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Oct-20-2011 23:47printcomments

VA's Uncaring, Uncompromising Regard for a Marine with PTSD

A fine reward for a guy who nearly died caring for America's war dead.

Nicholas Burgin
Nicholas Burgin

(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.

Marines in Iraq '08. Salem-News.com photo by Tim King

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

Sylvester Stallone in 'Rambo'

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:

System Pushes Marine with PTSD to the Edge - Can We Save One this Time?

Marine Combat Vet Discusses Iraq, PTSD and Medical Marijuana

_________________________________________________________
Tim King: Salem-News.com Editor and Writer

Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines.

Tim holds awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Silver Spoke Award by the National Coalition of Motorcyclists (2011), Excellence in Journalism Award by the Oregon Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs (2010), Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), First-place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several others including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Tim has several years of experience in network affiliate news TV stations, having worked as a reporter and photographer at NBC, ABC and FOX stations in Arizona, Nevada and Oregon. Tim was a member of the National Press Photographer's Association for several years and is a current member of the Orange County Press Club.

Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website. As News Editor, Tim among other things, is responsible for publishing the original content of 91 Salem-News.com writers. He reminds viewers that emails are easily missed and urges those trying to reach him, to please send a second email if the first goes unanswered. You can write to Tim at this address: newsroom@salem-news.com




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Anonymous October 23, 2011 3:34 pm (Pacific time)

just wondering if he dropped out of school?? if he did not in the time set by the school, then he does have to re-pay the money, it is the same as getting a federal student loan. you can't get the money, use it, then decide not to go to class, or drop-out without having to re-pay part, half, or all of the money. If he did drop-out or did not complete the courses and got a GPA below 2.0, then according to the GI BILL papers which he had to sign like the rest of us, states, that they will take money until the debt is re-covered, even taxes. You can't just take the money, and then not go to school or class, and keep the money. why did he not give them any reason or information as to why he could not re-pay the money or the school loan? i think he should have at least given them your stories for consideration. He should be allowed to appeal the ruling to give him time to submit evidence in his favor. it's almost like they are telling him we need to see something from you so we can overturn this.

Tim King: Good questions, and for them I have good answers.  First, I had a series of conversations with the college in Washington and Nick was a student in good standing when he attended classes.  The payments to the college were terminated by a financial snafu that is a matter of public record, all on the part of the federal government.  The college was concerned when the payments stopped, but they let Nick continue for two more months, then they cut him loose as they could not incur any further debt.  The people at the college are extremely kind, at this point they have forgiven Nick's debt to them. 

The government first cut his college payments, and then they cut his disability payment for some type of back payment and that is where it all stops making sense.  The government as far as I can see, is responsible now for restoring his educational opportunity and everyone in the government has a boss, and they all can be in hot water progressively.  It is my understanding that all but $40 of his monthly $376 payment is being restored, we will find out if that is real on the first. 

So to summarize, Nick did absolutely nothing wrong from anything I can see, and I truly have been objective while looking into this because I have credibility on the line and there is no choice.  So while I am advocating for Nick, I am doing it from a level platform..  


Anonymous October 23, 2011 3:21 pm (Pacific time)

I had a real problem with the VA in getting PTSD evaluations, so I went to the Oregon State VA office in Salem, and in a little over a month I had an appointment and 6 months later a decision and back-payments for PTSD that I had claimed over 2 years prior. I think if he would go to the state of Colorado VA office, he would get better service and maybe they could find him some legal help. I could not be happier for the state VA office getting the Federal VA to listen and get me appointments and money that I had been waiting for for over 2 years.

Tim King: Thanks so much for your comment, I am not surprised to hear of your good treatment at the Oregon VA, and I think you are offering good advice that is helpful.  I'm very glad to know that your personal case is through, great news.  


Tom Delaney October 21, 2011 4:47 pm (Pacific time)

I was suicidal (PTSD) one evening and called The Suicide hotline.  They were very helpful.  They gave my name to the local VAMC who gave me a short call ...and never called back.  I could be rotting in the living room for all they care.

Tom Delaney

Editor: Well damn it isn't that just a classic scenario these days Tom,  par for the course and is anything more wrong?


Anonymous October 21, 2011 2:37 pm (Pacific time)

Tim..In my opinion you dont cover even 1/10th of the crap our banker owned government is doing, but I know you are just one person and work many hours and appreciate your efforts.. The injustice from our banker owned government is beyond my comprehension..The deaths, the mayhem etc..If people only knew more.. There are things that cheer me up a bit tho..my daughter sent me a song via email..She is 22. She does not watch tv, not lady gaga etc..She seeks truth..As a single parent I think I did ok...Here is the song she sent me..it gives me hope..Many young people are waking up...rejoice. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfblGznVLJo


Anonymous October 21, 2011 9:26 am (Pacific time)

Of all the different types of civilian jobs, those in law enforcement are disproportionately "veterans," and that includes being combat veterans, not just serving in a combat zone. I am service-connected for a number of medical issues, including PTSD, and at no time has my disability award been based on taking any kind of perscription. If an individual as a mental disorder as per the DSM that is not PTSD, then they are usually compelled to take perscribed pills, but they can appeal that. I suggest this individual get free legal assistance form any chartered Veteran's organization. Good luck to him, but he needs qualified represenattion. The VA is one huge outfit, and there is no real individual accountibility, thus passing the buck is how they mess with us if we try taking them on as individuals. It is an adversarial situation.

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