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US WAR VETERANS ADDICTED TO DRUGS

They were prepared for war. They were prepared to die for their country. But Fort Carson soldiers say they weren't prepared to come home and fight a different battle -- addiction to illegal drugs.

Many of this country's bravest men and women who volunteered to defend America in a time of war have come home wounded -- physically and mentally -- and are turning to illicit drugs as they adjust to normal life, according to soldiers, health experts and advocates.


"Lots of soldiers coming back from Iraq have been using drugs," said Specialist William Swenson, who was deployed to Iraq from Fort Carson. "Right when we got back there were people using cocaine in the barracks, there were people smoking marijuana at strip clubs; one guy started shooting up," he said.

Fort Carson, just outside Colorado Springs, is home to 17,500 active duty personnel. 4,800 service members are currently deployed in the "sand box" as soldiers call Iraq and Afghanistan. ABC News spoke to more than a dozen soldiers who described widespread abuse of illegal drugs at Fort Carson by service members back from the war.

Specialist Alan Hartmann was a gunner on a Chinook helicopter flying missions from Kuwait into Iraq in 2003. He described the high of flying and the feeling that "nothing can touch you," as well as the terror of being shot at.

Having regularly ferried the bodies of American soldiers killed in combat -- with the helicopter exhaust blowing warm air and the smell of death through the craft -- Hartmann said he had trouble sleeping when he returned to Ft. Carson. The nightmares were too bad, he said.

Army doctors prescribed anti-depressants and painkillers for him -- two-type written pages worth since he's been back -- but he didn't like how the drugs made him feel, Hartmann said. So he said he turned to self-medication with methamphetamines.

"The nightmares were killing me from being over there. The pain was so bad I didn't want to deal with it. Well, amphetamines is a real quick way to get rid of it," Hartmann said. "I was snorting it, and I was smoking it, and then I was hot railing it, and then I got to the point where I was actually injecting it in my arms," said Hartmann, who eventually checked himself into rehab and is now clean.

"(Soldiers are) coming back, drinking, fighting, putting thousand dollar tabs down at a bar and drinking four to five hours, getting to the point where you don't give a crap about anything anymore (or) anybody, don't care if you live or die…the point where you do drugs," Hartmann said. "(Drugs) have been in Fort Carson like crazy."

Another former Fort Carson soldier, Michael Bailey, said he was discharged from the army after testing positive for cocaine. Bailey served two tours, one in Iraq and another in Kuwait.

The stress of his deployment combined with marital problems overwhelmed Bailey who said he twice tried to commit suicide.

"The dose (of anti-depressants) I was on wasn't working, so I was trying an extra one and that wasn't working," Bailey said. "So I started drinking and at one point I did cocaine."

Baily said he failed a drug test the very next day. Even though he was in the process of receiving mental health counseling from the Army, Bailey said he was discharged over his drug use. At the time of his interview with ABC News, Bailey was unemployed and still grappling with feelings of depression and anxiety.

And then there's combat engineer William Swenson who was injured on what was to be his final mission in Iraq when his vehicle drove over a 200-pound improvised explosive device. The blast injured Swenson's spine and he developed syringomyelia -- a condition in which cysts form on the spinal cord.

Swenson said a laundry list of prescribed painkillers was ineffective so he turned to marijuana, the only substance that he said would numb his physical and emotional pain. Swenson failed a drug test after testing positive for marijuana as well as cocaine.

"I think a lot of people using drugs, soldiers mainly, coming back from Iraq, it's just to get an escape from…all those horrible things that came into their mind when they were over there," Swenson said.

Army Denies Growing Drug Abuse Problem

Fort Carson's leadership declined to discuss substance abuse issues with ABC News despite numerous interview requests. Fort Carson also said it could not comment on the individual cases of the soldiers we interviewed, citing privacy concerns.

However, in interviews with ABC News from the Pentagon, the U.S. Army strongly denied there was an increase in drug abuse among soldiers deployed to Iraq.

According to Dr. Ian McFarling, Acting Director of the Army Center for Substance Abuse Programs, less than one half of one percent of soldiers in Iraq have tested positive for illegal drugs. "That's a testament to the kind of leadership we have is that they believe that that's not the place that they should be doing drugs," said Dr. McFarling.

But Dr. McFarling said that once soldiers return from Iraq the positive rate doubles to over one percent. In addition, Dr. McFarling said five percent of soldiers back from Iraq seek help for substance abuse issues from clinical providers.

The U.S. Army does offer treatment for soldiers dealing with drug abuse and Fort Carson has a busy Army Substance Abuse Program. But some soldiers are forced off post because Fort Carson offers no in-patient services; others get treatment in the community to avoid the stigma associated with seeking help, soldiers and advocates said.

Since the Iraq war started in 2003, Colorado Springs hospitals and counseling services have seen a dramatic increase in active duty soldiers seeking treatment for substance abuse. Penrose-St. Francis Health Services went from treating no active duty soldiers for substance abuse before the war to between 30 and 40 now, said Phillip Ballard, the hospital's inpatient psychiatrist.

According to Phillip Ballard, "Now that we have larger numbers than the military facilities can treat…it falls upon the civilian community to treat those patients."

Veterans' advocacy groups charge that the problem of substance abuse is much greater than the army wants to publicly acknowledge, and it's growing.

"I've met with veterans from coast to coast, and I will tell you that there is a catastrophe on the horizon," said Paul Sullivan, director of Veterans for Common Sense.

3,057 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were potentially diagnosed with a drug dependency from fiscal year 2005 through March 2007, according to figures provided to ABC News from the Veterans Health Administration. From 2002 through 2004 only a total of 277 veterans were diagnosed with a drug dependency, the numbers show.

"The military right now can say whatever they want, but the truth on the ground is that the soldiers are in a lot of pain, emotional and physical pain, and they're turning to drugs in order to alleviate that," said Sullivan.

Wounded Warriors

More than a dozen Fort Carson soldiers talked to ABC about their drug use, including some willing to be interviewed on camera about their experiences.

--William Swenson was injured in his final mission in Iraq. Prescription drugs provided little relief from physical and emotional pain, Swenson said, so he turned to marijuana and tried cocaine. The army court-martialed Swenson and threw him in jail for 20 days.

--Michael Bailey said he tried to commit suicide twice because of the combined stress of his deployment to Iraq and marital problems. He failed a drug test after using cocaine during a night out on the town.

--Matthew McKane worked as a medic in Baghdad. To escape the daily chaos he and another soldier tried propofol, a powerful anesthetic, McKane said. The other soldier overdosed and died. When McKane returned home he tested positive for cocaine, he said. He is currently in prison awaiting a court martial on misconduct charges. McKane believes he will soon be dismissed from the Army because of his drug use.

--Jeffrey Smith also worked as a medic in Baghdad and said he turned to illegal drugs to cope with emotional trauma inflicted during his deployment in Iraq. After testing positive for illicit drugs, he said he was kicked out of the Army on misconduct charges with no benefits.

--Alan Hartmann was a door gunner on a Chinook helicopter flying missions from Kuwait into Iraq. He suffered from chronic nightmares after returning home and turned to methamphetamines to stay awake, he said.

Photo: When McKane returned to Fort Carson, he said he tested positive for cocaine. He is currently in prison awaiting a court-martial on misconduct charges. McKane believes he will soon be dismissed from the Army because of his drug use. (ABC News)
More on this topic, including video features at ABC News.


http://www.military.com/features/0,15240,156956,00.html?ESRC=dod-b.nl


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Added: Nov-30-2007 
By: Doyle22
In:
Iraq, Afghanistan, Middle East
Tags: War, Iraq, Veterans
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  • the guy in the picture is a psychopath, i think

    i saw him and others celebrating the capture of those young Iraqis and then there was pictures of blood on the floor and all sorts of indications of torture and beatings. i am not proud of such men. if he did not do any of this it doesn't apply, of course.

    Posted Nov-30-2007 By 

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  • war is hell we've been told but I'm sure being physically and mentally depended on a drug has to suck too

    Posted Nov-30-2007 By 

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  • It's not surprising to see them turn to drugs to deal with the memory of those dirty little secrets they saw or were involved in while on duty.

    Posted Nov-30-2007 By 

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  • Addictive personalities some people try drugs and never get addicted..

    Being in the military has little to do with drug use since its an epidemic that involves all classes

    rich poor, military non military etc

    Posted Nov-30-2007 By 

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  • I wonder how the Iraqis deal with the pain of seeing their friends and family murdered by invading Imperialist american forces.

    Posted Nov-30-2007 By 

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  • Contrary to the theory of evolution, human beings are not made for war (survival of the fittest)

    Posted Nov-30-2007 By 

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  • Wouldn't you want to drug yourself knowing that you're responsible for the deaths of thousands in an illegal, immoral war?

    Posted Nov-30-2007 By 

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  • lasrever: "the guy in the picture is a psychopath, i think

    i saw him and others celebrating the capture of those young Iraqis and then there was pictures of blood on the floor and all sorts of indications of torture and beatings. i am not proud of such men. if he did not do any of this it doesn't apply, of course."
    go save a tree.

    Posted Nov-30-2007 By 

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  • FillTheVoid: "Contrary to the theory of evolution, human beings are not made for war (survival of the fittest)"
    Evolution? you don't know the first thing about evolution or you wouldn't make such an asinine statement.

    Posted Nov-30-2007 By 

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  • ZenGrden: "Wouldn't you want to drug yourself knowing that you're responsible for the deaths of thousands in an illegal, immoral war?"
    Exactly

    Posted Nov-30-2007 By 

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  • ...potentially diagnosed with a drug dependency...Huh? WTF?

    There's always been drugs and alcohol problems in the military. WHY IS THIS NEWS? Oh yeah, it's ABC news and they gotta take a jab at the military. Hell, when I was in the Army it was like a freakin' alcoholism production factory.

    This is not news.

    Posted Nov-30-2007 By 

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  • ZenGrden: "Wouldn't you want to drug yourself knowing that you're responsible for the deaths of thousands in an illegal, immoral war?"
    No

    Posted Nov-30-2007 By 

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  • the drugs are coming from over there in the first place.......

    Posted Nov-30-2007 By 

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  • BULL SHIIT STORY!!


    GO SUCK ON SOME AIDS!

    Posted Nov-30-2007 By 

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  • lasrever: "the guy in the picture is a psychopath, i think

    i saw him and others celebrating the capture of those young Iraqis and then there was pictures of blood on the floor and all sorts of indications of torture and beatings. i am not proud of such men. if he did not do any of this it doesn't apply, of course."
    The guy in the pic that adorns this bullshit post, is a Navy SEAL with Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan. You are delusional, and per usual, ill-informed. The photo has not More..

    Posted Nov-30-2007 By 

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  • Dat1111: "Addictive personalities some people try drugs and never get addicted..

    Being in the military has little to do with drug use since its an epidemic that involves all classes

    rich poor, military non military etc"
    Right after I got out of the Army, I was pretty heavily into drugs. And one day I just stopped doing drugs, drinking, and even cigarettes. I didn't have a reason to, I just got tired of that lifestyle. And I haven't touched them since.

    So you're right. A person More..

    Posted Nov-30-2007 By 

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  • surefireX200: "
    lasrever: "the guy in the picture is a psychopath, i think

    i saw him and others celebrating the capture of those young Iraqis and then there was pictures of blood on the floor and all sorts of indications of torture and beatings. i am not proud of such men. if he did not do any of this it doesn't apply, of course."
    The guy in the pic that adorns this bullshit post, is a Navy SEAL with Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan. You are delusional, and per usual, ill-informe More..
    I agree.. lasrever never shuts up. And he clearly doesnt know shly about the picture. What a joke.

    Posted Nov-30-2007 By 

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  • English_Patriot: "I thought it was compulsory for all americans to be drugged.
    "
    are you talking about the half american - winston?

    Posted Dec-1-2007 By 

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  • For the record i would like to say i am pro america but anti bush.. If iraqi's didnt like saddam that much they would have left their country. I hate bush for the simple reason its not our problem yet he puts our men and women there. Bush is a scumbag. I hope the next president doesnt adopt a policy of attacking countries just for the simple reason they are tyranical to its people. So what if saddam gassed women and children in kurdish villages. If the world didnt care why the FVCK should we.. A More..

    Posted Nov-30-2007 By 

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  • English_Patriot: "I thought it was compulsory for all americans to be drugged.
    "
    Only if they want to screw english women. You would have to be on drugs

    Posted Dec-2-2007 By 

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  • lasrever: "the guy in the picture is a psychopath, i think

    i saw him and others celebrating the capture of those young Iraqis and then there was pictures of blood on the floor and all sorts of indications of torture and beatings. i am not proud of such men. if he did not do any of this it doesn't apply, of course."
    blood on the floor means torture??? Maybe they were wounded stupid anti american troll.

    Posted Nov-30-2007 By 

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  • Metasense: "
    FillTheVoid: "Contrary to the theory of evolution, human beings are not made for war (survival of the fittest)"
    Evolution? you don't know the first thing about evolution or you wouldn't make such an asinine statement."
    Nicely put.

    Posted Dec-6-2007 By 

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  • american goverment wants to sweep this under the rug... good post!

    Posted Nov-30-2007 By 

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  • Dat1111: "Addictive personalities some people try drugs and never get addicted..

    Being in the military has little to do with drug use since its an epidemic that involves all classes

    rich poor, military non military etc"
    exactly what the pentagon response would be.. to equate it to normal life.. when asked about soldier deaths the usual explanation from dat and pentagon would be iraq is as safe as driving in american roads

    Posted Nov-30-2007 By 

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  • `Hola Soldado de mierda .tu tiennes de todo el rifle los tankes munutiones para la guerra pero no tiennes honnor de combate tu eres un idiota vagabundo lleno de miedo por esso tu te vas por la drogua .jajajajajaja

    Posted Nov-30-2007 By 

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