployed to Iraq. While the Marines have not yet released his departure date, Jacob expects to be sent within the month.

In January 2005, six months after Jeff Lucey's suicide, his Marine reserve unit was reactivated.

MARINE RESERVE OFFICER: [roll call] Cabera, here! Byrd, here! Toll, here!

NARRATOR: They were dispatched to Camp LeJeune in North Carolina. One month later, they were redeployed to Iraq.

MARINE RESERVE OFFICER: [roll call, fading away] Cabera, here! Black, here! St. Pierre, here! Sikorski, here! Davidson, here!

 

The Soldier's Heart

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ANNOUNCER: This report continues on FRONTLINE's Web site, where you'll find a rundown of the support and services in place for combat veterans with emotional problems and where they and their families can go for help, FRONTLINE's interviews with mental health authorities and experts from the VA and the Department of Defense, a look at obstacles that keep many servicemembers from getting help, more stories of the war's impact told by veterans of World War II, Vietnam and Iraq, plus watch the full program on line and join the discussion at pbs.org.

 

Next time on FRONTLINE: He grew up with bin Laden's children.

ABDURAHMAN KHADR: Three times, my father himself tried to get me to become a suicide bomber.

ANNOUNCER: But Khadr was different.

ABDURAHMAN KHADR: I don't believe in blowing myself up, killing innocent people.

ANNOUNCER: FRONTLINE tells the inside story of a young man who was groomed to be a terrorist but became instead a CIA informant.

ABDURAHMAN KHADR: My dad told me, "If you ever sell out on us, I will be the one to kill you."

ANNOUNCER: Son of Al Qaeda next time on FRONTLINE.

 

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