The controversy about how the U.S. Army treats soldiers with PTSD is in the news again. After all these years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army is still struggling to provide soldiers with appropriate treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Last month Georgia National Guard Specialist Stephen Akins, a decorated Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, committed suicide, and there are indications that Akins committed suicide because he had been denied proper treatment for his PTSD by the Army.
Akins enlisted in the Georgia National Guard in 2003 and deployed to Iraq three years later, While Akins was serving in Iraq; he was knocked unconscious by a roadside bomb, an improvised explosive device (IED) that detonated under his vehicle. Akins later served two tours in Afghanistan and was exposed to other blasts from IEDs.
IEDs are the most lethal weapon used against American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in the beginning, Army doctors didn’t yet understand that the explosions often caused traumatic brain injury (TBI), one of the most devastating wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, many troops who had been exposed to IED explosions were sent back into combat before their brains recovered, thus risking more serious damage from another IED blast. Akins was one of those troops.
When Akins returned from his three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he started experiencing behavioral problems, such as alcohol and drug abuse, similar to the behavioral problems that so many combat veterans with PTSD experience.
Patrick Lillard, the psychiatrist who treated Akins for the Army at Fort Gordon, Georgia after Akins returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, took scans of Akins’ brain, and found scar tissue and evidence of past seizures, as well as combat blast exposure. Lillard also found evidence of that Akins had already attempted suicide.
Because of his findings, Lillard recommended that Akins needed medical treatment, not punishment. Lillard told the Army that Akins desperately needed more help than the Army could provide. So Lillard tried to arrange hospitalization for Akins before he left the military.
Lillard tried to arrange hospitalization for Akins at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington. But he had no luck.
According to a report by USA Today, the Army has struggled mightily to provide adequate care for soldiers suffering from alcohol and drug abuse, despite the fact that the abuse is often a result of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from serving in combat.
According to USA Today, the Army’s substance abuse program has declined in quality since 2010, when it shifted to non-medical management. After the shift to non-medical management, 90 soldiers within the substance abuse treatment program have committed suicide. Another 31 soldiers, who Army inspectors described as having received “sub-standard treatment” also committed suicide.
Despite his service in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army discharged Akins because of bad behavior, such behavior as drunk driving, speeding, missed appointments and cheating on his urinalysis test. That kind of behavior is not unusual for a combat veteran with PTSD, but the Army contended that Atkins’ bad behavior had nothing to with traumatic brain injury or emotional problems.
Six months later Stephen Akins’s mother, Chrystal, found her son dead in her basement in Austell, Georgia. He had committed suicide.