FORT CARSON, Colo. — John Bettencourt, an infantry soldier who served two tours in Afghanistan, tested positive for marijuana at the military base here in 2012. Drug use is against Army rules, and though the soldier went to drug treatment programs and never had another positive test, he was told he’d be kicked out for misconduct.
But Bettencourt had suffered head injuries in a truck bombing in Afghanistan that, he said, had left him sleepless, depressed and suffering from debilitating headaches. He appealed for medical help and for further evaluation that would have made him eligible for medical care and possibly disability benefit checks. He enlisted the help of two soldier advocates to make his case, went to a brain-injury doctor who told commanders the soldier needed medical attention, and contacted an Army hospital ombudsman who tried to stop the discharge.
The Army kicked him out anyway. And then local commanders fired the doctor, banned the advocates from the military base and opened two investigations into the hospital ombudsman. (The Army said that it followed procedures and that soldiers need to be held responsible for their actions.)
Bettencourt, who was decorated for valor in combat, left Fort Carson with no medical benefits and a lifetime ban on access to health care through the Veterans Administration. He even owed the Army $120 because he was kicked out before his enlistment was up. At last contact, five months ago, he was living in an abandoned trailer in Arizona with no water or electricity.
“This is how they treat us, even after we risk our lives,” he said. “And the only people that tried to help, the Army went after them.”
The Army is kicking out more soldiers for misconduct than ever before. Congress has ordered the military to cut 80,000 troops now that a decade of war is winding down; in the four years since 2009, the number of misconduct discharges rose annually by more than 25 percent Army-wide. At the eight Army posts that house most of the service’s combat units, which include Fort Carson near Colorado Springs, misconduct discharges have surged 67 percent since 2009. All told, more than 76,000 soldiers have been forced out of the Army this way since 2006.