AWOL and Ailing

JBLM soldier Brook Thomas Lindsey says the Army's mental-health system needs help.

An Iraq War veteran stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord says struggles with PTSD and a lack of responsiveness to his condition by Army doctors forced him to go AWOL.

The soldier, 26-year-old Sgt. Brook Thomas Lindsey, met with members of the media on Friday, June 22 at Coffee Strong, a nonprofit organization headquartered across the street from JBLM that advocates for military mental-health treatment reform. Lindsey recounted why he decided to leave the base without permission on March 26.

"I'd go over to Madigan [Army Medical Center], right across the street, and I'd tell them, 'I'm having suicidal thoughts,' " Lindsey says. "They would just tell me to breathe. They'd talk me down. The next day I'm still feeling the same way, but they'd return me to duty, tell my leaders everything was fine."

Wearing a baseball cap and a grey shirt with the sleeves rolled up to reveal several skeletal, military-themed tattoos on his forearms, Lindsey says he enlisted at age 19 because he felt it was his patriotic duty. He says he was deployed in Iraq for 22 months, and that he was an exemplary soldier prior to his return to the military base just south of Tacoma.

But over the past year, Lindsey says, he struggled with anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, and other conditions that stemmed from his combat experiences. He says the gung-ho Army culture initially discouraged him from seeking help, and when he finally did, "it was only a topical, it wasn't a deep solution." Lindsey says that in one instance he told doctors that he was having "homicidal thoughts against the chain of command," but the concerns were ignored.

Feeling he had nowhere to turn, Lindsey fled JBLM for upstate New York. He says he worked odd jobs and sought spiritual guidance before electing to turn himself in to military police on Tuesday, June 19. Since then, he joined up with activist organization March Forward!, which organized his press conference.

Lindsey says he was moved to speak out about his situation after learning he faced pretrial confinement for going AWOL. He also claims his confessions of "homicidal thoughts" to Madigan doctors are now being used against him in the military court system, as he faces charges of threatening a senior officer.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield confirms that Lindsey left the base without permission in March and returned voluntarily in late June. Dangerfield writes in an e-mail that "It is never justifiable to be absent without leave, even in the case of a medical emergency," adding that Lindsey now faces loss of rank, forfeiture of pay, up to a year in prison, and dishonorable discharge from the service. Dangerfield declined to comment on Lindsey's claims about PTSD treatment at JBLM, citing medical privacy laws.

Lindsey says he's willing to own up to going AWOL, but he wants the world to know that the Army's mental-health system needs a serious overhaul. "I just want to get help," Lindsey says. "I just want light applied to this system. I want nothing monetary from the Army. I just want help."

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