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FORT CARSON, Colo. — A Fort Carson soldier who says he was in treatment at Cedar Springs Hospital for bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse was released early and ordered to deploy to the Middle East with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
The 28-year-old specialist spent 31 days in Kuwait and was returned to Fort Carson on Dec. 31 after health care professionals in Kuwait concurred that his symptoms met criteria for bipolar disorder and "some paranoia and possible homicidal tendencies," according to e-mails obtained by The Denver Post.
The soldier, who asked not to be identified because of the stigma surrounding mental illness and because he will seek employment when he leaves the Army, said he checked himself into Cedar Springs on Nov. 9 or Nov. 10 after he attempted suicide while under the influence of alcohol. He said his treatment was supposed to end Dec. 10 but his commanding officers showed up at the hospital Nov. 29 and ordered him to leave.
"I was pulled out to deploy," said the soldier, who has three years in the Army and has served a tour in Iraq.
Soldiers from Fort Carson and across the country have complained they were sent to combat zones despite medical conditions that should have prevented their deployment.
Late last year, Fort Carson said it sent 79 soldiers who were considered medical "no-gos" overseas. Officials said the soldiers were placed in light-duty jobs and are receiving treatment there. So far, at least six soldiers have been returned.
An e-mail sent Jan. 3 by Capt. Scot Tebo, the brigade surgeon, says the 3rd Brigade Combat Team had "been having issues reaching deployable strength" and that some "borderline" soldiers were sent overseas.
"The chain of command takes each and every allegation of improper care of soldiers seriously," said Col. B. Shannon Davis, chief of staff at Fort Carson. "Caring and competent commanders make these decisions. All soldiers' medical records are protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and, without prior authorization from the soldier, it would be inappropriate and unfair for us to discuss the specifics of any soldier's medical care."
Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, was outraged.
"If he's an inpatient in a hospital, they should have never taken him out," he said. "The chain of command needs to be held accountable for this. Washington needs to get involved at the Pentagon to make sure this doesn't happen again.
"First, we had the planeload of wounded, injured and ill being forced back to the war zone. And now we have soldiers forcibly removed from mental hospitals. The level of outrage is off the Richter scale."
A Dec. 14 e-mail written by Tebo recommended that the soldier taken out of Cedar Springs, in Colorado Springs, and two others — one with a shoulder injury, the other with mental-health issues — be returned to Fort Carson.
"I do not want to give the impression that I am making these recommendations lightly ..." Tebo wrote. "We are now catching some of the borderline cases that we had hoped could make it in theater, but have not turned out as desired."
The soldier said he was called to the office at Cedar Springs on Nov. 29. His squad leader, his platoon leader, his Army Substance Abuse Program counselor and two counselors from Cedar Springs — which has a contract to provide mental-health care for the Army — "came and ambushed me."
He said an Army alcohol counselor told him alcoholism and anxiety could not stop him from being deployed. He was told an Army mental health counselor would be there for him in the war zone.
"They said, ‘You know what? Tough it out. All of us like to drink.' They had words of encouragement: ‘All the guys will be there. You'll be among friends. You'll have counseling there.'"
Cedar Springs officials declined to comment.
The soldier tried to convince his leaders that he should not deploy. He tried to cause a scene, but they called his wife, and "she talked me into it, to just comply," he said.
The soldier was placed under supervision for a day and a half before his Dec. 1 deployment because, his commanders told him, they worried he was a desertion risk.
Then the soldier was escorted to Evans Army Community Hospital to collect three months of medication — Lamictal for treatment of bipolar disorder; Seroquel, an anti-psychotic; and Klonopin for anxiety and mood disorders.
He said a doctor at the hospital lowered the dosage of his prescriptions and told him he was on medications that would keep him from deploying.
"I had chain of command waiting outside, escorts who were waiting there and telling me to hurry up and get out. So I was just scared if I put up an argument.
"I told him I was fine and everything was fine," the soldier said.
The soldier said that at the time of discharge from Cedar Springs, his "dual diagnosis" was not discussed, only his alcoholism. Two weeks before he was sent to rehab, the Army had cleared him to go to Iraq.
But things did not go well after he was deployed.
In the December e-mail, Tebo tells brigade leaders, "Evidently, while at Cedar Springs, he was started on psychiatric medications that should have made him non-deployable, but somehow no one was notified. He may have been pending a diagnosis of Bipolar disorder, but that information was not passed on at discharge. He deployed with his unit and has not been doing well here."
In Kuwait, the soldier isolated himself. He said he had "racing thoughts" and couldn't keep still. He took medication — Seroquel — to go to sleep.
"I was ... burning my fingertips with cigarettes, just anything to keep my mind off of things," the soldier said. "I had homicidal thoughts. I don't know at the time if I intended on doing anything. But at the time, it was there, I had homicidal and suicidal thoughts."
Three days after his arrival, a physician assistant learned he was taking drugs that would make him non-deployable.
The Dec. 14 e-mail from the brigade surgeon said two health care professionals evaluated the soldier and arrived independently at a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
"The soldier stated ... that he did not know what he might do if he had ammunition for his weapon. He was given a no weapon profile, but I have heard that it was not being followed," Tebo said in the e-mail.
The soldier said he was sent to the range twice to practice shooting with live rounds. At the end of the training, his weapon was taken from him.
He said he met with a mental health counselor almost every day. He was sent to the Navy psychological division and he talked to a psychiatrist and a psychologist.
"They realized I was not supposed to be there, and they fought for me to go back to Fort Carson," he said. "It took a long time. My chain of command wanted me to deploy to Iraq.
"They were saying, ‘We'll take care of it when he comes to Iraq,' but I knew that once I went to Iraq, I wouldn't have no help."
Since his return, he has been in treatment. He said his medical record contains a permanent profile for bipolar disorder, an illness that makes him unfit for military service. He is undergoing the process to be medically discharged from the Army.