The Asps (the Eleventh Chapter)

Before I tell my personal PTSD story, I have to explain some things related to psychology in the military, specifically during the time after my second year in Iraq. First, it’s important to recognize the difference between private psychology and institutional psychology. Private psychology is when a civilian pays a psychologist for his service. In the case of institutional psychology, though, some organization such as a prison, an army, or a company uses psychologists to care for its employees, soldiers, prisoners, etc.

When someone pays a psychologist for their help, the psychologist wants to help the client. But when an institution pays a psychologist for their help, the psychologist wants to help the institution. You would think this would be something obvious, but there are too many soldiers who believe that army psychologists really want to help them. I experienced a lot of danger in my military career: firefights, grenades, bombs and terrorists, among other things. Yet US Army psychologists are by far the most dangerous enemy a US Army soldier can encounter.

I can illustrate this by talking about the behavioral health clinic in Monterey, California, where the Defense Language Institute (DLI) is located. That’s where I learned Russian after my second tour in Iraq. There were three psychologists at this institution, but during the time I was there only one psychologist was allowed to interact with the soldiers. The other two had been suspended. A local attorney there was taking measures to expose and limit the damage done by the methods used in the clinic to the detriment of soldiers.

The task of the psychologists at DLI was to determine whether students who had psychological problems could continue with the course of their language studies or not. If not, the Army would have to separate them from service. If they were separated from service, it would then be their task to determine if they should be separated under circumstances in which the Army would pay them as wounded soldiers, or not. Their job had nothing to do with helping anyone. It was a matter of separating them or not, and of paying them or not. Most of these soldiers were very young, not older than 20-22 years of age. They had just finished their basic training and went straight to their language school before they had even completed their skill training as soldiers because most would go on to become intelligence soldiers. The language school took a long time, and this gave the Army time for their security clearances to be approved so they could then go on to be trained as intelligence professionals. In the overwhelming majority of cases, psychologists would talk to the soldiers and either return soldiers to their classes or diagnose them with personality disorder to throw them out of the army without a penny. In most cases there was no real treatment.

A personality disorder is a diagnosis given to a person who can’t function in society, basically because he’s deemed fundamentally defective. They do not have traumas or disorders attributable to an event such as war, rape, or other abuse. They’re just they are just screwups from birth. Serious ones, like serial killers, career criminals, dangerous people.

Young people who receive this diagnosis cannot defend themselves by claiming that they previously had a long history of “normal” work, family life, or social history. Don’t forget, maestro, this is the difference: A son of a bitch who functions in society is a citizen, while a jack-ass who can’t function in society has a personality disorder.

In the military, the problem with diagnoses of alleged personality disorder had become so ubiquitous that the government had to ban diagnosing soldiers with personality disorder until assessments ruled out other diagnoses. Apparently, this policy was the result of operations at DLI. Keep in mind, maestro, that then as now most of the students in the DLI are soldiers between the ages of 18 and 22. They don’t have much experience in life. To get a real diagnosis of personality disorder, someone must have a lot of problems in virtually every area of life. But a 20 year-old wouldn’t have an easy time proving that before the Army his life wasn’t a complete disaster. He couldn’t prove much of anything about his life. He hadn’t lived it yet. Whether such a young person is deemed a fundamentally defective person would ultimately fall to the whim of his psychologist.

So, at one point, a soldier with problems with DLI psychologists hired a lawyer to help him fight against such a diagnosis, and the lawyer found a huge number of anomalies with the psychological care provided there. They gave diagnoses that contradicted the results of the tests applied. They did not meet the requirements of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-IV. Because the lawyer was discovering so many problems in the clinic, the administrators there began to worry a lot. They were circling the wagons, as we say.

The last thing to note is that the clinic at DLI is an organization that is part of the Western Regional Medical Command, which in turn has its headquarters at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord hospital in Tacoma, Washington, which was going through its own problems. During the war in Iraq, the suicide rate of soldiers was very high, of course. The highest suicide rate in the entire Army was at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, however. On this base alone there were more than all other military bases combined. One of the suicides was that of a Ranger, whose wife announced in the news that the cause of her husband’s death was not war, but Army psychologists. Rangers are tough soldiers, the elites of the infantry. While every nation is proud of its elite soldiers, and in the US Army there are several communities that like to claim the crown of the toughest soldiers, a case can be made that in some respects US Army Rangers can be considered the toughest soldiers on the planet. They are not known for committing suicide. That woman’s comment had profound repercussions in the Army and in the media.

In addition, it became known in the news that a psychiatrist from the same base, in fact one of the mental health professionals who ruined my career and my sanity, requested at staff meeting that forensic psychiatrists not give many PTSD diagnoses because each PTSD diagnosis cost the army $ 1.5 million in benefits for the soldier.

As a result, more than 200 soldiers who were hospital patients sent their documents to doctors at Walter Reed (the largest government hospital, and the hospital of the US President) and had their diagnoses overturned. Diagnoses of more than 100 soldiers were changed from personality disorder to PTSD. Needless to say, the behavioral health professionals at Joint Base Lewis-McChord were very, very restless.

Maestro, there’s another thing you need to understand about my years of service in the Army. This has nothing to do with psychology. During that time, women could not serve in all branches or operate in all units. They could not be infantry or artillery soldiers, nor operate any type of tank. They couldn’t they serve in combat units at a lower echelon than the brigade. That is, there were no women in platoons, companies or battalions of infantry, artillery, or armor.

That’s why there are more women in some branches than in others. Today, 15% of the Army are women, but back then, in the infantry units, for example, there were only 2 to 3% (and only at brigade and up, remember), although in military police units or with the combat engineers maybe they accounted for 15% (which, although they are not combat arms, are also somewhat “macho”). For their part, the logistics or financial teams had maybe 30% to 40% women in their ranks.

Don’t forget, maestro, my branch of service was military intelligence. When it comes to lies and doing things behind the backs of others, women are very talented. Because of this, there are many women in military intelligence. In fact, there is a certain unit called “the battlefield surveillance brigade,” which under no circumstances would be in combat; therefore, such units had many women. In fact, it is possible to find battalions in which there were only female officers. Maestro, to my misfortune I found myself in such a battalion. And it was the last unit of my career.

War. Hateful wife. An immoral hospital of paranoid psychologists. A battalion of female officers. I would have preferred to spend the last days of my military career in a vat of asps. Maestro, what I’m trying to say is that, if going crazy in itself is already problematic, doing it in the wrong place can be freaking maddening beyond the pale.

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