SAN FRANCISCO – Cody Miranda joined the U.S. Marine Corps when he was 17 years old. He loved the military and hoped to spend his entire career in the service.
Miranda has served more than 16 years in the Marine Corps. Over the years, he’s been deployed to the Middle East six times, including stints in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
But when he returned from a tour in Iraq in 2003, his stepmother, Jodie Stewart, says, he was a changed man.
"He always used to be over focused on time as the military trains you to be," she said as an example. "He’s never on time for anything anymore. I don’t know how to explain it to you. How do you explain it when a man who used to behave one way has gone abstractly and profoundly different?"
After returning from Iraq, Cody Miranda divorced his wife and pulled away from his son. He started drinking too much and was found in possession of cocaine.
"He never received any of the post-deployment questionnaires that now are mandatory for all troops," said Amanda Newman, a licensed family therapist who’s been seeing Miranda on a pro-bono basis for the past few weeks. "He couldn’t understand why all of a sudden his life was falling apart."
In 2005, Miranda went absent without leave from Camp Pendleton in California for nearly a year and lived homeless on the street.
When he returned to the Marine Corps, military doctors diagnosed him with severe post-traumatic stress disorder; an anxiety illness that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. A person having a flashback may lose touch with reality and believe that the traumatic incident is happening all over again.
Military doctors also diagnosed Miranda with bipolar disorder, insomnia, and sleep apnea.
But rather than give him treatment for his illness, the Marine Corps lowered his rank to private from staff sergeant, threw him in the brig multiple times (most recently for being five minutes late for a hearing), and began court-martial proceedings that can lead to a dishonorable discharge which would have denied the medical benefits Miranda needs to get his life right again.
Newman said Miranda needs inpatient psychiatric care, which he is not receiving, and complained that her attempts to see him while in the brig were delayed as a result of military orders.
"I asked immediately to see him in the brig and was told that it was not possible," Newman wrote to Miranda’s military lawyer on June 29. "This is absolutely unacceptable: if a Marine was experiencing a medical emergency and had cut an artery and was bleeding profusely, he surely would not be denied treatment simply because he was in the brig."
"In fact I would assume and hope that he would be transferred to the hospital for appropriate treatment. There is no difference regarding the severity and crisis nature of Pvt. Miranda’s psychiatric condition and that of a medical condition: both are life-threatening," she wrote.
Officials at Camp Pendleton did not respond to multiple telephone and e-mail inquiries by deadline. Thirty-six hours after receiving a written request for information, a public affairs representative of the base told IPS: "I still don’t have anything for you."
But public attention did appear to have an effect, however.
On Tuesday, after veterans’ groups helped Miranda file formal complaints with California Congressman Ken Calvert and Sen. Barbara Boxer, Camp Pendleton’s commander, Col. James B. Seaton, abandoned plans for a court-martial.
According to military defense lawyer Captain Bart Slabbekorn, Miranda was brought before the base commander July 3 and given "non-judicial punishment."
"As a result of today’s proceedings, Pvt. Miranda may be retained in the Marine Corps or he may ultimately leave active duty," Slabbekorn wrote in a letter to supporters. "Either way, at this point, he will be looking at a discharge making him eligible for VA [Veterans Affairs] treatment down the road."
If Miranda does remain in the military, it’s likely he will be assigned to the Wounded Warrior Battalion, where he would work with other soldiers facing similar issues.
"The future is up to Miranda," Slabbekorn said.
But Cody Miranda is not alone.
The Department of Defense’s most recent mental health survey found about 20 percent of soldiers met screening criteria for a mental health problem and that there was a "linear relationship" between combat exposure and subsequent mental health problems. Nearly one-third of troops who had seen "high combat" met criteria for a mental health problem.
Slabbekorn told San Diego’s KSUI television between 10 to 20 percent of soldiers imprisoned in Camp Pendleton’s brig suffer from some kind of combat-related mental illness.
In the first four years of the Iraq war, 1,019 Marines were dismissed with less-than-honorable discharges for misconduct committed after overseas deployments. Navy Capt. William Nash, who coordinates the Marines’ combat stress program, told USA Today this week that at least 326 of the discharged Marines showed evidence of mental health problems, possibly from combat stress.
Nash told the paper he hoped that "any Marine or sailor who commits particularly uncharacteristic misconduct following deployment be aggressively screened for stress disorders and treated."
"If a Marine who was previously a good, solid Marine never got in trouble commits misconduct after deployment and turns out they have PTSD, and because of justice they lose their benefits, that may not be justice," Nash said.
The Marine Corps has yet to follow up on Nash’s recommendations.
(Inter Press Service)