It’s been 19 months since the Department of Defense Inspector General’s (DoD IG) team came to my home for three days, and for each day of those 19 long months, I’ve been waiting for the release of their report on Wounded Warrior Battalion-East (WWBN-E), Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. It took four months to get their attention, with the help of Congressman Walter Jones (NC) and it took them six more months to get to my house to hear our family’s story.
That’s 29 months of waiting for someone to do something about a huge problem that is affecting thousands of our troops returning from combat. I won’t even mention the months of living with the problems, the crises, dealing with the Marine Corps, and dealing with the Congressional inquiries that took place prior to reaching out to the DoD IG.
It’s no wonder we have so many of our combat veterans giving up and finding themselves using drugs, homeless, suicidal, and in families that are falling apart. It takes someone of great strength to go to war, but it takes someone of greater strength to return home and live within the broken system this nation offers our combat veterans.
The DoD IG report is a total of 126 pages if you include reading the attached documentation. I spent a good part of yesterday reading the report and reading the articles that are beginning to show up in response to the report’s release.
I have mixed emotions about this report. While I’m glad to see that there are some honest and scathing remarks, I’m disappointed to see that the command seems to be getting away with some lame excuses. I’m not sure if everyone is aware of that since most who will read the report have no insight into what was really going on back when all of this took place.
For the most part, I’ve kept myself very quiet over the past three and a half years. At first it was my naivete. I spent most of my life trusting those in our government. I was 100% behind the Marine Corps and bought everything they had to sell – hook, line, and sinker. I still believe in the USMC, but I’ve come to realize that it is made up of the same imperfect people who inhabit planet earth.
Once my bubble was burst and I was able to see the reality of the situation, I became frightened realizing that I had to speak up. At first, I thought it was just one bad Captain. I gathered my evidence and made certain of what was really going on. I’ll admit that because I thought the Corps was made to perfection, I did not really believe what was right in front of me. It took me awhile to convince myself there was really a problem. As the evidence built its case, I began to realize that something had to be done and I was, unfortunately, the one who was going to have to step up and do it.
When I finally found the courage to speak up about this bad situation which our family found itself in, I had no idea that I was opening Pandora’s box and that there would be no end to the nightmare and the suffering.
I started at the bottom – at the source – and began to slowly work myself up the chain of command. Eventually, I had to go outside to my congressional representatives, and when they seemed to buy the dog and pony show being sold to them by the involved USMC officials, I went to congressional representatives outside my geographical boundaries.
I remember the day I pushed the “send” button on my fax machine, sending a letter to each and every member of the Armed Services committees in the House and the Senate. I was shaking and frightened. Being my first time to contact Congress, I just assumed that I had reached the end, the top, and that something would finally, and quickly, be done. After six months of crisis, I was finally going to get this behind us.
That was almost three years ago, and since that time I’ve been living in fear each and every day. It didn’t take me long to realize that nothing was getting done. Our family continued to live in crisis and I could see that my son’s life hung in the balance. With the poor care, and the abusive environment of WWBN-E, I knew that I had to break all the rules and keep moving forward.
Moms do NOT call the Marine Corps. Ever! This includes when your son is an injured Marine, especially if he still has all his limbs and “looks” normal. The signature and invisible wounds of war, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress (PTS or PTSD) are stigmatized and ignored. Just because it is talked about doesn’t mean it is now accepted in all military circles.
My son didn’t want me to get involved, but I made an executive decision and jumped in. He was single and had no one to advocate for him. I knew it was my job. I’m glad I stepped in, but my son definitely payed the price.
The more I contacted congressional leaders to look into the situation, the more things heated up at WWBN-E. Things went from bad to worse, but I was determined to save my son so I continued to move forward. I also began to speak up through an anonymous blog. I was afraid to draw attention to my son, so I wrote anonymously, as well as under a pen name. I read every news article that had anything to do with wounded warrior care and then I wrote a blog of response based on what our family was experiencing. Often I would write in generalities and allow my writings to appear as if I was referring to another branch of military service because I was so frightened of the ramifications of my speaking out. I soon came to see that my writing was having an effect. I was contacted by numerous media outlets, and I shared some of our story, but I wasn’t willing to put myself or my son out there, to be annihilated by the Corps.
It’s taken a very long time for me to allow myself to be identified, and I’m still not comfortable with it. Besides the fact that I was initially concerned about my son’s safety, I was also concerned about the strain all of this was putting on my relationship with him. He was caught in the middle. He wanted to get out and get help, but he was a Marine and he could see the writing on the wall if he spoke up or allowed me to do so. Though I have opened up and shared what might appear to be a lot of our story, the truth is that I’ve only shared a small part. I wanted to give the system a chance to do it’s job so I have waited patiently for the DoD IG report to be released.
So now the report is out, and I guess I’m going to come out of hiding. I’ve moved most of my old blogs from the anonymous site to my personal blog site bearing my name. I can’t really offer any validity to my story, if I don’t let anyone know who I am and how I have come to be familiar with this situation. Because so much has happened, and because there is so much information which bears a response, I’m going to respond to this report over time, in a series of blog posts. There is simply no way to make this short and sweet.
It is my hope that there have been a lot of positive changes over the past three years, but from my first reading of the report, I see the same pattern of denial, lame excuses, and the allowance to point fingers of blame at someone outside the battalion. If only people were more concerned about the big picture than they were about their own job security. There are a lot of good people who want to speak up, but they know it’s likely career-ending so they just look away and move on.
I am thankful my son survived and got out of there, and I can almost rest knowing I did the best I could to support those who have served this nation and protected my freedoms. As much as I’d like to just move forward with my life and put all of this in the past, I know I can’t sit back as long as there are wounded warriors returning home who need quality care. Every combat veteran needs an advocate. I’m going to do what I can to help other family members learn what they need to do to support their warrior. They aren’t going to get that information from the Department of Defense, that I can guarantee!