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GI denied health care after speaking out

By MARK BENJAMIN, United Press International   |   March 1, 2004 at 6:37 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 1 (UPI) -- An Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran says Army officials at Fort Knox, Ky., refused him medical treatment after he talked publicly about poor care at the base, which helped spark hearings in Congress.

Fort Knox officials charged that soldier, Lt. Jullian Goodrum, with being absent without leave and cut off his pay after he then went to a private doctor who hospitalized him for serious mental stress from Iraq, Goodrum said.

"They are coming after me pretty bad," said Goodrum, 33, a veteran who has served the military for more than 14 years, including the first Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

He showed United Press International a form from Fort Knox that states that Fort Knox officials "do not want him in medical hold." Some soldiers are kept on medical hold during treatment while the Army determines their status.

Goodrum has now been hospitalized in a locked mental ward at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. after turning himself in there Feb. 9. Doctors there say he has post-traumatic stress disorder from Iraq and major depression, and they worry he could hurt himself. He is not allowed to go down the hall from the inpatient psychiatric clinic for a Coke without an escort.

Goodrum said stress from Iraq, and the way he has been treated by the military since he returned, has made him so depressed he is lucky to be alive. He also has injuries to both wrists, in part from loading 65-pound shells on the USS Missouri when he was in the Navy in the first Gulf War. The ship pounded Iraqi troops in Kuwait and took fire from Iraqi tanks. An Iraqi Silkworm missile missed her bow by 30 yards.

Goodrum appeared in an Oct. 29 UPI article about more than 400 soldiers on medical hold at Fort Knox who were waiting weeks and sometimes months for medical treatment.

That article, and an article on a similar situation at Fort Stewart, Ga., sparked a series of hearings in Congress -- including a Jan. 21 appearance by Col. Keith Armstrong, garrison commander at Fort Knox, before a panel of the House Armed Services Committee.

Fort Knox spokeswoman Connie Shaffery said privacy rules prohibit her from commenting on Goodrum's case, unless he signed a waiver saying otherwise. He declined. Shaffery said a soldier who does not show up for duty is absent without leave.

"If a soldier is not at his or her duty station and is not in an authorized leave or pass status, he is absent without leave," Shaffery said. "When a soldier is listed as AWOL, it stops all pay and benefits. When instructed to return and they do not comply, that is a violation."

After appearing in the UPI article on Oct. 29, Goodrum asked for medical care on or about Nov. 7. He said he told Fort Knox officials that he was having a breakdown.

"I said I was having problems. I told them I felt like I was having a breakdown right there," Goodrum said. Goodrum said Fort Knox told him to go away. A handwritten note in Goodrum's records from Nov. 7 says, "Colonel Stevens do (sic) not want this patient to be in medical hold."

Goodrum said he then drove down an interstate highway at 5 miles an hour through rushing traffic. He said he was completely dysfunctional because of a combination of PTSD and what he says was retribution from his chain of command for speaking up about poor medical care at the base. He said he could have wound up dead.

"A truck could have run right over me," Goodrum said about that day. "It was a complete nervous breakdown."

Goodrum, a member of the Army Reserve, was named the 176th Maintenance Battalion's "Soldier of the Year" in 2001. He has received a host of awards, including the combat action ribbon, and positive reviews from superior officers.

"Lt. Goodrum is a truly outstanding junior officer," reads one performance evaluation from 2002. "In addition to his technical competence, he demonstrates great leadership potential. ... Promote to captain and select for advance military schooling."

Goodrum said his problems began in Iraq, working under combat conditions in a transportation company. There, he said, safety violations -- including the use of "deadlined" or broken vehicles -- resulted in the death of a 22-year old soldier. Goodrum appealed to the Army's Inspector General and Congress when he returned home.

After Goodrum sought medical help at Fort Knox on Nov. 7 and was denied, Goodrum's civilian doctor hospitalized him for PTSD and alerted Fort Knox.

Dr. Vijay Jethanandani wrote Fort Knox Nov. 15 that Goodrum needed medical leave until Dec. 7. The doctor kept officials there up to date on Goodrum's condition in a series of five letters.

"Unfortunately, recent intimidation, threats of being arrested for staying on medical leave from his superiors has resulted in recurrent psychiatric symptoms," Jethanandani wrote Dec. 3. "Until 11/26/03, Mr. Jullian Goodrum was progressing fairly well."

"It does not help that Mr. Goodrum was in combat with a unit in Iraq, where a superior officer ignored safety protocol jeopardizing the safety of soldiers and resulting in the death of one man," Jethanandani wrote. "Instead of following up on his complaints, it appears that some of his superiors on stateside may be penalizing him for reporting his superior officer in Iraq."

In the wake of the Fort Stewart and Fort Knox stories, last fall Undersecretary of Defense David S.C. Chu ordered that if medical care is not available on base, "medical commanders shall promptly refer patients to other military, Veteran Affairs, or civilian sources of care."

Goodrum said he showed Chu's memo to Fort Knox officials, but it did not help. "I told them they were ignoring an order from the undersecretary of Defense," Goodrum said.

Goodrum's medical files shows that Walter Reed medical staff also have been unable to get Fort Knox medical officials to discuss his case. "Patient is currently assigned to the medical hold company in Fort Knox, Ky., and to a Capt. Savage. Capt. Savage has NOT returned any phone calls from this office," his record states.

Soldiers at Fort Knox contacted UPI about another situation they consider a sign of poor care.

On Feb. 11, a soldier on medical hold at Fort Knox who served in Iraq apparently attempted suicide in the barracks. He was attached to a Special Forces unit in Iraq.

Soldiers there said he deeply slashed both of his wrists, spraying blood in the barracks hallway and around his room before being rushed to the hospital.

"If it was not for about three guys, if they had not applied direct pressure and immediate pressure, he would have died," said a soldier at Fort Knox who knows him.

Soldiers said they worry that Army officials did not act aggressively to address his problems, including heavy drinking, that appear to have surfaced since Iraq.

Shaffery said she could not comment on that case, either. "We are sensitive to psychiatric or suicide issues with all of our population," she said.

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