Part 1: Hurry Up & Wait: A Decade of Insight into the Horrible Treatment of One of Our Own Veterans
The start of my military enlistment started on February 25, 2002. I was sent through boot camp from February till April, 6 weeks of basic training, then a bus ride to the Security Forces Academy on Lackland AFB, San Antonio, TX from April till July 4th, 2002. It was a grueling reminder of boot camp all over again. We conducted an 8 week academy in law enforcement operations, air base defense, and combat operations.
After going through the academy, I weighed a scrawny 180 Lbs., and felt like a million bucks! Life was great and I was on my way to my first duty assignment, Misawa, Japan. I took a month leave then jumped on several flights to end in Misawa Airport, Japan. It was a beautiful base, a really enlightened atmosphere. Fantastic people, great food, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I started out on the base working the Misawa Air Base Air Show where I started to build my career. I loved my job, and loved working with the people.
First Duty Station
Within a few months around September 2002 I met a fantastic airman named Ann and we kicked it off! I was in love, then she deployed to Qatar for 8 months. It was a rough 8 months, working as a cop, and having a loved one in a combat zone. We were inseparable at this point, writing and calling each other when we got the chance. It was great to have a relationship like that. But it would have been better to have her home.
Operation Iraqi Freedom kicked off while she was over there, and we were about to go through a conflict with North and South Korea, so it was a huge waiting game over where we as a squadron were going, to deploy either to the Middle East or Korea.
I almost deployed twice to Korea and almost deployed to Iraq in support of the Operation dropping into Baghdad to secure the airport while the Marines and Army swept through. We were set for all contingencies. Tough times and tough training came into play.
We had drills that we were supposed to get in full turnout gear, all 4 bags of gear, and weapon, plus ammo. We also had to be weighed when we went into the deployment exercises. I walked up to the scales, every time we had an exercise. I weighed 415 Lbs. which was a LOT of gear for a 180 Lbs. Airman. It was strenuous exercise, but for my age 22 I was “invincible.”
It All Started
While going through different exercise, I was also involved in a few motor vehicle accidents and one was a serious motor vehicle crash. We were working out by the F16s one day on April 26, 2003, and this individual I worked with before put me in a very problematic situation when I first started working in Misawa with a slight accident which he tried to cover up in 2002. We both got in trouble and lead me to choose between my integrity and my loyalty. I selected my integrity, which gave me a letter of reprimand when it all came out.
Well I was working with him again and I was in the passenger seat and we were patrolling the hangars making a daily round. When all of a sudden, he guns the Toyota pickup in reverse and bashes into a support poll guarding a fire hydrant. He impacted into the poll going about 15-20 mph. Didn’t even look to his rear when backing up. It got me not only fumigated but it was the last straw. I went to the ER and got checked out for depression. I talked with the ER Doctor and I was quoted in saying “I just don’t trust myself carrying a weapon right now.”
That night the Doctor gave me some Benadryl and sent me back to the barracks. I had an appointment with a life skills social worker on Monday, April 28th, 2003. I met with a Captain Miller and discussed some stress management techniques and with Ann in Qatar we talked about that. For the past month or so, I went through counseling in addition each report complained of back pain. From April 28th till June 25th, 2003 I reported back pain in every single life skills report.
This went on until I finally got the word to deploy. It was 12am July 6, 2003; we were packing up outside the squadron about to travel around the globe to deploy to Jacobabad, Pakistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. We started with a 12 hour school bus drive from Misawa to Tokyo, Japan. Once we got to Narita Airport in Tokyo, we boarded an aircraft and flew 16 hours to Atlanta, GA. From there we took off to Baltimore International and landed about 6 hours later and camped out in a hotel room. In that time, Ann was in Boston, MA returning home to go towards Japan, so luckily she was safe and sound.
The next day, July 8, 2003 we boarded an international flight from Baltimore International to Rein Mein AB, Germany. Then flew to Incirlik AB, Turkey for a layover, then into Ganci AB, Kyrgyzstan. We laid over there for a night and we got a chance to relax. The next morning July 9, 2003 we boarded a C130 Troop Transport and flew half of our team to K2, Uzbekistan. After a small stop we hit the road and flew to Bagram AB, Afghanistan where we had to make a combat drop on the airfield as the outside enemy forces were protesting, mortaring, and shooting Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) at our aircraft on the way out of the area. On the way to Pakistan, we were shot at by small arms AK47 Rifles and an RPG every so often. We finally arrived in Jacobabad and had to make a combat landing. This comprised of a sharp descent onto the air base on a 45 degree angle.
We finally landed on the tarmac, the initial briefing a gentleman came in to the tent and said, “Welcome! To Jacobabad, Pakistan, the hottest place in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records.” Made me feel cozy..
While deployed to Pakistan we encountered several combat situations, took medication called Mefloquine for Anti-Malaria, which according to studies now is attributed to being a "zombie drug. It's dangerous, and it should have been killed off years ago," said Dr. Remington Nevin, an epidemiologist and Army major who has published research that he said showed the drug can be potentially toxic to the brain. He believes the drop in prescriptions is a tacit acknowledgment of the drug's serious problems.
- Army Curbs Prescriptions of Anti-Malaria Drug – USATODAY.com
Almost four decades after inventing a potent anti-malarial drug, the U.S. Army has pushed it to the back of its medicine cabinet.
While deployed to Pakistan in July 2003 - November 2003, I had to carry my gear (4 bags) from point A to B at almost every stop travelling to and from the country. These bags were an average of 50 Lbs. each. During a normal workday, and depending on the assignment, I would stand or sit for 12-14 hours a day. I believe that a combination of all of these events triggered the separation of the disks in my back, aggravated an injury, causing me the stress and pain that I have been experiencing ever since.
Throughout the deployment I was under constant surveillance by enemy sharpshooters from the city which was only 200 - 300 yards from our air field. Every time an aircraft arrived I had to go out with a fire team and secure the aircraft. Several times we as the fire team came under indirect fire from the city of Jacobabad. No return fire was authorized due to civilian presence.
Every night in the city of Jacobabad there was fighting with small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades. Several instances of mortars shot at the compound and hitting only yards from the compound. Once every month the Pakistanis would bum their dead, or bum their enemy combatants in a fire pit that would emanate over the compound in a thick black smoke, that had the smell of death and rotting flesh. Not even a gas mask could hide the odor.
In It Deep
One of the most memorable incidents in JBad was on 28 October 2003. I was assigned to mid shift 6pm - 6am. It was the beginning of Ramadan in Jacobabad and there was already small arms fire coming from the city. Tracers flying like the fourth of July and I was assigned to a mobile patrol along the flight line. Into the midnight hour my fire team (consisting of 2 members) and I were posted out along the northern perimeter of the compound.
Don't recall who was with me in the fire team because it was so long ago. As we were listening to the multiple shots coming from the city, a rocket propelled grenade was fired at our position. The grenade luckily lifted and flew over us about 20 feet missing our position by only 50 or so yards impacting just outside the perimeter of our compound.
In addition to the psychological and emotional events I was also working the night shift one night in October. I was in a heavy machine gun fighting position overlooking the main gate. During the morning of shift change I just made sure that my weapon was clear and ready for the next shift. All I remembers was lifting the flap on the M60 and putting my shoulder up against it. Suddenly something bit me really hard on the shoulder right in between the top of my shoulder and my armpit. After a little bit of looking around I found and destroyed the culprit. The one that bit me was a wolf spider which thank God was not poisonous. The unfortunate thing was spider was dirty and caused an infection in the bite area to the point where the affected area swelled up to the size of a half dollar. I was instructed to go to the medic and upon arriving there showed the nurse the bite. They had to at least take a syringe of pus out of my bite area and gave me antibiotics to help combat the pain and infection. I also had to come back and give her the rest of the pus in another week.When I came back to the medic they took out the rest of the infection and then on the way out told me I needed a flu shot. So in addition to the flu shot, I was taking antimalarial medication, pain killers, and antibiotics. That day was a very interesting day for me. Luckily though my boss was able to let me drive around with him for the night and take a break.
Before I left the base in Pakistan I had to go through a medical debriefing. One of the first things that were said was “fill this post deployment health assessment out, and if there are any concerns we will have to refer you to a doctor or psychiatrist that might hold up you leaving this base.” In this survey I noted that I had runny nose, weakness, headaches, swollen stiff for painful joints, muscle aches, dizziness, fainting and lightheadedness, still feeling tired after sleeping, difficulty remembering, and diarrhea. Also I answered a few questions relating to over the past two weeks, how often have you been bothered by any of the following problems? I answered little interest or pleasure in doing things, and feeling down, depressed, or hopeless. I also answered a question while you are deployed, were you exposed to? I stated insect repellent applied to skin, environmental pesticides, smoke from burning trash or feces, vehicle or truck exhaust fumes, jet fuel, fog oils, loud noises, sand and dust, and exposed to sand flies and mosquitoes. More prominent environmental/occupational health workplace exposures include high levels of airborne particles due to the burning of household waste and vegetation, endemic diseases including malaria, leishmaniasis which is reported to occur in Pakistan a sporadic level. Leishmaniasis is a disease that develops skin sores even years after bitten by sand flies and could be dangerous to the spleen and liver, and could cause anemia.
Included in the health workplace exposure data worksheet there was risks to definite flight line noise, and kind of a funny and ironic thing, airborne exposure to chemical hazards. Before getting into this it is quite interesting because the base would have a truck driver around once or twice a week and literally fog the whole base with this chemical. All personnel were instructed to remain indoors while the fogging was going on and being conducted in the immediate area for approximately 5 to 10 min. before returning outside. “Individual exposure to chemical inhalation is considered similar to duties performed at a home station.” That my friend is a crock of horse shit. In this pesticide contained 95% Malathion. According to the National Pesticide Information Center the Environmental Protection Agency classifies this pesticide as having “suggested evidence of carcinogenicity.” With that said I have no doubt in my mind that is correct because anything that can kill a cockroach can definitely be harmful to humans.
I left Pakistan in November 2003 and was directly flown to Qatar. We stayed there for close to three days, and had a blast. We relaxed, were able to drink at least two beers a night, and not worry about getting shot at.
When I got back from Pakistan and returned to Japan we were greeted with open arms and given a few weeks off. I then got married to Ann on December 22, 2003 and the Misawa City Hall in Japan.
On December 15th, 2003 I had a severe back ache to the point I had to lay on the floor to settle my pain down and ultimately took pain meds to try to get rid of the pain. From December 15 till January 15, 2004 I was taking Tylenol PM for my pain. I then saw a doctor on base. I saw Captain Mcilnay in the primary care clinic at the hospital. I reported to her I did have a slight fall onto a soft surface and my pain has become abundantly worse around my lower back or the “Thoracic region.” I also noted pain radiates up to my neck and down both legs, no complaints about my arms. I remember at times the pain got so bad at work I had troubles getting in and out of my vehicle. The doctor determined by just doing a few manual tests that she could diagnose me with Thoracic Back Pain or “Muscle Spasms”. That’s it! No X-rays, no MRI’s, just a hip shot diagnosis. She pawned me off to a Physical Therapist, gave me Valium 10mg and Motrin 800mg for the pain. She said if pain persists to see them again.
On March 1, 2004 I visited the Physical Therapist Captain Kime. He was a heavyset gentleman, kind of stocky, and had glasses. He sat me down and had me fill out a report for them to help diagnose where the pain has been lately. Then he gave me a physical by taking off my shirt and having me bend over a few times running his fingers down my spine. From that he was “able to determine” that “back pain chronic without radiculopathy. Short-term goal: patient will report complete resolution of low back pain during sitting for one hour due to postural awareness in two weeks. Long-term goal: patient will report Oswestry score less than 10% in 2 months.” (My initial Oswestry Score was 34 %.)
The Beginning of the Pain
His plan for Physical Therapy was “daily HEP follow up in four weeks. Bike 10 minutes. Squat and lunges two sets 10. Lumbar spine stabilization exercises 10 repetitions. Double knees to chest 20 repetitions. Press up 20 repetitions. Patient agrees to treatment plan and has signed consent form.” That was all she wrote. Oh and the Therapist, put on the report, 23 yr. old female. I guess he was in a hurry to go to lunch.
So from March until April the pain slowly decreased and I was able to function correctly at my job and daily stress. I was also complaining of anger issues and problems mentally in a psychiatry appointment on April 9, 2004. In that appointment, the doctor diagnosed me with Anxiety, Depression, and Sleep Disturbances. Also diagnosed me with Adjustment Disorder w/Depressed Mood.
On May 5, 2004 I visited the doctor’s office again before leaving the base and complained again of back pain and Anxiety. I was able to take an Anger / Stress Management Session for 6 weeks with the base counseling unit. This appointment also killed my chances for PRP which is a term used that we could work in restricted areas containing nuclear weapons. For the back pain, they gave me Motrin 800mg and told me to come back if pain gets worse.
At this point in my life, Ann broke the news we were having a baby! It was a planned pregnancy; we decided to go for it and wham! A month later we got it! It was one of the happiest days of my life. Also in addition, I was set to permanently leave Misawa in a few months. So I was already starting my transition ready to move to McGuire AFB, NJ. We were set and ready to go; it took a few months to get everything in order. We were also able to get Ann medically discharged before we left due to the pregnancy. We finally got our orders in mid-June, 2004 and made our way back to the states.
After visiting family and taking a month leave, we arrived at McGuire AFB, NJ for my last duty assignment of my enlistment. The end of July when I started working the day shift everything was great. We were running exercises and working Presidential Security, gate detail, life was good.
One night in October 2004 I was asleep, and didn’t even know it, but I twisted the wrong way and BAM!! Ann said she heard a snap and a loud pop come from my side of the bed. It literally woke her up out of a sound sleep and ear plugs in. I remember waking up but falling back to sleep just as quickly. The next morning, I woke up at the regular time I get up to go to work, 4:30am. I got out of bed and immediately felt severe pain in my lower back. My muscles had hardened like a rock and I barely got out of bed. I walked to the bathroom, went to the bathroom, and then I couldn’t even bend over to flush the toilet.
In my stubbornness I didn’t go to the ER. I had a job to do and wasn’t going to hold up my teammates. I went into work and remembered I had a rough time transitioning the gas to brake without severe pain. I armed up and directly went to my flight chief to let him know. He told me to go to the Doctor’s office and he squared everything away with the postings so I can go. I went to the Doctor’s and saw my primary physician Major Hodges. He checked me out, and gave me Motrin 800mg, Aleve for nighttime meds, Valium 10mg, and set up an X-Ray which I conducted right next door when I got done the appointment. According to Hodges, I had weakness in my legs, and tenderness in my lower back. He gave me a one month “no lifting” profile.
On October 25, 2004 we received the results of my X-ray, it wasn’t good. According to the report by Radiologist Dr. Brinn:
The Best To Ever Happen
To put it in laments terms, I had an issue in between my L5-S1 disks in my lower back and my lower back is curved inward. At this point I visited Hodges on November 8, 2004 and he ordered an MRI for a thorough scan and kept me on profile for no lifting. I was still working patrol at this point, high on meds. They couldn’t let go of me or put me on bed rest because of my job. So I was working the gate, flight line, and patrol.
The closest appointment they were able to get me off base was March, 2005 for the MRI! But had to do it, so I pushed it and pushed it, taking meds, and working my butt off until I got a break. I was hired on board at the Visitor’s Center as an Entry Controller. It was a light job, no arming up, just giving out visitor passes, contractors, etc. It was a great job and got me through the winter.
On December 23, 2004, Ann and I brought in a little Jimi to bring in the holidays. It was the most incredible day of my life. He was so cute and after 23 hours of labor, it was well worth it!
Shock and Awe
On March 4th, 2005 I went for my first MRI which went great, until I came back to the Doctor Hodges’ Office on base a week and a half later and found out it was a mess. The following was found on my report:
A Civilian Radiologist Dr. Patel found the following:
- At the lumbar spine, there is no evidence of fracture. There is 1.0 cm of anterior subluxation of L5 on S1 (Grade I Anterolisthesis) the pars interarticularis of the L5 vertebral body is not well-visualized on the sagittal T2 weighted sequence. Plain film correlation could be considered.
- There is degenerative disc disease at L3-4, L4-5, and L5-S1 with disc narrowing and loss of signal at the respective disc spaces. The medullaris projects at T12-Ll and appears to be within normal limits. Space conus
- At L5-S1, stenosis. There is no focal disc herniation or significant spinal canal. There is mild bilateral facet osteoarthritis.
- At L4 –L5 there is an annular bulge without focality. There is bilateral facet osteoarthritis and ligamentum flavum hypertrophy. Mild-to-Moderate central stenosis.
- At L3-4, there is no focal disc herniation. There is a very mild central stenosis which is primarily congenital in nature. There is mild bilateral facet hypertrophy.
- At L2-3, there is an annular bulge without significant spinal canal stenosis.
To give you a more thorough explanation of what this
Grade I Anterolisthesis is according to spine-health.com is “This is basically another term for spondylolisthesis. Anterolisthesis is a spine condition in which the upper vertebral body, the drum-shaped area in front of each vertebrae, slips forward onto the vertebra below. The amount of slippage is graded on a scale from 1 to 4. Grade 1 is mild (less than 25% slippage), while grade 4 is severe (greater than 75% slippage).The symptoms of anterolisthesis can vary greatly depending if and how much the slippage pinches the nerve roots and what area is affected.”
Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is not really a disease but a term used to describe the normal changes of the discs in the spine as a person ages. The breakdown of the discs can result in back or neck pain, as well as osteoarthritis, herniated disc, or spinal stenosis.
Age-related changes that cause DDD include a loss of fluid in the discs and tiny tears or cracks in the outer layer (annulus or capsule) of the disc. A sudden (acute) injury leading to a herniated disc may also begin the degeneration process.
Pain from DDD is initially treated with ice or heat and with nonprescription medicines. Further treatment depends on whether the damaged disc has resulted in other conditions, such as osteoarthritis, a herniated disc, or spinal stenosis. Physical therapy and exercises are often recommended, and in some cases surgery may be recommended. (MD)
Spinal Stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal caused by excessive bone growth, thickening of tissue in the canal (such as ligaments or cartilage), herniated disc, or all three. This narrowing can squeeze and irritate the spinal cord itself or the spinal nerve roots where they leave the spinal cord.
Annular Bulge pretty much means I have bulged or herniated disks.
I was floored, I was in utter disbelief when the Doctor handed me the report. The next step was to set me up with a Spinal Specialist off base and talk about my options.
My next visit to Doctor Hodges was on March 31, 2005 in which we set up the appointment with the Spine Specialist and talked about my disability a little more. I was also diagnosed with “work-related stress.”
On April 21st, 2005 I saw a Doctor Ryan at a local Orthopedic Clinic. Dr. Ryan was a Spinal Specialist and gave it to me straight. I brought my MRI film into the office and he slapped them up on the viewer. For a minute he looked at him and looks at me and said “what do you do for a living?”
I said “I’m a cop in the Air Force.”
He said “You can’t be a cop anymore. You are going to need to find a less physically demanding job now, since you have these fractures and your spine is inverted.” In which he put his fists together to show me “this is a typical spine, straight and flushed, you on the other hand.” He bent his lower fist to the left on a 45 degree angle. “Are curved and slightly fractured off the vertebrae.”
He dictated in his report that “Exam reveals an alert and oriented male who is somewhat overweight with Para spinal tenderness, mild decreased forward flexion, decreased extension, side-bending and rotation. His motor exam is grossly 5/5. Deep tendon reflexes are equal and reactive.
Negative clonus and negative Babinski. Dorsalis pedis is palpable. No evidence of pes planus. Sensation is decreased in the left lower extremity or hypersensitive on the right from the knee below.
I have reviewed the MRI of his lumbar spine which shows a significantly inferiorly sloped LS-S1 junction with a large herniation; however no significant central stenosis. There is some lateral recess stenosis on the left and there is some bulging at L4-L5 also. There is degenerative signal at L4-L5 and L5-S1.”
Assessment: Degenerative disc disease with radicular low back pain.
Plan: At this point I do not feel he would be a candidate for full duty military. I feel he needs to be kept on a no running, no lifting more than 20 pounds and no climbing or crawling profile. His term of duty will be up sometime in January or February which I think will be fine. I have recommended that he does not pursue a job with heavy lifting, pushing, pulling or running and he agrees with this. At this point we are going to recommend therapy for trunk stabilization and strengthening. He is to continue the Flexeril and Aleve. I will see him back in six weeks to recheck his progress. He was offered epidural injections but he was not interested in them at this time.
I scheduled a follow up and within a month saw Dr. Ryan again. This time he noted in his report and I concurred that “I have seen Jonathan in follow-up in regards to his back. He states his symptoms are still the same. He has not received the therapy that I had recommended. He comes for follow-up. He is requesting causation for his pain.”
Assessment: Degenerative disc disease with radicular low back pain with a herniated disc at LS-S1.
Plan: At this point I do believe that his symptoms and MRI findings are related to his time in the Air Force lifting heavy equipment. I feel he would benefit from physical therapy. I have given him a script to continue this. If he is medical boarded then further treatment will be through a VA basis. If he is not I will see him back in follow-up.
So plain and simple, I couldn’t be a cop anymore, and I had a lifelong illness that will plague me for the rest of my life. Luckily though I did get the Nexus Statement from Dr. Ryan stating the Causation of the pain and suffering could have been caused by military enlistment.
From that point forward I contacted Dr. Hodges and asked for a Medical Board review to look over my medical records and allow me to get a medical honorable discharge from the military. Yet that is a WHOLE different story.
NEXT PART: The MEB Begins
- Part 2: Hurry Up & Wait: A Decade of Insight into the Horrible Treatment of One of Our Own Veter
The continuation of Part 1 in the several part blog about mistreatment, and deceit from the US Government on one of our own veterans.