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Poor PTSD help forced Sgt. Brook Lindsey AWOL

By Keegan Hamilton, Seattle Weekly. June 27, 2012

Courage to Resist is currently working with Seattle area supporters of Sgt. Lindsey in order to best channel support. More information forthcoming.

An Iraq War veteran stationed at Ft. Lewis says struggles with PTSD and a lack of responsiveness to his condition by Army doctors forced him to go AWOL.

The soldier, 26-year-old Sgt. Brook Thomas Lindsey, met with members of the media on Friday at Coffee Strong, a non-profit organization, headquartered across the street from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, that advocates for military mental health treatment reform. Lindsey recounted why he decided to leave the base without permission on March 26.

"I'd go over to Madigan (Army Medical Center), right across the street and I'd tell them, 'I'm having suicidal thoughts,"' Lindsey says. "They would just tell me to breathe. They'd talk me down. The next day I'm still feeling the same way, but they'd return me to duty, tell my leaders everything was fine."

Wearing a baseball cap and a grey shirt with the sleeves rolled up to reveal several skeletal, military-themed tattoos on his forearms, Lindsey says he enlisted at age 19 because he felt it was his patriotic duty. He says he was deployed in Iraq for 22 months, and that he was an exemplary soldier prior to his return to the military base just south of Tacoma. Greg Wilson, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, says he served in Iraq with Lindsey in 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry, 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, and was always impressed with his fellow soldier's resolve.

"He literally was one of those guys that loved what he was doing," Wilson says. "Sometimes it drove me nuts he was so motivated. He was trying to go to Ranger school. He loved his job as an infantryman."

But over the past year, Lindsey says he struggled with anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, and other conditions that stem from his combat experiences. He says the gung-ho Army culture initially discouraged him from seeking help, and when he finally did, "it was only a topical, it wasn't a deep solution."

Lindsey says in one instance he told doctors that he was having "homicidal thoughts against the chain of command," but the concerns were ignored. "They said I was fit for duty after that," Lindsey says. "What was so crazy, my unit was in YTC (Yakima Training Center), training with live ammunition. I'm like 'I don't think that's a good idea.'"

Lindsey describes a situation that was compounded by a divorce and heavy drinking, and admits he lost his rank for reasons he refused to divulge. He was eventually prescribed drugs that provided temporary relief, he says, but his requests for counseling fell on deaf ears.

"They put me on medication and that did help, but I still needed to talk about some issues," Lindsey says. "I just needed to vent out all the things I'd witnessed and they didn't allow me to do that...I'd been a great soldier. But when I started to break down, I noticed the army started to turn its back on me."

Feeling he had nowhere to turn, Lindsey fled Ft. Lewis for upstate New York. He says he worked odd jobs and sought spiritual guidance before electing to turn himself in to military police last Tuesday, June 19. Since then, he joined up with the activist organization March Forward!, which organized the Friday press conference.

March Forward! co-founder Kevin Baker, also an Iraq war veteran, says the record number of suicides last year at JBLM suggest Lindsey isn't the only soldier crying out for help. "The longest war in American history is the occupation of Afghanistan," Baker says. "And the rate of suicide has passed that of people killed in combat. It's a crisis." Baker says March Forward! is starting a campaign encouraging soldiers to refuse orders to deploy to Afghanistan. The group is also providing legal aid for Lindsey.

Lindsey says he was moved to speak out about his situation after learning he faced pre-trial confinement for going AWOL. He also claims his confessions of "homicidal thoughts" to Madigan doctors are now being used against him in the military court system, as he faces additional charges of threatening a senior officer.

An Army spokesman confirms that Lindsey left the base without permission in March and returned voluntarily in late June. The spokesman, Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield, writes in an email that, "it is never justifiable to be absent without leave, even in the case of a medical emergency," and says Lindsey now faces loss of rank, forfeiture of pay, up to a year in prison, and dishonorable discharge from the service. Dangerfield declined to comment on Lindsey's claims about PTSD treatment at JBLM, citing medical privacy laws.

Lindsey says he's willing to own up to going AWOL, but he wants the world to know that the Army's mental health system needs a serious overhaul.

"I just want to get help," Lindsey says. "I just want light applied to this system. I want nothing monetary from the Army. I just want help."

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