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Soldier arrested at VA hospital for being AWOL

Nov. 19, 2007 - 06:52PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 19, 2007 - 06:52PM  |  
This recent picture from the Lexington-Fayette County jail shows Justin Faulkner, who said in a jailhouse interview Nov. 19 that he was seeking mental help at a veterans hospital when police showed up in the middle of the night to arrest him. Faulkner, 22, returned to his unit Nov. 20 and is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, his wife said.
This recent picture from the Lexington-Fayette County jail shows Justin Faulkner, who said in a jailhouse interview Nov. 19 that he was seeking mental help at a veterans hospital when police showed up in the middle of the night to arrest him. Faulkner, 22, returned to his unit Nov. 20 and is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, his wife said. (The Associated Press via Lexington-Fayette County)
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LEXINGTON, Ky. — A Kentucky soldier facing his second tour of duty in Iraq said in a jailhouse interview Monday that he was seeking mental help at a veterans hospital when police showed up in the middle of the night to arrest him.

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — A Kentucky soldier facing his second tour of duty in Iraq said in a jailhouse interview Monday that he was seeking mental help at a veterans hospital when police showed up in the middle of the night to arrest him.

Spc. Justin Faulkner, 22, of Stanton, Ky., is accused of being absent without leave, even though he insists his superior officers at Fort Campbell knew about his mental problems but refused to provide adequate treatment.

Instead, he checked into a VA hospital Thursday in Lexington, and doctors there told him they wanted to keep him until Monday for observation. He wouldn't make it that long as police showed up at the hospital shortly after 2 a.m. Saturday to take him to jail.

"It's humiliating, degrading," Faulkner said in an interview with The Associated Press Monday afternoon, just minutes before his release from the Fayette County Detention Center. "It's made me lose respect for the military. To come and arrest me at the VA, it wasn't like I was trying to hide, trying to run. I was getting help. I am being punished for getting help."

Faulkner, who concluded a one-year tour of duty in Iraq in February 2006, was due to head back there Monday to join the rest of his unit. He was released from jail on the condition he report back to Fort Campbell Tuesday.

He said he would but insisted the Army would be "foolish" to send him back considering the post-traumatic symptoms he has been experiencing since realizing a few weeks ago that a return trip to Iraq was likely.

"I kept getting these flashbacks, these recurring scenes from when I was over there the first time," Faulkner said. "I get these anxiety attacks at night, and sometimes during the day, I daze off. I can't get it out of my head. It wasn't until I was told I had to go back to Iraq, something just clicked in my head — it was like reliving your worst nightmare."

Faulkner's superior officer at Fort Campbell, Sgt. Donnie Burnett, said he wasn't authorized to comment on Faulkner's case.

Fort Campbell spokeswoman Cathy Gramling said she couldn't comment on specifics either because of privacy issues, but said, "there are systems in place on the installation and through the chain of command to ensure soldiers receive the treatment they require."

Faulkner said those systems just didn't work for him, though. He said he went to a psychiatrist at Fort Campbell for several weeks, most recently last Tuesday, but the drugs he was being prescribed didn't help. That's when he checked into the VA hospital.

Faulkner's wife, Brandy, who is due with the couple's second son in March, said his symptoms were real. She says in the past few weeks, he has been constantly walking and talking in his sleep. She found out about her husband's arrest when she got a call early Saturday from somebody at the VA hospital.

"I was just outraged that somebody who fought for our country could be treated like this," she said.

Faulkner acknowledges parts of his story may raise some doubts. For example, he was in the National Guard during his first tour of duty but voluntarily signed up for active duty, even though he had questions about the lingering role of American forces in Iraq.

He explained civilian life — including work as a prison guard — wasn't working for him, and the Army offered him a $20,000 bonus to re-enlist. Not until his redeployment date got near did the symptoms become unbearable, he said.

As for the war itself, Faulkner says he supports the soldiers but believes it's time for the troops to come home.

"To me, we're fighting Bush's war that his dad couldn't finish," he said.

The arrest comes days after the Army announced soldiers are deserting their posts at the highest rate since 1980. About nine in every 1,000 soldiers deserted in fiscal year 2007, which ended Sept. 30, compared with seven in every 1,000 the previous year. Overall, 4,698 soldiers deserted this year, compared with 3,301 last year.

Faulkner said he isn't surprised.

"When you're over there, you're keeping peace between two religious communities," he said. "They see it as pointless going back risking their lives to a war that's not going to make any effect on them. If they need help, people need to help them."

———

Associated Press Writer Ryan Lenz in Evansville, Ind., contributed to this report.

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