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?