By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
In May of that year, Pogany's supervisors agreed to send him to a specialized Naval medical lab in San Diego for proper diagnosis. There, in a doctor's written notes, he received his vindication: "Drug toxicity antimalarials.... Likely Lariam toxicity."
Later, after he'd similarly diagnosed several other soldiers and his findings had reached the press, the doctor changed his tune; he was no longer certain if Lariam was the culprit. But the damage had been done. The Army dropped all charges against Pogany and, on April 14, 2005, he was medically retired because of permanent brain-stem damage due to Lariam toxicity. "Then I was unceremoniously walked to the door and told to take off," Pogany remembers. "I was told to never set foot on the 10th Special Forces Group compound again."
Peace is every step.
The words are written in elegant cursive on a strip of paper pasted inside the windshield of Pogany's Volkswagen, above the dreamcatcher dangling from the rearview mirror and the tangle of wires covering his center console that powers his cell phone — which, as he makes his way across Fort Carson, is ringing constantly, filling the car with a Monty Python ditty: Always look on the bright side of life... An NPR reporter wants to meet with him in Colorado Springs. Pogany, juggling the phone and the steering wheel, schedules it into his electronic calendar.
Always look on the bright side of life... A soldier found one of the business cards Pogany distributes around the base; he's hoping Pogany can help him. "Send me an e-mail with everything that happened, including your deployment dates. Do you have any of your medical records? Do you have copies of your mental-health care records?" he says before hanging up. "That will be a new case" — one of the handful he may get today.
This is Pogany's mobile workplace, one he drives to and from Fort Carson several times a week, on workdays that usually begin at 6 a.m. It's an extension of a home office in the basement of his brick bungalow in central Denver that features a heavily armed G.I. Joe doll, faded prayer flags on the wall, bookshelves stocked with veterans' benefits guides and mental-disorders manuals, and boxes and boxes of soldiers' case files. He pulls his VW office over at a barracks building and flashes the ID card hanging around his neck to the guard in the front lobby. He is there to meet with Nicholas.
"Fucking wild," Nicholas, 21, says of the twenty or so roadside bomb explosions he was exposed to in Iraq. "You hear it, but it's more like your ears start immediately ringing. It feels like a very strong, hot wind that knocks you back when they go off." He only realized their lasting toll once he got back from the war and ran a guy off the road in an inexplicable fit of rage. Later, he recounts with a wry laugh, he flipped out during a training exercise and put a gun to a passerby's head. "I just kind of lost it for a while."
Things weren't so funny when Nicholas's mother first called Pogany several months ago, the night her son was taken to the Evans Army Community Hospital for having suicidal thoughts. Nicholas had just been told he was being redeployed in four days — even though he'd been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, a fractured femur and a traumatic brain injury, and labeled temporarily unfit for deployment.
Because of privacy considerations, the Army can't respond publicly to allegations such as Nicholas's, says Fort Carson Public Affairs Officer Dee McNutt in an e-mail. "Each case needs to be looked into separately, and the Army cannot release or discuss information regarding specific cases without a soldier's expressed written consent." But "soldiers are human and will tell their side of the story as they see it," she adds.
As for claims that Fort Carson has been deploying injured soldiers to Iraq, she says, "Medical personnel are responsible for making recommendations to commanders on what resources or level of care a soldier requires to be considered fully capable for deployment. Commanders know the assets available to them in theater and what accommodations can be made for the limitations of each individual soldier. Many times soldiers require care that is readily available in theater."
Pogany helped Nicholas's mother, Dawna Lynn, track down documents proving that his ailments and no-deployment status had been ignored. He encouraged her to contact a congressional subcommittee on military affairs, Fort Carson's inspector general and the installation's commanding general. Soon her son's story was one of the examples reporters were using to demonstrate that the Army was improperly shipping out injured soldiers in order to fill diminished ranks. "There was no way I could have sorted through the military bureaucracy if I didn't have somebody tell me how to do it," she says. "If I hadn't been aggressive and had the right person tell me what to do, my son would have been sent back to Iraq without the proper medical care."