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Soldier highlights problems in U.S. Army

FORT CARSON, Colo. - Army Spc. Ryan LeCompte, Lower Brule Sioux, was admitted to a Veterans Affairs hospital in mid-May to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder after an ordeal that included allegations of racist slurs and medical neglect by the military.

LeCompte, 27, who served two tours in Iraq as part of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, and Fort Carson, where he is based, are part of an ongoing investigation by the General Accounting Office into the mental health care services provided by the Defense Department.

The GAO is an independent, nonpartisan watchdog agency that works for Congress and studies the programs and expenditures of the federal government.

''We will be doing a site visit to Fort Carson among other military installations,'' Marcia Crosse, GAO's director of health issues, said. A report is not expected before next year.

On May 14 and 15, a group of senators sent staff members to Fort Carson on a fact-finding mission on allegations that military officials were downplaying soldiers' mental health problems or trying to get soldiers with mental problems discharged without benefits.

The hearings were prompted by complaints from LeCompte's wife, Tammie, and the Veterans of America, who have advocated for LeCompte and other soldiers at Fort Carson and across the country.

Tammie LeCompte was scheduled to testify May 24 in front of the Senate Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in a hearing about the incidence and treatment of mental health problems in the military.

LeCompte's case is particularly disturbing because of the racist element, said Steve Robinson, director of veterans' affairs for the Veterans of America, who has investigated more than 40 complaints at Fort Carson alone.

''The fact that people in his chain of command used ethnic and racial slurs, called him 'sand nigger' and 'prairie nigger' and 'wagon-burner' and other things is very disturbing. I served 20 years in the military. We don't treat people like that in our military and it's not tolerated. When I heard these things, it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up and I realized that the moral fabric of what I believe the military to be must be under a tremendous amount of pressure,'' Robinson said.

LeCompte didn't receive the care he deserved, Robinson added.

''He didn't have a drinking problem, but he was being punished as if he did. He has a traumatic brain injury and they didn't understand it. They tried to strip him of the only thing he had left when he came back from war, and that is his dignity,'' Robinson said.

Fort Carson spokesman Karen Linne could not comment on LeCompte's medical treatment because of privacy issues.

''As far as his allegations of racial slurs, I know that his unit did conduct an investigation into allegations of racial slurs and I am told that part of what they found there was the slurs actually occurred in previous units, not the one he's currently assigned to, but the results of that are not completely final yet,'' Linne stated.

When LeCompte came home in March 2006 from his second tour in Iraq, his life began to unravel, Tammie LeCompte said. He drove his car into a ditch, thinking he had swerved off the road to avoid an improvised explosive device. Sometimes she found her husband sitting in a corner crying, or crawling on the floor at night thinking he was still in Iraq. LeCompte started having nosebleeds and seizures: not grand mal seizures, which knock its victims to the floor, but the kind in which a person zones out and has tremors all over his body.

''I didn't know what it was at first, but he was having flashbacks, and so I'd just tell the kids to leave him alone; but over a period of time, his condition just deteriorated and the military just refused to treat him,'' Tammie LeCompte said. The LeComptes have four children living with them.

LeCompte also endured taunting on the battlefield.

''They ridiculed him and called him a 'drunken Indian.' They said, 'Hey, dude, you look just like a haji - you'd better run.' They call the Arabs 'haji.' I mean, it's one thing to worry for your life, but then to have to worry about friendly fire because you don't know who in the hell will shoot you?'' Tammie LeCompte said.

Army doctors gave LeCompte a mix of drugs, including Seoquel, which is used for acute mania associated with bipolar disorder; Celexa, an antidepressant; and Lunesta, a sleep medication, but they didn't work, Tammie LeCompte said.

''Finally, he couldn't handle things and wanted to self-medicate. He drank one night and got a DUI,'' Tammie LeCompte said.

Soon after the DUI, LeCompte entered a private 72-hour acute care treatment facility that is contracted to the Defense Department.

''But he didn't check in because he'd been drinking; it was because his leaders were harassing him and he'd just reached the breaking point,'' Robinson said.

LeCompte was locked down for two weeks, during which the facility and the Army kept telling Robinson that only the other entity was authorized to release him.

After a campaign of calls and pressure from the senators, a place was found for LeCompte at the Veterans Hospital in Wyoming.

In order to get into the hospital, LeCompte had to sign a statement agreeing to be treated for substance abuse, but after a few days the hospital determined that he wasn't a substance abuser and tracked him into individualized treatment for PTSD, Robinson said.

LeCompte is scheduled to be released from the VA hospital June 19. LeCompte has invited Robinson to a Sun Dance ceremony in South Dakota in June, where LeCompte will be honored as a warrior returning home.

''Native America has always had the tradition of honoring returning warriors back to the community so I'm going to this event to see and experience this proud, strong tradition and try to take away something that I can present to the army to create a warrior tradition for people to understand that when warriors come home they will have problems and there are things we can do to ease their transition,'' Robinson said.

In an ironic twist, LeCompte can trace his ancestors to those who fought the 3rd Armored Cavalry in 1876, when 10 companies of that regiment fought in the Battle of Rosebud Creek.