Military's response to mental illness problematic, says soldier's wife

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FORT CARSON, Colo. - Ryan LeCompte served two tours of duty in Iraq with the U.S. Army, was a decorated soldier, saved his unit from an improvised explosive device, suffered neurological trauma and was sent home. Now the Army wants to dishonorably discharge him.

He served over 160 missions with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, the unit he was with for seven of his eight years in the Army, before being transferred to the 110th Cavalry in Fort Carson in September 2006. That's when his problems with the military began. He was reduced in rank from specialist fifth class to private; he has also been overlooked for promotion, and now the Army has attempted to dishonorably or other than honorably remove him from the military.

LeCompte, a member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, was injured when an IED exploded while he protected his unit. How it happened is a mystery to his wife because he is unresponsive and can't tell her what actually happened. And the military will not provide that information.

''They [the Army] wouldn't give me anything. Every time I asked for something, they have refused me. I asked for the investigation report and when I got it, they blacked everything out,'' said Tammie LeCompte, Ryan's wife. ''He made the supreme sacrifice.

''It's upsetting when you have higher people allowing my husband to be browbeaten,'' she said.

LeCompte was stripped of rank because the military said he had hit some soldiers and also received a DUI citation while at Fort Carson. Tammie said he did not hit anyone and even the military police wouldn't press charges because stories were too conflicting, she said.

LeCompte was diagnosed with two separate brain injuries. Because of those injuries, he is unresponsive and can't perform the duties as assigned by the military, and so he is a candidate for discharge. Since he did not suffer serious physical injuries, just a minor cut on his head, the military does not consider him an injured soldier and therefore he is treated differently.

''This whole thing just stinks. Anyone that asks anything in regards to my husband is blocked out. The military is covering something up and I don't know what,'' Tammie said.

In addition to the injuries to his brain, Tammie said LeCompte suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. She said that after his first tour of duty it was not noticeable, but after his second tour she noticed it.

LeCompte has been in and out of three or four institutions since March 2006 when he first came home and signs of his problems started to show.

''I went to the unit and they didn't like that - the spouse speaking up for the husband,'' she said.

LeCompte is in a wheelchair and requires constant care. Tammie worked for the Department of Defense with the TRICARE federal insurance, but now stays home to take care of him. She will not be able to work unless he has in-home care or is in a nursing facility.

With his reduction in rank and Tammie not working, their situation is dire. She has lost her home phone and Internet access. They live on the base, but if LeCompte is ''chaptered out,'' a term used for dishonorable discharge, the family will have to move, possibly back to Lower Brule where LeCompte's mother lives.

Tammie is also caring for five children between the ages of 4 and 19, as well as one grandchild who is 19 months.

''There are so many cases here at Fort Carson, people are going around calling it 'Fort Cartoon': it's a joke the way they treat these soldiers,'' she said.

Tammie doesn't know if or when LeCompte will be dishonorably or other than honorably discharged, as she said the military is telling her very little, if anything. If he is removed from the military either way, he will not be eligible for veterans benefits.

A hearing that was scheduled for Sept. 18 was held earlier. ''I get a call and they tell me to have him there in 20 minutes,'' she said.

LeCompte would have been better treated had he suffered a physical injury, Tammie said, adding that he also would have been better treated had he stayed with his old unit. ''They know him and the circumstances he is in now, they would see it. This unit knows nothing about him whatsoever,'' she said.

LeCompte was praised for taking weapons off the streets in Baghdad and being one of the best in his unit, the Thunder Squadron. When he received his commendations, his commanders said that his ''ability to lead, to work tirelessly without complaint, despite the long hours and harsh conditions, [proved him] to be one of the platoon's best soldiers.''

The Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association passed a resolution Sept. 6 expressing outrage at the disrespect and lack of proper treatment for returning soldiers.

The resolution demands that LeCompte and all other soldiers receive proper treatment as befitting a soldier and later as a veteran. The tribal chairmen also demand that his rank be restored, that an investigation be conducted and the chairmen call upon Congress to assure that funding is available for treatment of mental health.

Military officers must be held accountable, the chairmen stated, and to that degree the resolution demands the removal of the commander at Fort Carson.

LeCompte may have help coming in the form of a tireless veteran who had similar experiences with Fort Carson and was eventually discharged honorably. Andrew Pogany has helped other soldiers. The commander at Fort Collins admits that Pogany is effective and that the base has changed the way PTSD soldiers are treated.

Maj. Gen. Robert Mixon, one of the commanders at Fort Carson, recently told National Public Radio that changes had been made.

''If they've identified one soldier who has been in need of help and has not gotten enough help, then they've done a great service to us,'' Mixon said. ''I did not feel as though we had leaders who weren't supporting our soldiers end to end, including their mental health challenges. But when we were presented with circumstances where that might have been the case, then we took immediate action to deal with them individually, and then we took action to deal with it institutionally.''

The result of LeCompte's hearing is still unknown at press time.