Too many Colorado veterans struggle with PTSD and turn violent

How happy is this Veterans Day? Not so happy for too many of the veterans returning to Colorado from tours of duty and repeat return tours of duty in the decade-long wars they’ve been fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Colorado Springs author David Phillips followed the lives of soldiers returning to Fort Carson in 2007 after serving in Iraq and has just published a book on the experience titled “Lethal Warriors: When the New Band of Brothers Came Home.” Phillips reports that eight of the soldiers in the brigade he was reporting on have since been arrested for murder or attempted murder.

Phillips published a column in this morning’s Washington Post where he writes about the the effects on veterans of post traumatic stress disorder. The Post introduced the column this way:

The soldiers were all part of the same unit from Fort Carson, Colo., and when they returned home from some of the worst regions in Iraq after multiple tours of duty, many went on drug-fueled crime sprees including random shootings, brawls, beatings, rapes, driving under the influence, domestic violence, stabbings, kidnappings and suicide. In “Lethal Warriors: When the New Band of Brothers Came Home,” published this week by Palgrave Macmillan, David Philipps tells the harrowing tale of these soldiers and their struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Here, Philipps, a feature writer for the Colorado Springs Gazette and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, takes a Veterans Day look at how PTSD has become an issue of vital concern to our troops and our nation.

From Phillips’ column:

Both Jose Barco and Kenneth Eastridge served with the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team based at Fort Carson, Colo. Both deployed to the most violent places in Iraq. Both were given medals for good conduct. Both were liked by their fellow soldiers.

But both, after two tours, struggled to find normalcy, and they leaned increasingly on substance abuse and loaded weapons to make them feel sane. It was only a matter of time before someone got hurt.

Barco was arrested for attempted murder, after shooting a pregnant woman at a party. Eastridge was arrested for the murder of a fellow soldier. They are not alone.

In the year after their brigade returned from Iraq in 2007, eight soldiers were arrested for murder or attempted murder. The problem may be much larger than just one brigade in Colorado, but the number of active-duty troops and recent veterans arrested for crimes is hard to track. And currently, no one is even trying.

And from the publisher’s website:

Lethal Warriors brings to life the chilling true stories of these veterans—from their enlistment and multiple tours of duty to their struggles with ptsd and their failure to reintegrate in society. With piercing insight and employing his relentless investigative skills, journalist David Philipps shines a light not only to this particular unit, but also to the painful reality of ptsd as it rages throughout the country.

By exploring the evolving the science and the stigma of war trauma throughout history—from “shell shock” to “battle fatigue” to “combat stress injuries”—Philipps shows that this problem has always existed and that, as the nature of warfare changes, it is only getting worse. In highlighting the inspiring stories of the resilient men and women in the armed forces who have the courage to confront the issue and offer a potential lifeline to the soldiers, Lethal Warriors challenges us to deal openly, honestly, and intelligently with the true costs of war.

Phillips did not immediately return a phone message.

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Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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