Community members stand up for soldiers’ right to heal

A May 24 demonstration outside the Fort Hood main gate in Killeen, Texas, honored soldiers who have committed suicide due to trauma inflicted in combat, and asked General Campbell, the Commanding General of III Corps at Fort Hood, to enforce policies which would improve service members’ access to behavioral healthcare.

A group of veterans and civilian supporters identifying as Operation Recovery passed out flyers for a memorial day BBQ along with copies of command policies MEDCEN01 and SURG1 to vehicles entering and exiting the gate.

MEDCEN01 and SURG1 were enacted on Fort Hood to give soldiers’ treatment plans the weight of law over operational readiness and allow them to seek care without fear of retaliation from their unit. They are not always enforced at company or battalion level for the sake of expediency and also due to a culture of silence around these issues.

“This action is to shine a light on the fact that those two policies are in place but are not being enforced, and the general needs to take steps to ensure that the policies he put down on the books aren’t just merely words but that those words carry meaning.” said Jason Matherne, member of Iraq Veterans Against The War (IVAW) and Resident Organizer at Under The Hood, a GI outreach center and café in Killeen through which the Operation Recovery campaign is conducted.  Matherne deployed to Qatar in 2008 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Neglect of soldier care has led to a host of appalling consequences over the course of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. General Chiarelli, who compiled a report on the effects of the wars on military personnel entitled Generating Health and Discipline In The Force, told the New York Times in January that 164 active duty service members took their lives in 2011. This sets a record high and can be credited to multiple deployments and a general lack of treatment for conditions like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury and Military Sexual Trauma.

In spite of these costs, education about MECEN01 and SURG1 has not been a priority on Fort Hood. Operation Recovery is determined to change that. Not only are they working to get these policies into the hands of active duty service members, but they are also pressuring General Campbell to hold a post-wide Safety Stand-down in lieu of these policies.

Post-wide enforcement and knowledge of MEDCEN01 and SURG1 could conceivably force a change in the culture at Fort Hood, giving service members’ a basic dignity which has already been denied to too many in the military: that of seeking care for themselves when they are most in need of it.

Overall, the message seemed to resonate with the passing motorists. Matherne said, “There was a little bit of negativity, as there always will be. There was some indifference, but there were a lot of thank-you’s from soldiers when we gave them flyers. There was a lot of horn-honking, and there was some genuine interest in it. So, yeah, it was really positive.”

Under The Hood is carrying on the legacy of Vietnam-era war resistance coffee houses like The Oleo Strut, whose doors were open in Killeen from 1968 to 1972.  The café is run by members of IVAW, active duty service members, and the Civilian-Soldier Alliance (a group of civilian activists working closely with IVAW).  As well as being a hub of war resistance culture and action, Under The Hood is a place that champions the rights of service members and their families.

You can send General Campbell an e-mail telling him to hold a Safety Stand-down around MEDCEN01 and SURG1 by clicking here. To find out more about Under The Hood and how to get involved, check out the website.  

If you are an active duty soldier and need counseling, medical or legal referral, or just want to know what your rights as a service member are, call the GI Rights Hotline at 877-447-4487.

Photo: Preparing the wounded for transport at Fort Hood. U.S. Army // CC 2.0