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System Pushes Marine with PTSD to the Edge - Can We Save One this Time?Tim King Salem-News.com
Another Marine kicked to the curb by the government he served, are we going to put up with this? Part one of a series on Nick Burgin, who enlisted at 17, pulled mortuary duty Marine in Iraq, and now has watched the VA and police take everything.
(SALEM, Ore.) - Iraq Marine Veteran Nicholas Burgin is one of many Americans today who returned from the war, but perhaps not entirely, because the experiences were so overwhelming, jarring and dangerous... that he left part of himself behind.
It's the Vietnam experience all over again, only magnified for Marines like Nick who are trained to kill, yet not allowed to step a fraction of an inch out of line. This particular military environment places demands on an individual are taxing and serious.
With that in mind, try to imagine being a 17-year old in Iraq, and learning that your entire combat tour will involve the recovery of dead Marines from the battlefield.
Most readers probably know that Marines do not leave their dead behind - only under extraordinary circumstances. But when they had to; because the explosions and ensuing firefights were so intensely deadly that Marines violate one of the supreme rules... that is when Nick's unit got a call, and they would go retrieve the fallen Marine or other service-members.
We have reported many tragic stories about Veterans losing it and 'going postal' because the terrible experiences of war were not something they could ever shake.
For many life never normalizes, and that is understandable because there is nothing 'normal' about going to a far off place where killing and being killed are the main considerations in a person's existence.
Nothing but a Setup
The notion that the VA and police ultimately push Veterans to a point that these terrible tragedies happen is not being missed in this story, nor is a particular type of prejudice that police in this country often reserve for Marines. I've written about it several times.
The government fails to adequately address the battle scars of war that travel back to this country permanently lodged in the minds of those who fight and survive the harrowing effects of combat. People die, they go to prison, lives are devastated, and it is a result of war and a distinct inability to 'deprogram' as well as we program our armed forces.
The pharmaceutical industry has its claws sharply in the back of the Veterans Administration, and the national preference to keep Veterans strung out on addictive drugs is wrong in every possible way.
When I first wrote about Nicholas Burgin, the angle of the story was how medical marijuana was an effective relief for the problems he experienced from his wartime service. He was 17-years old when he went into the Marines and off to one of the worst possible jobs Iraq can offer, and the government has been bashing his head into the wall and it must stop. There is much to this story and every one like it, but the bottom line is that Nick is still in the clear, still with us, still rational, however non-rational his circumstances but they are all the fault of the government, and that is no exaggeration.
Everything in this Veteran's life would be just fine if the government acknowledged once and for all that he suffers from PTSD (We should all be insulted that this shameful discrepancy exists), they should raise his disability to 100%, and restore his college payments.
This happened in a country where both WWII and Vietnam Veterans were able to attain degrees and live highly productive lives. In fact Salem-News.com is packed with writers who used that very advantage in their respective generations; Dr. Phil Leveque, Ralph Stone, Jeff Gates, Dr. Alan Sabrosky, the list goes on. All served their nation and then were able to attain excellent educations.
We published Nick's story, Marine Combat Vet Discusses Iraq, PTSD and Medical Marijuana 11 June 2007. A little more than two years later, a Marine friend of Nick's wrote a comment on the story addressing the Marines, mortuary service and PTSD.
21 September 2009
It goes far beyond the misdiagnoses of PTSD which apparently was recorded on his discharge papers, which has repeatedly come up; it also includes the VA's failure to pay tuition for a several month period that led to Nick being let go from Columbia Basin College in Washington, where he moved to share a home with a Marine buddy he served with in Iraq.
The players in this story:
Fallacy of VA Care
In a recent article published by Chron.com, the problems that affected Nick and so many others; with a government VA payment system that failed, were addressed in a comment by Allison Hickey, the VA undersecretary for benefits. She defended the serious problems associated with the creation of the new GI bill by comparing the process of implementing it, to flying a plane while building it. "Remember when we started this, we did not have a process at all," Hickey said. "It was a cold start."
The system is now running smoothly according to Hickey, but that sure doesn't help Nick Burgin. I suspect the only reason he is here now is because he has a family that loves him, though even the best family can only do so much. Still, their support is absolutely essential.
He served his country in the hardest way and unless they were in Iraq themselves, the Colorado Springs cops who insist on charging him for what he said at the VA, know nothing about what he has been through.
His combat tour didn't buy him the padding or flexibility in this nation of free speech to make a simple comment to a VA councilor without a major repercussion. Nick told me at one point that he wasn't going to court, that he wasn't going to comply with this ridiculous misuse of law enforcement.
This recent quote from Nick shows the way this man who should be rewarded fro his service, sees his current situation:
"The VA doesn't give a rat's ass. I'm at the end of my rope and I can't hang on anymore. The VA is supposed to be there to help, and because of them I have debts, a court date, and I'm homeless with no money. They are keeping my disability and no matter who I call I can't get anything done. Before my time comes I will make sure people know about how messed up the system is so that hopefully vets stop getting jerked around. I don't mind being the sacrificial Lamb, its my purpose I guess."
Since writing that, Nick has shared with me that he knows where this can lead, and sadly there are multiple instances of Combat Veterans being shot to death in PTSD-related incidents. I think he will go to court, but none if it is right.
I talked to a Veterans Administration councilor in Colorado Springs about this case and immediately knew exactly why Nick was in hot water; there is massive incompetence and an endless series of excuses at the ready in the VA. They are inadequately staffed or funded to perform their jobs, and they are encouraged to toss people from the system when they have the chance, and they tossed Nick out of the VA program in Colorado Springs.
In the next part of this series, I will explain more about Nick's grisly work as a Marine in a mortuary unit at the worst time in the Iraq war, when many were dying. The assertion of the Marines that he does not suffer PTSD, is offensive.
Word from an Expert
Those sitting on their butts thinking Nick is wrong, need to reexamine their vast lack of understanding, there is no reason to expect that people would or should know about the horrors of war if they haven't seen or experienced them with their own eyes and ears and noses.
However they have to stand back and listen to those who have been there, and it is foolish to do otherwise.
Our staff expert on PTSD may be the most experienced of all, because Dr. Phil Leveque, who spent his life as a Professor of Pharmacology, Forensic Toxicologist and Osteopathic Physician, actually began his life as a soldier in General George Patton's First U.S. Army. He fought the Nazi's and came home where he continued his education, and spent his life helping his fellow Veterans. His GI bill payments didn't get cut by the government in mid-stride, nothing caused him to have to leave college early. What a country this has become.
In relation to the history of PTSD, Dr. Leveque said, "The first written record of PTSD was from a physician in an Egyptian Pharaohs Army in 2500 BC who described it as “hysterical reaction to battle”. That sounds about right and PTSD continues long afterwards. Some WWII Vets still have PTSD some 65 years later. I am one of them."
In the article, PTSD, PTSD, PTSD (continued): The VA Crime Against American Veterans, Dr. Leveque wrote that, " ...not only the VA but civilian doctors are also mistreating PTSD patients by denying them medication which really works while the standard potpourri not only doesn’t work but the adverse side effects are worse than the symptoms of PTSD.".
The denial of adequate treatment and intervention for PTSD has led to so many types of crimes that they could not be described here. Family members have been Murdered, as have innocent bystanders in the wrong place at the wrong time; retail clerks, joggers, and there are the shootouts between Americans in Iraq and Kuwait that were never disclosed by our 'faithful' news media or government for that matter.
It is a simple fact that people who are sent to live amid the horrors of war come back as changed individuals. Some are for the better though unfortunately, many can not be described that way.
Suicide is the looming issue that continues to affect Combat Veterans. Even family members of Vets sometimes commit this act. In one article, Dr. Leveque discusses a "suicide by police" incident that involved a Veteran home on leave in Vancouver. 22-year old Nikkolas Lookabill had just returned from a tour in Iraq which he described as "Hell and horrible".
This is what we have a chance to avoid with Nick Burgin and I am calling on people reading this to actively involve themselves if they can. As always my email address is below. Back to that Chron.com article from 15 Sept. 2011:
The article explains that the VA's backlog peaked in fall 2009, with 65,000 pending GI Bill claims with an average processing time of 60 days. Today, there are about 23,000 pending claims with an average processing time of 10 days.
Again, not much help for Nick Burgin. He needs to have his $376 restored, he needs to be enrolled in another college, and every bit of blame placed on Nick by the VA fails to stand the fact test, it is rather infuriating. I suspect that Congressman Lamborn will be able to intervene, between now and then, I will continue this series that seems to underscore the hardships faced by today's American Combat Veterans.
* This story initially stated that Nick Burgin received $336 a month through the VA, when in fact that figure is $376. We acknowledge and apologize for this error.
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