Here’s a link to a four-part series by Cpl Katie Densmore concerning Pvt Travis Westhoven, a Marine who deployed to Iraq, suffered from PTSD upon his return, and was ultimately court-martialed for his role in one of his roommate’s death as the result of a heroin overdose.

6 Responses to “A look at a Marine’s descent from Iraq to PTSD to a court-martial conviction”

  1. John Harwood says:

    What a great article by a young corporal. What an incredible tragedy in this kid’s life. I don’t know what the solution is: you can’t just have troops breaking the law and get a pass because they were in Iraq or Afghanistan. On the other side of the coin, I can easily find myself agreeing with the idea that these kids were fine when we sent them to combat, so we don’t have much moral ground to stand on when they come back broken and misbehave. It’s a true conundrum.

  2. Mike "No Man" Navarre says:

    JH gets a gold star. Great reporting by a young person–professional grade writing as one instructor would say. As for the conundrum, I would disagree slightly and fault the chain of command for ignoring early signs and, worse, if the article is all true, not turning over with the incoming leadership. Granted this is one side of the story, but I sympathize more where there were seeming leadership challenges that were failed.

  3. Anonymous says:

    it isn’t getting a pass to say that if we are going to stigmatize mental health issues and treat it as a weakness, and if we aren’t going to aggressively seek out those struggling, and if we recognize that these were great soldiers before combat and had problems after combat (particularly with drugs) then C-M is not the way to go with these kids.

    You don’t break someone and then blame them for being broken. Certainly there are limits, but I see no reason why that Marine should have received 8 years in prison because his buddy was self-medicating and overdosed.

    Heck, I wouldn’t sentence him to one day in jail.

  4. John Harwood says:

    Anon & No Man, I wrote that post pretty late at night and wasn’t as clear as I should have been. I totally sympathize with that poor Marine. Our system has failed an entire generation of warriors who’ve come back from OIF/OEF. The conundrum I posted was more of a systemic one rather than one directly applied to this case. Big-picture wise, I can understand command’s point that we can’t condone significant misconduct. If an airman killed another airman and blamed PTSD, I’m not sure we should just push that under the rug. On the other hand, I know the Air Force (since that’s my branch) has done a terrible job being proactive in helping troops deal with combat-induced mental and physical issues post-deployment. I see anecdotal evidence that the Army and the Corps have the same problems. So the system fails these folks when they get back from deployment, and then crushes them when they get in trouble. It’s not right.

    I’m a trial defense counsel in the Air Force. I’ve defended four of five guys (and one gal) who fit the mold: stellar troops before deployment, experienced some major trauma in the AOR, came back a different person, got into alcohol or drug-fueled misconduct, and got court-martialed. It broke my heart, and I defended them as vigorously as I could. At the end of the day, I was pissed that the Air Force had let them down in such a way.

    An No Man, you’re very right – very good reporting by a young troop. A big Hoorah to the corporal who wrote that story.

  5. mylia marshall says:

    I am the mother of Travis. Travis knows what has happened was wrong and so out of character for him. He begged for help upon his return from Iraq, but was totally ignored by his commanders. Until the incident that Travis went through while on leave at home, after speaking to commanding Srgt. that Travis would not be able to make him back on time from leave because he was in the ICU at Grant Hosp. did they finally realize that something was wrong.Then to be removed from his squad and moved to another was devasting to him. While in this
    squad, they were lucky if their squad leader even showed up for roll call. He set their day after day doing nothing but sitting around with the other members doing nothing.I don’t understand why these men weren’t kept busy doing something to take their minds off of what they have been through. Sitting their day after day with no one checking on them, as if nobody cared what happened to them. What the story doesn’t tell, is that his roommate that OD, confided in Travis with things that only made Travis worry more. He commented to Travis several times that he wanted to die. Travis spoke to me about it many of times and was so scared of what was going to happen to a friend. Why were these boys left to try and figure out what was going to happen to them ? Why were they not being follwed up on? Why were they not put to work? Why were they not doing maneuvers? Why? I don’t blame my son for what happened, but he has taken the respnsibility, for which I don’t think is fair to him.He knows what he did was wrong, but to punish him for the death of his roomate is so unfair. He didn’t force him to do the drug, then to tell Travis that he loved him and everything would be ok and not to worry.tells me that his buddie knew exaclty what was going to happen.

  6. anon says:

    This issue is more difficult than it appears.

    As anyone who commands Soldiers, or has appeared before disability boards knows, it is nearly impossible to tell the difference between a malingering malcontent, and a someone who is genuinely suffering from mental illness.

    The symptoms of PTSD are easy enough to learn, and the “correct” answers to PTSD questionnaires are passed around the WTUs like candy. The military medical community, scared by the Walter Reed Scandal, and constantly under scrutiny, gives anyone who voices the symptoms what they want – documentation. Maybe, if a commander learns the medical lingo, they can read between the lines (e.g. “patient is a poor historian” means “patient lies to me”), but that is rare.

    As someone who has represented Soldiers at PEBs, I was shocked by the admin clerks, medics, and paralegals who got (with my best professional, but ethical, assistance) medical retirements, and who came into my office with all the right paperwork. Infantrymen, who often had neither the time, nor the inclination, to document their conditions as they happened (or, who didn’t seek medical help because they wanted to tough it out), were at a significant disadvantage.

    I once had a Soldier who had come to my office numerous times, and who suddenly, on the day of his hearing, come into my office in a wheelchair. When I asked why, he said he thought it would make a good impression on the board. (I disagreed). I also had an E4 with an above the knee amputation who only wanted to be found fit for duty.

    You cannot tell the difference between a slug of a Soldier with PTSD, and a slug of a Soldier who is faking PTSD. The media, and the American public, like to imagine that everyone who puts on a uniform is a hero. And while most are, there are always (and will always be) the shirkers, malcontents, and malingerers.

    And, if you doubt me, go talk to the wounded infantryman, recovering at a WTU, with a ‘v’ device that he chooses not to wear, and ask him what he thinks of his fellow Soldiers. You will get the whole truth, good and bad.

    It is too easy to say that the command, the military, could do better by our Soldiers. They need to maintain discipline. I have seen WTU commanders try to give everyone a pass on discipline, and the result was massive drug use, misconduct, violence, suicides, and, put simply, chaos.

    Having been there, I don’t know what else they should do. There are no good answers. However, I have never met anyone who works with wounded Soldiers who does not understand compassion.

    I suppose that our society once dismissed anyone with a mental illness to the outskirts of civilized society. So I guess we have made some progress. But I don’t know where we should go from here, and I am skeptical of anyone who lays blame at those who struggle with these questions every day.