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VA's Uncaring, Uncompromising Regard for a Marine with PTSDSeries Report by Tim King Salem-News.com
A fine reward for a guy who nearly died caring for America's war dead.
(SALEM, Ore.) - (If you want to start with part one, visit this link: System Pushes Marine with PTSD to the Edge - Can We Save One this Time?) The negative actions of the Veterans Administration (VA) in Colorado Springs toward an Iraq Marine Corps Veteran named Nicholas Burgin, are alarming and in all fairness, totally unacceptable. They want to make a criminal out of this man whose war service was horrific, with a Marine Mortuary unit in the early part of the Iraq conflict.
By temporarily halting monthly payments the government was obligated to cover, they stripped him of his chance to utilize the GI Bill after letting him start college, and then to seemingly rub salt in his wounds, the VA cut his nominal monthly payments of $376.
Nick tried and tried to resolve the matter as the $376 is his total income, but as this article reveals, the agency refuses to help, and yet it is a clear matter of record that the VA itself caused the problem. This is explored in detail in part one, the link to that is below.
There is no room for error on Nick's part, and an uncaring VA staff aided with the assistance of local police in this Colorado city, are no match for a man who suffers from the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is strictly a result of his war service.
In the first part of this story, I explained that Nick is someone I have known for several years, having first covered his saga as a PTSD survivor in the summer of 2007, and as he progressed through his reintegration into the civilian world.
After he began college in the nearby state of Washington, I felt like things for this Nick were going to be OK. It is incredible how everything could have gone so wrong.
Because of government mistakes and their unwillingness to straighten this situation out, A Marine Veteran of the Iraq War is standing at the gates of success or complete disaster. In addition to the many problems facing a Combat Vet with PTSD, Nick has had to wrestle with the VA as he refuses their dangerous drugs.
That is the reward young people are provided today for serving their country, and in truth it is no reward at all. Nick Burgin served in the Iraq War as a U.S. Marine at a very bad time in history, in one of the worst possible roles, and the Marine Corps decided after his service that Nick had a "personality disorder". Christ, the guy entered the Corps at the age of 17, which shouldn't even be allowed.
Horrors of War
Nick Burgin had the shittiest detail the Marine Corps can offer a guy in an already nasty and deadly war, and that is mortuary duty. Nick and his Marines didn't just have to maintain the bodies and ship them home, they had to go get them from the dangerous battlefields where they were killed.
It's a cold day in hell when Marines ever leave a Marine behind, so you can imagine the circumstances he and members of his detail had to put up with when retrieving the fallen Marines. Almost always the places were still hot; lurking in the shadows were men who were bent on killing more Marines.
Having spent just a small amount of time in Iraq to cover the war, I can only imagine how Nick's heart must have raced each time they went outside the wire to perform the saddest and hardest job of all.
Just remember when you watch those movies about dead Marines being shipped home, with the precision amount of respect applied to every move when transferring the coffin from location to location, etc., that Nick and his brother Marines went out and got those guys first.
In Iraq I became friends with an Air Force nurse at Balad, the air base, whose husband had worked with a Marine mortuary unit like Nick's earlier in the war, in 2004. Dealing with intense heat and constantly having to move, Marines carried their dead along until they could drop them off at a base. In order to live with the smell of the decaying flesh, they poured gasoline on the dead Marines and this negated the odor of decomposition. However that friend said her husband was taken back there every single time he got out to fill his car up back home, as a civilian.
I just don't think any person can ever adequately be prepared for having so much torn up humanity dropped off at their front door, or waiting by a blown up HUMVEE that was torn in half by a roadside bomb.
As if such duty wasn't bad enough, it also was the most dangerous work around. First, the people of Iraq are under occupation, so regardless of how duped Americans may be from the news media, they should understand that we are talking about a hostile place that has watched over a million of its countrymen perish specifically and directly due to the military actions of U.S. government forces.
In the regions where the Marines were fighting, the tension was so thick sometimes you could cut it with a knife. Those who were able to kill Americans with roadside bombs, naturally would lie in wait for the recovery team.
Nick said, "It was not like going and picking up a corpse and that's it. For one, you were in a hot zone, where people were just killed, not just by gunfire."
He says when they went out on recovery missions, there were generally only two HUMVEE's for security, if they were lucky, to protect a dozen Marines. When I was in Iraq in 2008 the HUMVEE's were old and beat up, but they were armored and safer by far than those that were not. Still, I was in a convoy that had a HUMVEE totally break down and require a wrecker, in the middle of the desert in Anbar Province. To make it worse Nick says, the vehicles weren't properly equipped.
He and the others would often be tasked with recovering the bodies of burn victims.
"It sounds bad, but burnt bodies are almost like burnt food... so perhaps it wasn't as bad as the rest. It did not help our appetite when we had to eat in the same building we process the bodies in. Our shop was just a medium sized bunker, no walls or anything so yes we basically ate next to the bodies. It is obvious why some of us didn't eat the meat."
Another story Nick related in 2007, offers an extremely clear description of a terrible day in Iraq.
"The worst mission I went on was when an army tank was traveling down a road and was blown up from a roadside explosive. The bomb was so powerful, you could not identify ANY part of the tank except for the tracks. It had been tossed a couple hundred feet in different directions.
Nick says he remembers this mission lasting about 15 hours.
"There was gunfire when we first arrived but nothing more. I think we picked up a couple thousand pieces of flesh that day. Going through each one individually. They would range from small penny sized pieces to legs, torsos, heads, feet, testicles, arms, etc."
This, and the Marines say Burgin has a "personality disorder" thus wreaking havoc on his existence as a Veteran. It is true, the Marines actually set exiting Veterans up to create problems seeking VA care down the road. Never has a group existed where so many honorable people were surrounded by so many assholes.
VA and Unsympathetic Cops
Do you remember the scene in the movie 'Rambo' where the character played by Sylvester Stallone, experiences massive grief from the police officer played by Brian Dennehey, simply because he wants to get something to eat?
That is a fictional story, but the overall message isn't, and the truth is that American law enforcement has been harassing those who served in the military for a very long time, and it continues today, particularly in Colorado, especially when PTSD is a factor. For all of the flag waving, and the immense national support for wars in the middle east, police officer should respect military service.
Instead, it's as if they are trying to make a man into a criminal after his service in a very difficult war.
We live in a world today where the system expects a great deal from its citizens. Governments launch wars that kill hundreds of thousands over bad information, it executes death row inmates after witnesses recant testimony, it bails out Wall Street, and it persecutes Veterans like Nick Burgin.
After the VA quit paying his college tuition in error, and cost Nick his education in a dazzling display of financial ineptitude, the VA stripped his measly $376 monthly pay to recover costs for the education he didn't receive (verified). This left Nick sitting in his car in front of the Colorado VA building, essentially refusing to budge until they assisted him.
Nick says this is the statement that landed him in legal trouble:
"OK what am I supposed to do? I am going to sit in front of the VA IN my car until somebody pays me. Am I supposed to rob a bank and kill people to have the food and shelter provided to prisoners that even I am not getting?"
That was twisted into, "I'm going to go to the VA and start killing people".
Nick explained this to a lady on the phone as the police arrived at his sister's house. "They weren't too bad, they really didn't let me talk, they said I needed to go the station, I said 'fuck let's go'".
"They were trying to get me in trouble, first thing is I had a guy telling me what I did was wrong and I was a piece of shit, and he planned on charging me with a felony, I said thanks for the bullshit".
From there, Nick was taken to Colorado Springs Cedar Springs Hospital, given meds and counseling, and the place was not too bad he says, he was able to talk to people.
He was told he had to leave with appointments, so he scheduled counseling at the VA and then he received a phone call advising that he could no longer visit the VA.
I called the Colorado Springs VA and got the same type of fast talking, excuse-making non-helpful attitude, so we are going to need some horsepower to straighten this out. I am already in contact with the office of Congressman Lamborn, and anyone else in Colorado or anywhere else for that matter who wants to help, should email me at the address below.
The latest development is sad but not totally unexpected, given the track record. It is a turn down letter to Nick,
I hope in the next installment, to begin seeing answers for Nick, it can not happen too fast and the people in charge of these affairs who are failing at their jobs should not have them in the first place.
Past reports on Nick Burgin:
Articles for October 19, 2011 | Articles for October 20, 2011 | Articles for October 21, 2011