|"The military, in effect, criminalized mental illness.” -- Thomas Burke, USMC veteran|
"Kristofer Goldsmith was discharged from the Army at the height of the Iraq war because he was not on a plane to Baghdad for his second deployment. Instead, he was in a hospital after attempting suicide the night before.
Instead of screening Mr. Goldsmith for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, records show that the Army wrote him up for missing his flight, then forced him out of the military with a less-than-honorable discharge. When he petitioned the Army to upgrade his discharge, arguing that he missed his flight because of undiagnosed PTSD, it rejected his appeal.
In the years since, he has appealed twice more for an honorable discharge and has been denied both times.
Thomas Burke, 26, joined Mr. Goldsmith on his recent advocacy trip to Washington. Now a student at Yale Divinity School, in 2009 he was a Marine infantryman in Afghanistan, his second combat deployment in a year.
As he waited in a reception area to meet with a senator, he showed a picture on his phone of himself on patrol in Helmand Province: He was unshaven, with a dusty rifle in his hands, and 15 smiling Afghan boys were tagging behind him.
“These kids went everywhere with us; these are my kids,” he said. He smiled, lost in thought, then added, “I loved them.”
A few weeks after the photograph was taken, many of the boys were killed by an unexploded rocket-propelled grenade they found near their village. Mr. Burke and his squad were left to haul away the dismembered bodies.
Mr. Burke said he started smoking hash he bought from Afghans as an escape from stress and emotional exhaustion.
“The whole platoon pretty much did,” he said. “It was the only way we could get any sleep.” Another member of his platoon confirmed his account.
Mr. Burke was charged with misconduct for his drug use and was told he would be kicked out of the Marines. He tried to kill himself a few weeks later. “I though I could join the military and make the world a better place, and I had failed in every way,” he said. “I was so angry at God and so sad.”
The Marine Corps locked him in a psychiatric hospital, he said, and then gave him an other-than-honorable discharge without evaluating him for PTSD.
Soon after, he was told at a veterans’ hospital that he had PTSD. He applied for an honorable discharge in 2014 but was denied."