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Army deserter released from Fort Sill

Jan. 25, 2009 - 05:55PM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 25, 2009 - 05:55PM  |  
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OKLAHOMA CITY — A former Army private who spent nearly three years hiding in Canada after deserting his unit has been released from the stockade at Fort Sill.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — A former Army private who spent nearly three years hiding in Canada after deserting his unit has been released from the stockade at Fort Sill.

Daniel Sandate, 26, returned to the United States last year and was sentenced to eight months in the stockade. Sandate was released Jan. 20 and plans to stay with friends in the Oklahoma City area.

Sandate said he never meant to be anything other than a good soldier. His problems started in June 2004, when he developed severe back pain just before deploying to Iraq.

When he got back, Sandate said, his superiors ignored his medical problems and made him walk long distances when he needed to take his prescription pain medication.

"It came to the point where I didn't want to get my medicine because it hurt more to walk that far than it would for me to just do without," Sandate said.

He said discipline threats from the Army started as his physical condition deteriorated and his job performance suffered.

Sandate didn't notice it, but friends told him his personality changed dramatically after he returned from Iraq. He had a history of depression and showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sandate's attorney, James Branum of Oklahoma City, works with groups that provide legal help to soldiers. He suspects Sandate's mental problems pushed him over the edge.

The idea to leave for Canada wasn't supposed to be a permanent move. Sandate said he just needed a break from the Army, and he had met a girl online who happened to live there.

"Next thing I know, I was on a plane, and I was in Toronto," Sandate said. "I didn't have anything thought out at the time. One of my downfalls is I don't really plan things ahead."

He planned on coming back to his unit until he got a call a week later from his sergeant telling him he had committed a crime punishable by death. As the gravity of his mistake set in, he said, he decided not to go back and face the wrath of his superiors.

Sandate came to the attention of Canadian authorities when he attempted suicide. Sandate said he actually looked forward to returning to the Army, hoping he'd get help for his mental illness.

That help never came, he said. He said he was denied mental health treatment by both the Army and the county jail where he was held awaiting trial. He pleaded guilty to desertion and was sentenced to eight months, far less than the potential two to five years deserters can face.

Karen Connelly, a spokesman for Fort Carson, said the military can't comment on a specific soldier's physical or mental health because of privacy laws, but she said all soldiers have access to adequate medical care.

"Every soldier is treated as an individual and has the opportunity to be treated by health care specialists, and they get a treatment plan just like anyone else if they saw a civilian doctor," Connelly said.

Branum said the judge took into account Sandate's mental health problems and the lack of treatment by Army doctors.

"I wish that he'd gotten help early on and fought back," Branum said. "He did what he was supposed to do in Iraq. When he came back, he had serious mental and physical health issues, and he was turned away."

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