Lt. Whiteside: Army Moving toward Common Sense

In today’s WaPo Dana Priest and Anne Hull provide followup coverage on the Army’s effort to court-martial Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside for her psychological breakdown while serving in Baghdad: “Leniency Suggested for Officer Who Shot Herself.” The original investigative piece was published on December 2nd: “A Soldier’s Officer.”

Maj. Mervin H. Steals, the investigative officer in charge of the preliminary hearing, forwarded the following recommendation up his chain of command:

One of the Army values is integrity, which is defined as doing what is right, legally and morally. The moral thing to do is dismiss these charges, to allow 1LT Whiteside to end her military service and receive the benefits that she will desperately need for the remainder of her life.

The commander of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe, Jr., is responsible for a final command decision in this case, but it now appears as though the Army is moving toward resolving this case in a sensible, medically appropriate, rather than medieval, way.

Below the break are some additional insights directly from the Whiteside family, as well as my own question on the difference between us and the “Greatest Generation.”

(Will X-post at Daily Kos and Raising Kaine.)

Despite the Army’s movement toward a humane handling of the specific case of Lt. Whiteside, there remains at Walter Reed and throughout the Army a vast cultural gulf between the medical professionals and the regular chain of command. In the case of Lt. Whiteside, an Army pilot, Captain Christopher Clyde and an Army Ranger, Colonel Terrance McKenrick, originally recommended the court-martial. Neither has any medical background whatsoever. Neither did the prosecuting officer, Major Stefan Wolfe, who dismissed the expert opinions of Walter Reed psychiatrists as “psycho-babble” in an e-mail to Lt. Whiteside’s attorney, have any medical basis on which to make such an outlandish statement.

This same Maj. Stefan Wolfe repeatedly argued during the preliminary hearing that Lt. Whiteside and her attorney should not be allowed to be present during his cross examination of the medical witnesses. The investigating officer rejected Maj. Wolfe’s absurd request. (The Whitesides have digital recordings of Maj. Wolfe’s execrable performance. Their foresight is a good lesson for us all. When confronted by the actions and words of an officious and vicious apparatchik, it is always wise to document those actions and words.)

Thomas Whiteside, a former Marine officer who has been at his daughter’s side for her year-long ordeal, has come away from the experience with two unavoidable conclusions:

(1) The medical professionals are not able to protect their patients from the “battle-hardened leaders.”

(2) The Army continues to stigmatize any soldier at any army grade, who seeks mental health assistance at any time.

The currently encouraging prospect of a sensible outcome for Lt. Whiteside remains an exception to the general pattern of command indifference and insensitivity to the effects psychological trauma. The results of such command-level indifference and ignorance are hard to ignore: the epidemic of suicides and the high rates of homelessness that we see among veterans of the war in Iraq.

In Ken Burns’ remarkable PBS series The War there is a segment citing the conclusion by U.S. commanders during World War II that no soldier could be expected to endure the stresses of a combat environment for more than 240 days–about 8 months–before losing his sanity. Toward the end of that war, General George S. Patton offended the U.S. public–that “Greatest Generation”–by slapping a shell-shocked soldier.

Today the U.S. public seems mostly indifferent to the medical treatment of soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan. Those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or with traumatic brain injuries caused by Improvised Explosive Devices go untreated or under-treated. Tens of thousands are drummed out of the military and denied medical care on the pretext that they must have had a “pre-existing” condition and that the military should have no responsibility for their ongoing care.

Has the U.S. public become more callous, less engaged than it was in World War II? Would the “Greatest Generation” be ashamed of our generation’s treatment of physically or psychologically wounded veterans?


  1. Would the “Greatest Generation” be ashamed of our generation’s treatment of physically or psychologically wounded veterans?

    Absolutely they would and every single so called left dem civilian who is not writing their congressmen and senators should be ashamed of themselves. I have been trying on another large blog to get civilians invovled and tried to explain the plight of our troops and Vets returning to sub standard treatment both physical and mental. The House sub committee on veterans health estimating 65 f—ing percent of combat vets will have brain injuries. In three diaries I wrote about veterans issues I had a total of 78 votes combined on the polls and I wrote one diary with Hillary in the title and that one got 118 votes on the poll. That is an outrage. NEVER in the history of our nation have our military and veterans been so abused and until civilians get involved and speak for the miliraty things are gonna be slow to change. I want to scream. People claim to support the troops but all about 90% on the left care about the troops is demand we get out of Iraq. Very few want to help with the problems of the troops and vets. I don’t mean this site, I am new here but for four months I have been swimming upstream on the BIG blog and it is of no use. What is so ironic is we on the left are so quick to come to the aid of minorities and the poor and those treated unfairly. Our military is largely made up of minorities, poor and are being unfairly treated but 95% on the left are doing nothing about it because they are militarty, because they were a uniform, because they see them as representing AbuGhrab and Guantanamo and more….It is hypocritical to the max...Every citizen in this nation should be outraged at the length of tours, the lack of down time, the abuse of the use of national guard and reservists in ways they were never intended to be used. Our military is decimated with PTSD, TBI, mental health issues and the VA had their hands full before Iraq…It is disgusting that we have 200,000 homeless vets and I could go on and on. 22,000 diagnosed with personality disorder, BULLSHIT!!!! If they had PD why wasn’t it caught at intake or basic or in combat. If they want to play games with psycological diagnosis then have PD receive same benefits as PTSD. I have outlined the problems and given tons of links in numerous diaries and most don’t care enough to take action. Fortunatly groups like VetVoice and VoteVets are rising but military voices are not going to have the same impact on the government as an outraged nation. We should hang our heads in shame for allowing the sitution with our troops and vets to get to the point it is at now. I am disgusted.  

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