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Army to Court-Martial Soldier Featured in PTSD Story

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Ealier this month, we reported that some soldiers who come back from Iraq with serious emotional problems have trouble getting the help they need. We reported how supervisors at Fort Carson in Colorado sometimes punished soldiers who suffer from depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD.

And now, there is a new development - officials at Fort Carson say they'll take a step next week toward the court martial of one of the main soldiers who spoke out in our story.

NPR's Daniel Zwerdling reports.

DANIEL ZWERDLING: The case against Private Tyler Jennings symbolizes a dilemma that's facing the whole army - should officials discipline soldiers who have illnesses like PTSD, and then misbehave? Or should officers forgive those soldiers and do everything possible to help them? Studies show that soldiers who have PTSD commonly misbehave. It's a side effect of their illness. An officer at Fort Carson gave his answer yesterday.

Lieutenant Colonel DAVID JOHNSON (U.S. Army): I see where you're coming from that, and you know, I - I will tell you this, that we're looking at all these cases, we're making sure that we're doing the right thing, but you know, there's one thing that we can't forget - we cannot forget that the Army is disciplined organization.

ZWERDLING: Lieutenant Colonel David Johnson is the main spokesman at Fort Carson. This is the first time that an officer at the base has agreed to talk to NPR, on the record, about this controversy.

Lieutenant Colonel JOHNSON: Now, do we care about our soldiers? You bet. They're the most treasured resource that we have, and we will never, ever forget that. But we'll take appropriate action on soldiers who use or (unintelligible) drugs, or who do not adhere to the standards and values that makes this army what it is.

ZWERDLING: And in the case of Tyler Jennings, officials at Fort Carson will hold a hearing next week to decide if they're going to put him on trial. They've typed up a charge sheet that lists why. The document says that Jennings didn't show up at formations or appointments 10 times. He allegedly lied to superiors, or didn't follow their orders seven times. And they allegedly caught him using drugs four times. If a military court tries and convicts him, Jennings could face a year or more in prison.

Jennings' supervisors used to rave about him. He was a machine gunner in Iraq. They called him an awesome soldier, stellar. He got a Purple Heart. But the Army's medical record show that after Jennings came back to Fort Carson late last year, he began having nightmares. He hit his wife in his sleep. He did drugs. And that started a vicious cycle. His supervisors would punish him; Jennings would freak out more. And his supervisors would punish him harder.

The Army has appointed a military lawyer to defend Tyler Jennings. His name is Major Wade Faulkner. Faulkner says even if Jennings did break some rules, his supervisors have to share the blame.

Major WADE FAULKNER (Military Lawyer): Private Jennings complained to the right people about his issues, and either he was prevented from going to seek mental health, or he wasn't given the support structure that he needed to go and get help.

ZWERDLING: Jennings isn't the only one at Fort Carson. NPR interviewed 20 soldiers, who said they couldn't get the help they need. Major Faulkner says he's seen others, and it's tragic.

Major FAULKNER: We asked these young soldiers to go over there and do these horrific job, and it just doesn't appear to me that the Army was prepared to handle the number of issues that have arisen.

ZWERDLING: After our story was broadcast a few weeks ago, officials at Fort Carson put out public statements that challenged what the soldiers told NPR. So yesterday, I asked their spokesman, David Johnson.

Have you, or your colleagues, investigated those soldiers' cases enough to be able to say they are lying, they're not lying, or some place in between?

Lieutenant Colonel JOHNSON: Well, I know - I know some of the soldiers that were in the story. There is some background on them and again, I can't get into some of that stuff. One, I don't have, the background on all the soldiers, and two, we have to be very concerned about the privacy of those soldiers. Some of the things deal with their medical history. It wouldn't be prudent for us to go and share that because it's illegal.

ZWERDLING: And Johnson did say that Fort Carson started their new program in March so soldiers who were having a crisis can go to the mental health clinic without an appointment.

Still, two sets of investigators will go to Fort Carson soon from Washington D.C. One's from the U.S. Senate, the others, from the Pentagon. They'll try to figure out how Fort Carson's treating soldiers in trouble.

Daniel Zwerdling, NPR News.

BLOCK: You can listen to Daniel Zwerdling's original report about Tyler Jennings and other Fort Carson soldiers with PTSD. It's at our Web site, NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Zwerdling is a correspondent in NPR's Investigations Unit.
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