Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

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Michael Prysner

Michael Prysner is a veteran of the war in Iraq and an anti-war activist

August 30th, 2011 1:25 AM

Demand justice for SSG Jared Hagemann

Staff Sergeant Jared Hagemann, an Army Ranger in the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Ft. Lewis, Wash., was found on June 28 at a training area on base with a gunshot wound to the head. He was suffering from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and had been trying desperately to avoid a pending deployment to Afghanistan—what would be his 9th combat tour. He was 26-years-old, with a wife and two young children.

In 2005, SSG Hagemann came home from his first combat tour with both psychological trauma and reservations about the war he had just been a part of.

His wife, Ashley Joppa-Hagemann, said that when he returned from that first tour: “He was quiet, and wouldn't look people in the eye. He wanted to remain hidden; he didn't want to be around people.”

He was later diagnosed with a so-called “mood adjustment disorder,” then finally correctly diagnosed with PTSD.

SSG Hagemann had psychological trauma after that first deployment. But in the U.S. military, that does not exempt you from deploying to combat again. So, SSG Hagemann went on another tour, and then another, and then another, and another, and another, and yet another combat tour.

After seven grueling tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, SSG Hagemann had enough.

His opposition to deploying was two-fold. First, he was crippled by the effects of PTSD. “He couldn’t even go to the grocery store with me,” said Ashley. "He would try, and then have to run back to the car and wait there.”

Second, the reality on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan was undeniable to SSG Hagemann. He had turned against the wars, politically. “He told me that the politicians were just lying about why we were there, that the wars were just hurting innocent people,” said Ashley.

SSG Hagemann was determined to not deploy again. But in the U.S. military, there is a standard response for trying to receive help for PTSD.

“People mocked him. They judged him,” said Ashley. “They told him to ‘man up. Take a sleeping pill. You’re fine. It’s all in your head.’”

SSG Hagemann was assigned to tasks and duties reserved for “troublemakers.” As for his PTSD symptoms, he was ordered to attend an “anger management” class. This was the extent of the treatment he received.

The Army’s only ‘option’

He was offered one option—2/75 Ranger Regiment said that if he just went on one more combat tour, he could be done and released to attend college. SSG Hagemann re-enlisted because of this deal, and he agreed to one final tour.

However, upon returning home, his company commander told him that the deal was invalid. He was to deploy a ninth time, and likely more afterward.

Ranger Regiment, a branch of U.S. Army Special Operations, is officially a “voluntary” unit. “But they wouldn’t let him leave,” said Ashley. “He wanted out but they wouldn’t let him.”

SSG Hagemann’s deployment was rapidly approaching—he had gone through all the proper channels, from seeing psychologists to re-enlisting with the promise of being non-deployable, but was rejected at every turn. “By June of this year, he finally had enough,” recalls Ashley, “He told me, ‘I’m not going, no matter what. I’m not going.’”

According to Ashley, SSG Hagemann felt he had exhausted every possible option. After dutifully serving the orders of the U.S. government, spending years of his life at war, SSG Hagemann got relief for his debilitating PTSD the only way he thought he couldby shooting himself in the head, alone in the bushes on Ft. Lewis.

“The only thing he had control of was how he ended his own life. For that I blame his chain of command.”

But 2/75 Ranger Regiment was not done making a mockery of SSG Hagemann’s life. They refused to give him a memorial service, standard honors for any service member who dies, regardless of the nature of their death.

The military’s explanation for denying him a memorial: “They told me they didn’t want it to attract media attention,” reported Ashley. 

Well, contrary to the wishes of 2/75 Ranger Regiment, SSG Hagemann is attracting quite a bit of media attention. There is now a campaign to hold accountable those responsible, and enact sweeping changes throughout the entire failed system. Click here to sign the petition in support of the campaign.

Fighting for change

The case of SSG Hagemann was first exposed by March Forward! in early August, as we organized a public speak-out at Ft. Lewis to denounce the Army’s criminal negligence regarding soldiers with PTSD.

March Forward! had been rallying around the case of Sgt. Derrick Kirkland, another soldier at Ft. Lewis who committed suicide after being publicly humiliated and completely neglected by mental health officials. Sgt. Kirkland was rated a “low risk for suicide” after three documented attempts.

Sgt. Kirkland’s mother, Mary Corkhill-Kirkland, had just flown to Ft. Lewis to join active-duty soldiers and veterans, including friends of Sgt. Kirkland, to increase the public pressure on the Ft. Lewis command. One of the flyers made it into Ashley's hands, and she contacted us and joined the speak out.

Because of the media attention already generated around our work in the area, March Forward! was able to shine a spotlight on the case of SSG Hagemann, which quickly became a national story. Click here to watch the first news story that broke the case.

Now, Ashley has joined with Mary Corkhill-Kirkland, and veterans and active-duty troops in March Forward! in the struggle to drastically change the mental health system within the military, and to end the root cause of the PTSD crisis: the reckless orders of Washington to send young people to fight endlessly in two unpopular wars in which we have no reason to fight.
 
In Ashley’s own words, “My husband wanted change. That’s why I’m fighting now.”

Ashley has heroically stood up, as have many other veterans and military families. But we need others to stand with us. Those who have had similar experiences, or know someone who has, should join us in exposing the military’s unwillingess to address the suicide epidemic in any meaningful way—and fight with us to change it.

As we plan many actions in the months ahead to expose the military’s crimes and force real change, we will need your help and support. It is the unified action of active-duty troops, veterans, military families and supporters who have the power to change the military’s status quo.

No more criminal negligence! No more endless wars!

Sign the petition to demand justice for SSG Jared Hagemann and circulate this statement widely. Help build the movement!

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