Shattered soldiers say there was no help

Shattered soldiers say there was no help »Play Video
"My job was to kick down doors."

His Army buddies called him "K-10." On the dusty streets of Iraq he had one goal: "Find insurgents and punish them. Period."

K-10 can't use his real name because now he's a fugitive - a deserter. With just three weeks left in the Army, K-10 went AWOL from the Fort Lewis Post when, he says, the flashbacks of battle became more than he could bear.

"I never had nightmares before I went to Iraq," says K-10.

Another soldier, who now goes by the fictitious name of Arthur Smith, says he was so tortured by terrifying nightmares he went AWOL from the National Guard.

"I would wake up shaking, I would wake up sweating," he says. "I would have dreams of being gunned down by other Army soldiers."

Army Combat Veteran Santiago Cisneros tried to kill himself just eight months after leaving Iraq.

"I fought a war back there in Iraq. I didn't know I was going to have to fight a war back here in the United States within myself," says Santiago.

All three men told the Problem Solvers they are shattered soldiers, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and didn't get the help they needed from the military they served.

Susan Avila-Smith is a veteran and an advocate for military members suffering from trauma and says these soldiers need help now.

"It's imperative to understand these people went over there, were trained to kill, they killed, they came back and there's no debriefing, there's no 'ok, we're going to train you how to adapt to society now,'" she says.

Soldiers may not know

The military contends it's more prepared than ever to deal with PTSD.

In fact, Fort Lewis - the very post that K-10 ran away from - was one of the first to screen every returning soldier for both physical and mental problems.

Soldiers are screened upon their return to post with a lengthy questionnaire and face-to-face meeting. They are screened a second time 90 days later.

Dr. Murray Raskind, a Veterans Administration psychiatrist who treats PTSD, says the military is getting better, but the screening isn't foolproof.

"The question is does the soldier recognize that they have a problem and are they willing to say that they have a problem?"

Raskind says too many soldiers are still reluctant to admit they are struggling for fear it will create a paper trail that will ruin their careers.

And, Raskind says, it can sometimes take up to a year for problems to surface.

Santiago Cisneros never dreamed he'd have trouble adjusting to civilian life again.

"It took a while to realize I was dealing with PTSD because I didn't know what post-traumatic stress disorder was. I had no clue"

Cisneros finally found help through the Veterans Administration and the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Northern California.

"I've started to build a foundation of hope and humanity again," Cisneros says.

Arthur Smith is getting treatment from a civilian therapist, and has resigned himself to living life as a fugitive.

"I don't mind saying that I'll never go back - if I do I'll break out," he says.

But K-10 says his dangerous rage should have raised significant red flags for the Army.

Thoughts of murder

"I'm tired of just hating everything around me and wanting to destroy it."

While still in Iraq, K-10 says he suffered nightmares and depression. "I couldn't sort things out, my head was racing with anger and rage."

He says he thought of murdering his fellow soldiers and claims he told his command staff and a chaplain, "that I'm thinking about killing everyone there and I probably need to get some help before I slit your throats while you're sleeping."

Soon, K-10 says he went from thoughts to action.

He says he pulled the pin on a grenade with the intent of going after his sergeant. But, he says, he changed his mind.

The very next day, K-10 says, he went after his sergeant again, this time with a knife.

The now AWOL soldier says the Army stripped him of his weapons and reduced him to mopping floors.

And in the wake of that violent outburst, K-10 insists the Army never got him any mental help.

"Like 20 men saw me try to kill a staff sergeant, they knew, they knew damn well that I wasn't right," he says.

Fort Lewis officials tell the Problem Solvers that they don't believe the attacks against the sergeant ever happened.

In a written statement, Fort Lewis spokesman Joseph Piek said, "We have no knowledge of any incidents involving (K-10) threatening (a sergeant) with a knife; threatening him in-person or in front of his squad or platoon; or pulling the pin on a hand grenade and threatening to frag his unit. We do not believe these incidents happened.

"There was an incident where (K-10) expressed his desire to use a hand grenade to hurt or kill members of his platoon. That threat was made in front of the unit First Sergeant and a Major in the battalion, and he was given non-judicial punishment for this threat."

K-10 says he wants an immediate discharge so he can get mental help and medical benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

But today, K-10 remains on the run, a man who has slipped through the cracks, still angry and still potentially violent.

"If they ever did get me, if they ever apprehend me they'd try to put me back with my unit and I'd go after the first person I had a chance to."


Military personnel who need help with PTSD or other issues can contact The Soldiers Project: