Years after an operation far from the front lines inflicted mysterious mental injuries on Marine and Army artillery gunners during the fight against the Islamic State, the Pentagon has not fully addressed the problem, according to a New York Times investigation.
Troops sent to Iraq and Syria in 2016 and 2017 on missions to bombard ISIS targets with hundreds of rounds of artillery shells often returned home troubled by nightmares, suicidal thoughts, mental illness and sometimes hallucinations, the NYT found. The military struggled to find out what went wrong and provide the care the disturbed gun crew veterans needed, the NYT concluded, following interviews with 40 former gunners and their families in 16 states.
“The people running this war made a choice, and choices have consequences,” Lt. Col. Jonathan O’Gorman, a Marine officer who oversaw artillery operations, told the NYT.
Crew members completed surveys meant to identify sights of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and tested for traumatic brain injuries caused by enemy attacks, according to the NYT. However, many of the Marine and Army units who returned home with mysterious mental affliction spent their entire deployment miles from the front line, never seeing combat. (RELATED: Nearly Two Dozen US Troops Injured In Iran-Backed Militia Strikes, Pentagon Reveals After Days Of Silence)
Their task was to fire tens of thousands of shells from M77 Howitzers to pummel ISIS, a way of avoiding the need to send higher numbers of ground troops to the front lines and risk higher U.S. casualties, the NYT reported.
Military guidelines suggested the remarkably high volume of fire was safe for gun operators, according to the NYT. But the impact of the initial firing could rattle service member’s entire bodies and creates scarring that eventually breaks neural connections, according to Gary Kamimori, a recently-retired senior Army blast researcher.
A 2019 Marine Corps study of medical records of troops from Fox Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines, one of the hardest hit artillery units, determined that the weapons were causing injuries to troops “faster than combat replacements can be trained to replace them.” More than 50% of the troops in the units eventually received diagnoses of traumatic brain injury.
Risks of repeated exposure to the gun blasts “are seemingly ignored,” the NYT reported, citing a briefing prepared for Marine Corps headquarters. The Marine Corps has never publicly addressed the study’s findings.
A Marine artillery officer told the NYT he never received word of the risks, and was not told about new safety guidelines that were allegedly developed since.
Troops received treatment for attention deficit disorder or depression, or received powerful psychotropic drugs that failed to alleviate the problems while interfering with other functions, the NYT reported. Some committed suicide or attempted to do so.
Many former gunners displayed erratic or disruptive behavior, according to the NYT. Some were punished and discharged for misconduct, making them ineligible for veterans benefits.
One Marine, Javier Ortiz, started a family, got a promotion and tried to manage his PTSD diagnosis, but the panic attacks and hallucinations intensified, he told the NYT. He was denied access to a military medical facility because he had never seen combat. The Marine Corps discharged him for willful misconduct after he turned to marijuana, and he now struggles to hold down a job and provide for his family.
“I gave the Marine Corps everything,” he told the NYT. “And they spit me out with nothing. Damaged, damaged, very damaged.”
The Pentagon did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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