Washington, DC — (ReleaseWire) — 04/27/2016 –Another American Hero Discarded, SSG Lewis T. Foutch
Who is Staff Sergeant Lewis T. Foutch? Well, he is-or at least he was-a soldier in the United States Army. We use the past tense due to the fact that on Monday, April 25, 2016 he was separated from service with a General Discharge at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. SSG Foutch, prior to being so ignobly tossed aside by the nation to whom he has given his all, served with the D. Company, 2nd Battalion, Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)(SOAR(A)). The unit is part of the Joint Special Operations Command or JSOC, the most elite soldiers the US military has to offer. These are the guys they make movies about. SSG Foutch served a total of seven combat tours in Afghanistan for a total of 28 months. 11 months with the 82nd Airborne Division and 17 months with the 160th SOAR (A) months. He served an additional combat deployment for a total of 11 months, but the nature of that deployment is classified—we don’t know exactly where he went, but we can be sure the destinations were harrowing. During the course of his service he was awarded the Army Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal, 3 Army Achievement Medals, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terror Service Medal, NATO Medal and a Combat Action Badge (CAB). Foutch was a first-tier soldier.
During the course of one of his last deployments in Afghanistan he was in close proximity to the detonation of a 4000-9000 pound Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBID). Shortly after the exposure to the blast SSG Foutch started to exhibit all the hallmark symptoms that are associated with a blast related Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI) Yet the US Army medical system, despite all that is known to date about TBIs failed to test and asses him, to include while he was undergoing Medical Disability Processing. His behavior began to shift. He became irritable and had problems with impulse control and anger management. He began to experience problems with his memory and difficulties processing information. He was later diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Major Depression. His behavior became erratic and his consumption of alcohol increased. His relationship with his wife deteriorated and they ultimately separated. Team members would later recount heightened levels of vigilance and paranoia. Many familiar with these symptoms and accustomed to working around combat veterans will nod, sadly, in recognition.
In October, 2015 National Public Radio (NPR) aired a story entitled, Missed Treatment: Soldiers with Mental Health Issues Dismissed For ‘Misconduct’. The story recounted how the US Army reacts when soldiers who have deployed on multiple combat assignments break. Tens of thousands of soldiers after they come home experience readjustment problems that some times manifest in disciplinary issues or in interactions with the civilian and\or military justice systems.
So, how do they react? Well, that depends on whether you want the Public Affairs version tailored for public consumption or if you prefer a factual presentation of what really takes place. In the spin-doctored version the military cares for wounded warriors and recognizes that our social contract entails, indeed mandates, that we provide care for them. In reality, they are jettisoned from service with Other-Than-Honorable or General Discharges. We are told that it wasn’t really the three, five, eight, twelve combat deployments, but that they had Personality Disorders which miraculously appeared under duress. Despite passing rigorous physical and mental examination on entry into service, they were really just bad people after all. We are asked to believe three years in Afghanistan or four in Iraq had nothing to do with radical shifts in behavior and that these were just plain bad soldiers all along. Never mind the Bronze Stars, the Purple Hearts, the Campaign Medals or the stellar service records before the misconduct, the misconduct is the misconduct and has nothing to do with the brutal reality of war. In the vapid and mind-boggling contortions, nay perversions, of logic which prevail in separation proceedings, the abrupt snapping of the most sacrosanct of social contracts becomes audible. This represents the ultimate betrayal.
Twelve Senators called for an investigation into the Army’s discharge of over 22,000 personnel who served their country in combat: Members of Congress bleating from the bully-pulpit is old news and definitive action remains a furious whisper, nothing more. Twenty years ago Congresswoman Maxine Waters called attention to improper separations from Military Service, and it continued. Senator Blumenthal has railed, on committee, on repeated occasions, against the practice over the last several years, and the practice continues. Secretary of Defense Hagel issued his directive on granting upgrades to the more than 560,000 Vietnam veterans who were separated under less than honorable conditions, and the practice continues. Yale Law’s Veteran’s Clinic wrote it’s incisive “Unfinished Business” in collaboration with the National Veteran’s Council for Legal Redress (NVCLR) and the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) in 2015, and the practice continues. Swords to Plowshares and the National Veterans Legal Services Project (NVLSP) wrote “Underserved”, in collaboration with Harvard Law, and the practice continues. The Surgeon General of the Army and multiple senior officers in the military have assured us they are no longer separating soldiers improperly without due diligence in medical and psychological evaluations, and the practice continues. Congress ensured that the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 2015 included language guarding against these reprehensible separations, still the practice continues. Grand-standing, pontificating in Congress, outright misrepresentation on an absurd scale, and the practice continues. It continues because no one is ever sanctioned or penalized. Those responsible shrug and smile for they know they will never be held accountable.
All of this furor must be set against an ethereal public fanfare and the preposterous assertion that we shall care for those who have borne the battle. We don’t care for those who have borne the battle, we toss them onto our streets, into our prisons… we disappear them, faceless and bereft of support into the void and we do not speak their names aloud again.
For the upper echelons in DOD, the bean-counters, it becomes a function of cost-benefit analysis. When a soldier gets in trouble, you cite their “pattern of misconduct” or their “Serious Offense” and dump them out with a General or Other-Than-Honorable Discharge. Stripped of disability compensation, access to healthcare, employment services or access to civil service jobs, educational benefits and homeless services represents an annual savings to the Department of Defense and VA that runs into the billions. And billions are a lot of money, sir. When they break, we throw them away. Fiscally wise, ethically repugnant, morally bankrupt, let’s do it every day-not like anything will happen, right? Nope, sir, nothing will ever happen.
SSG Foutch spiraled out of control. One evening he was drinking and his mental state bent to breaking, he went to his former residence and woke his wife while his then four year old daughter slept. She was terrified for herself and for her daughter. In reading her statement the fear and the pain bleed through. What SSG Foutch did was wrong and it’s very hard to brush it all aside. Indeed, he will yet have to appear in a civilian court and answer for his offenses. However, it is our sincere hope he will be granted clemency and that he will be allowed to heal.
The tragedy of this event is marked and anyone with a shred of empathy can feel for all involved. A marriage between two people who once loved each other, shattered; a four year old girl and an eight year old girl whom may spend their childhood without their father; a hero who may spend time in jail only to emerge with nothing for his service. But where many of us see the starkest of tragedies, there are those within the Department of Defense and the US Army who see opportunity, a mere arithmetic function completed by rote in a cost-benefit analysis. We use them up, throw them away. It’s cost-effective.
So, SSG Foutch went through the paces as his separation proceedings moved forward over the course of months. Duty restrictions imposed. Go through inpatient and out-patient treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and his Traumatic Brain Injury. They loaded him up on Paxil, Trazadone, Quetiapine, Clonazepam, Wellbutrin and Ambien, walking around in a daze. Hire an attorney, go through the farce. In the end, the separation review process directly flouted the directives of multiple authorities and they kicked him out with a General Discharge anyway…, nothing to do, really, with his seven combat deployments.
The Uniformed Services Justice & Advocacy Group interprets the US Army’s actions as: Thanks for your service, SSG Foutch. Oh, and by the way, we will be recouping your last paycheck and you will also have to repay your $26,000 re-enlistment bonus. You won’t be eligible for a whole bunch of services and benefits for the rest of your life, either. You see, SSG Foutch, after a thorough review of your records we have determined you were not a very good soldier after all.
This article is in no way a reflection of the dedicated service of the men and women who served side by side with SSG Foutch and their dedicated and selfless service to this nation. Additionally, it is not intended to reflect on the 160th SOAR as a whole. However, it does completely and directly reflect upon the actions of MAJ Kurtts (160th SOAR(A)), LTC Jackson (160th SOAR (A)), COL Hertzendorf (CDR, 160th SOAR(A)), BG Brower (Acting CDR, 101st ABN DIV) and LTG Townsend (CDR, 18th ABN CORPS) and Kent Hughes 160th SOAR Psychologist With special emphasis on the lack of care and compassion by MAJ Kurtts, COL Herzendorf and Kent Hughes, who went out of their way to place SSG Foutch on the path to a catastrophic outcome. SSG Foutch’s leadership, Separation Authority and GCMCA wrongfully and inappropriately discharges him, while stripping him and his family the DoD benefits he earned by serving this nation honorably, in violation of Federal Law 10 U.S. Code § 1177 – Members diagnosed with or reasonably asserting post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury: medical examination required before administrative separation).
Additionally, this case directly reflects on the lack of care by the Office of the Secretary of the Army, to whom this case was raised with a request for intervention. The Office of the Secretary of the Army to date has neither acknowledged nor responded to said request.
We also want to take this opportunity the thank MG Volesky (CDR, 101st ABN DIV for the leadership and moral courage he showed and exercised in Nov 2015 when he intervened and stopped after being made aware by USJAG of the fact the COL Hertzendorf attempted to have SSG Foutch thrown out of the Army with fabricated documentation and in direct violation of Federal Law, DoD Instructions and Army Regulation.
In closing USJAG is disappointed to say the least in the in the display of lack in leadership and compassion by the LTG Townsend (CDR, 18th ABN CORPS)and his response to a request for intervention in order to bring SSG Foutch’s separation action into compliance with Federal Law (10 U.S. Code § 1177 – Members diagnosed with or reasonably asserting post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury: medical examination required before administrative separation). On the heels of public comments made by the Chief of Staff or the Army GEN Mark Milley “Leaders must be compassionate, caring for their soldiers as if they would their own children” (21 April 2016), LTG Townsend merely had the following to offer via his Deputy SJA, when requested to assist in the SSG Foutch case: “I am responding on behalf of LTG Townsend, Commanding General, XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, regarding your recent inquiry involving SSG Foutch’s pending administrative separation. After careful consideration, he declines to intervene.”
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