Sergeant First Class Emil Wojcik wasn't the same after a rollover car crash at Fort Carson in March 2013 broke one of his cervical vertebrae. That, combined with the various times he'd been knocked unconscious during rough parachute landings, seemed to knock something permanently askew in his mind. He lost hearing in his right ear and begun stuttering when he spoke. Sleep became a problem. He'd sit upright in bed in the middle of the night and yell, "Stand up straight, the general is here!" -- as if he were back on one of his secret missions. Or he'd sleepwalk, sometimes tumbling down the stairs of his Colorado Springs home. He started taking Ambien to help him sleep, but that plus the Oxycodone he was on for ongoing neck pain left him in a medicated stupor.
It didn't help that Wojcik, who was born in Warsaw but had immigrated to Michigan when he was seven, had a lot on his mind. In 2012, his first marriage had ended in an ugly divorce and custody battle that resulted in his two children living 4,500 miles away, with their mother in her native Ireland. His second wife, Amber, had stage IV bone cancer that had spread to her lungs and lymph nodes, and the two were caught in exhausting cycles of chemotherapy treatments and remission. On top of that, a good friend of Wojcik's, a Special Forces team sergeant at Fort Carson, had taken his pistol and killed himself while parked on the side of Interstate 25 in December 2011. "Nobody asked too many questions about it," says Wojcik of the incident -- but it stuck with him.
For Wojcik, everything came to a head one evening in July 2013. See also: When the Army Tried to Take Down Andrew Pogany, It Messed With the Wrong Coward
Wojcik and his wife had been arguing about money. Eventually Amber went outside for a smoke, and when she came back inside, she found him lying on their bed, as if he were dozing. She put her hand on his stomach, and that's when he snapped. He jumped up, spouting Polish, knocked her down and climbed on top of her, pinning her arms down with his knees. Then he began punching her in the face. After a few moments, though, he relented -- and Amber ran downstairs to get away from him.
This wasn't behavior anyone expected from Wojcik, normally a friendly, upbeat guy. He was a Special Forces soldier, also known as a Green Beret, a member of the 3,000-soldier 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Carson. That meant he was considered among the best of the best. Since he'd joined Special Forces in 2005, Wojcik had been involved in more than a dozen missions and deployments in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and even the United States -- gathering intelligence, conducting surveillance, engaging in firefights and interrogating hostile prisoners. He'd received a Meritorious Service Medal for outstanding achievement, and his service record had been spotless -- until recently.
Now Wojcik was turning into living proof that within the Army's most skilled fighting forces, something has gone dreadfully wrong. For the first time in years, Army suicides in general are declining -- but within U.S. Special Operations Command, which includes Army Special Forces, Rangers, Navy SEALs, Delta Force and other elite groups, suicides are on the rise. Years of secret, intense missions on the front lines of the country's ongoing War on Terror appear to be taking a deadly toll.
Wojcik says he has no memory of attacking his wife that night. But Amber remembers the assault all too well. And after the couple fought again on October 8, 2013, she told her friend Melanie Blim, the wife of another 10th Group soldier, what had happened. Amber pleaded with Melanie not to tell anyone else: "I don't want Emil's life destroyed," she wrote in a text message. All she wanted was for Wojcik to get help.
But Melanie told her husband, Aaron Blim -- and he soon reported the incident to his commanders.
Captain Donny Hamilton arrived at 10th Special Forces Group in February 2011 with a sterling record. While not a Green Beret, in the previous eleven years in the Army, first as a scout infantry sergeant and then as a platoon leader, he'd led soldiers into some of the nastiest parts of Iraq without a single U.S. casualty. He'd received a Bronze Star and multiple Army commendation medals for his efforts, and still found the time to attend graduate school, receiving his master's degree in business management.
But after years of leading troops into combat, Hamilton had decided it was time to transition to the administrative side of the Army, to put his business degree to good use -- and give his knees a rest. He's had multiple knee surgeries and suffers from chronic tendonitis. So he was transferred from Fort Bliss in Texas to Fort Carson to work as an assistant to one of the battalion commanders at 10th Group.
By that point, Special Forces had become the face of modern warfare. Established in 1952, for years it had operated at the fringes of the Armed Forces, running missions in Central America and offering humanitarian aid in various Third World countries. But the War on Terror changed everything. The unconventional enemies that the United States was suddenly fighting all over the world required the sort of unconventional warfare at which Special Forces excelled. Special Forces troops were among the first units sent into Afghanistan and Iraq, and they've been a constant presence in these and other hot zones ever since, often deploying for shorter but more frequent and dangerous missions -- such as counterterrorism raids, reconnaissance missions and assassination attempts -- than other soldiers. Over the years, U.S. Special Operations Command has swollen to 66,000 individuals, double what it was in 2001 -- although only about half of them are combat troops; the rest are support personnel.
Hamilton entered 10th Group as the latter, which made him a Maroon Beret. But he says he soon discovered that the unit wasn't the bastion of discipline and integrity he'd expected. "It was cutthroat, like a Fortune 500 business," he says. "It was almost childlike, with everyone telling on each other." Officers were eager to spread rumors and report others' misdeeds, trying to push out their colleagues so they would receive the best evaluations and awards. And more often than not, says Hamilton, it was the non-Green Berets who suffered the worst treatment -- Hamilton chief among them.
He just didn't fit in. "I am rough around the edges," he explains. "I am not your polished, gentlemanly West Point officer. I get the job done my own way, a little more directly." Many of his supervisors didn't like his bearing, didn't like that he coached mixed martial arts on the side, and especially didn't like that he had no problem identifying wrongdoings within the unit. "I wasn't there to kiss ass," says Hamilton. "I was there to point out problems within the company." And there were plenty, including toxic leaders. The Army admits it has a problem with "toxic leadership" -- self-interested, manipulative and deceitful leaders who stifle initiative and erode morale. Earlier this year, David Perkins, currently commanding general of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, told NPR, "If we don't do something about toxic leadership, I mean, in the end, not to be too dramatic, but it does have life-or-death consequences."
The consequences for Hamilton came in August 2013. He was getting his paperwork in order to take an officers' training course and needed a memorandum signed by his supervisor. But his supervisor, Major Clifton Lopez, hated him, Hamilton says, and would say things to him like "You're not polished enough" and "You don't deserve a Meritorious Service Medal, because you're not a Green Beret." Sure enough, as the deadline for filing the paperwork approached, the memorandum Hamilton needed Lopez to sign remained untouched in his inbox. As administrative assistant, Hamilton would often sign documents for the commander -- so eventually, that's what he did in this case. When he told Lopez what he'd done the next day, Lopez reportedly responded, "No problem -- I would have signed it anyway."
But apparently it was a problem. Two months later, Lopez told Hamilton he was guilty of falsifying his signature on the memorandum. For that, Hamilton was facing a twenty-day arrest, a major docking of his monthly pay, a letter of reprimand on his record, and other punishments.
That wasn't the end of Hamilton's woes. In November, he was called to Fort Carson on a Saturday. When he got there, military police were waiting for him. They told him he was under arrest.
Continue to read more about the black eye suffered by Fort Carson over its treatment of Green Berets.
The day Amber Wojcik confided to her friend that her husband had hit her, Emil Wojcik was summoned to his commander's office and told that his wife had accused him of assaulting her -- which he said he couldn't remember doing. His superiors said it would be a good idea if he handed over all the firearms stored at his house -- a few hunting rifles, a semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun, a .45-caliber handgun and a Glock pistol. When he went home to retrieve the weapons, Amber and her fourteen-year-old son from her first marriage were nowhere to be found.
Wojcik also learned that his command had filed a military restraining order against him, which meant he couldn't have contact with his wife. Soon, Amber also filed a civilian restraining order against him, which meant he was restricted from leaving Fort Carson. For several weeks, he was forced to sleep in the base's barracks, during which time he wasn't allowed to call or e-mail his children in Ireland. For his first few days in the barracks, he had no pillow or blankets, which exacerbated his neck pain and sleep problems.
Wojcik soon had bigger problems. He'd learned that Amber, with whom he still hadn't spoken, was staying with Aaron Blim and his wife. Wojcik wasn't happy about that; in the past, he'd heard Blim boasting that he and his wife were swingers and liked to sleep around. But he says that when he told his superiors that he was worried the Blims would try to recruit his wife into their swingers' club, he was told to keep quiet about it. "They told me to shut the fuck up about the swingers' club," he says."'We don't care who's fucking whom.'"
But Wojcik did care who was sleeping with his wife. About a week after Wojcik was accused of assaulting his wife, he and Blim exchanged words in a Fort Carson parking lot. Wojcik says he told Blim to leave him alone. But according to Blim in later testimony, Wojcik threatened him, saying, "You're next." Whatever Wojcik said, he was now in even more trouble. Because Amber was staying with them, the military restraining order also extended to Blim and his wife -- and Wojcik's superiors concluded that he had violated that no-contact order by talking to Blim.
For that, Wojcik was docked part of a month's pay and assigned extra work duties. At the same time, he received a general reprimand for attacking his wife and other behavior she'd accused him of that he swore he didn't remember, such as threatening to hit her with a bottle and holding a gun to her head and his own. He hired a local polygraph company to test whether he was lying when he said he had no recollection of hurting his wife. The results concluded that he was telling the truth -- but that didn't matter. The reprimand went on his record, and there was no consideration of his medical condition, of how the injuries he'd received during his years of service might have played a role. And even though Wojcik's home life was falling apart, he says no one ever referred him or his wife to the unit's family-counseling program.
What's more, because his security clearance had been suspended, he couldn't access his work e-mail -- and since Special Forces medical appointments are scheduled via electronic communication, that meant he started missing medical and physical-therapy appointments.
Major Aram Donigian, public-affairs officer for 10th Special Forces Group, says he can't comment on Wojcik's situation or those of other soldiers in this story. "Due to privacy considerations, it would be inappropriate for us to comment on individuals' health issues or reasons for administration action," he says. "What I can tell you is that our soldiers and officers are the most important resource we have, and, regardless of the color of their beret, are given full support and due process in every situation."
But Wojcik didn't feel supported by his superiors, even as his medical condition deteriorated. By December 2013, his neck pain and sleeping problems had become serious enough that his battalion's physician referred him to the Army's Medical Evaluation Board, the first step toward being medically retired from the Army. But then in January, when he was called into his battalion commander's office -- "It was the first time I'd ever met the man," he says -- Wojcik learned that he could be leaving Special Forces for other reasons. Wojcik's medical-evaluation process had been halted, his commander told him; he was now looking at an other-than-honorable discharge from the Army because of his behavior, which would leave him with few benefits.
And a recent conversation with Amber -- the first he'd had in months -- had given Wojcik even more reason to be concerned about what was going on within 10th Special Forces Group.
Continue to read more about the black eye suffered by Fort Carson over its treatment of Green Berets.
From the military police officers, Hamilton learned he was being arrested for stealing $500 of his unit's recreation funds. He hadn't stolen the money; he'd used it for an event he was organizing, for which he'd followed the correct procedures. That didn't stop the police from detaining him for much of a day while they searched his home -- much to the confusion of his wife and their three children, since Hamilton hadn't been allowed to call and tell them what was going on.
Finally, the military police released Hamilton, apologizing for the misunderstanding. But by then, the damage had been done, Hamilton says; he had another black mark on his record. "It couldn't be an isolated incident," he adds. "It was a total creation of a charge to meet the specifications of an administrative separation."
Because of the charges against him, Hamilton couldn't take the officer training course; eventually, he wasn't even allowed to enter the building where he worked on Fort Carson. For a few months, he drove to work and spent his days sitting in his car in the parking lot. Now he just stays home: "I don't have a title, I don't have a job, I don't do anything," he says.
Hamilton faced other repercussions, too. In August 2013, he had been referred to the Army Medical Evaluation Board for potential medical retirement because of his knees. The evaluation determined that his knees weren't his only problem; medical tests uncovered head and neck injuries from improvised explosive devices in Iraq. The damage was more than enough to warrant a medical separation, concluded doctors. "I guess I am way more jacked up than I thought I was," says Hamilton. But that fall, the Army froze his medical-evaluation process, putting his medical retirement on hold indefinitely, after a 10th Group commander issued a memorandum concluding that Hamilton should be kicked out of the Army for bad behavior.
At the same time, Hamilton's wife, Natalie, was apparently facing her own harassment from 10th Group. The day her husband was arrested and police searched their home, she called a soldier who worked with him, Sergeant First Class Cliff Bourland, to find out what was happening. Bourland, who works under Lopez and had reportedly been the person who accused Hamilton of stealing the funds, told her, "Your husband is not a good man, and you should leave him," then invited her to have a glass of wine with him. Later that night, he sent her a text: "I still think you should come over and have that glass of wine, it's here with your name on it. Stay the night if you would like. ;)" Bourland continued to text her over the next several weeks; one of his messages read, "I never snitched on your husband. MAJ Lopez has it out for him." Despite the fact that Natalie kept evidence of these messages, this past February, an outside investigation determined that Bourland had not sexually harassed her.
Hamilton wasn't going to accept such treatment without a fight, not even after Major General Michael Bills, acting commander of the 4th Infantry Division, which is also stationed at Fort Carson, upheld Lopez's punishment against him. Hamilton appealed the matter, and early in February, Major General Anthony Ierardi, a senior commander at Fort Hood, issued a memorandum concluding that all accusations against Hamilton should be set aside.
But the black marks on Hamilton's record have not yet been removed. His medical-evaluation process is still frozen, and the alleged misconduct was still part of his personnel file this past spring, when the Army reviewed the records of thousands of officers to determine which ones should be involuntarily separated as part of an Army-wide troop reduction over the next several years -- and concluded that Hamilton was among those who should go.
Lately, Hamilton says, he's faced more mistreatment. Shortly after Donigian was informed that Westword would be writing about his case, Hamilton was was told he was facing a new misconduct hearing, possibly to reinitiate the punishment process that Major General Ierardi dismissed in February.
Hamilton is still fighting to clear his name, still hoping he can resume his Medical Evaluation Board process. "Medical retirement is what is owed to my family and me," he says. But either way, he knows that very soon he will be out of the Army -- and after what he's been through lately, that moment can't come too soon.
"I don't have anybody at Fort Carson in my corner," concludes Hamilton. He grew up loving everything about being a soldier -- but that's all changed. "They took the passion for the Army right out of me," he says. "In the Army I grew up with, there was rehabilitation. Here, there is no rehabilitation. They will make shit up just to get you out of the Army."
Continue to read more about the black eye suffered by Fort Carson over its treatment of Green Berets.
After Emil Wojcik's alleged attack on his wife, Melanie Blim convinced Amber to stay with the her family, saying that she and her son would be safe there. But according to Amber, the Blims' household ended up being anything but safe.
During her first evening at the Blims', a friend of the couple's stopped by and told Amber that she had been having an affair with Wojcik. Amber was blown away -- and she was still reeling from the news when a military investigator came over the next day to interview her. He convinced her to file the civilian restraining order against her husband and wrote out a statement for her to sign. "I was upset, guilty and hadn't been sleeping," says Amber now. "I signed the statement without reading it." That's why she didn't know the statement included things that were not true, she says, including a charge that her husband once threatened to hit her with a bottle, and that he'd held a gun to her head as well as his own.
Over the next several days, Amber became increasingly uncomfortable around the Blims. She says the couple showed her sexually explicit photos of various officers from 10th Group, and Melanie described her sexual escapades with them. At one point, Aaron sent her a text reading, "If it's any consolation I would totally do you." Since her son also used her phone, Amber says, he could see those messages, too.
The next day, Amber and her son left the Blims' home and returned to their empty house. Still, the propositions continued. Amber received texts from Melanie recommending that she start seeing other guys -- and offering her own husband as an option. "Don't wanna freak you out but Aaron and I are open and if you need dick, I don't care," she wrote Amber. "Sex is sex with us."
"I will get to you about that one," Amber replied -- but she had no intention of following through. Eventually she blocked Melanie on Facebook and changed her phone number so that the Blims would stop contacting her.
But Amber still believed that her husband had cheated on her -- and Wojcik still thought she'd accused him of things he hadn't done. When they finally met several months later, Amber told her husband that she hadn't meant to get him in so much trouble, and he told her he'd never slept around. After hearing each other's story, they came to believe they'd been caught in some sort of twisted setup. "We were completely used," says Amber. "It makes me angry still. All those people had some sort of plan and were all working together."
Amber dropped the restraining order against Wojcik, and he moved back in with her and her son in early January. Soon after, she filed a sexual-harassment complaint against the Blims.
She and Natalie Hamilton aren't the only ones claiming they've been sexually harassed by soldiers. The Army has been besieged by sex scandals recently, leading President Obama to order a one-year review of how the Army handles such issues. In 2013, a sexual-assault-prevention officer at Fort Hood was accused of running a prostitution ring. That same year, the head of the Air Force's sexual-assault-prevention program was accused of groping a woman. In Fort Greely, Alaska, the battalion commander at the Space and Missile Defense Command was accused of condoning a freewheeling sexual climate among soldiers at the base. And news broke earlier this year that the former commander of Fort Carson's hospital, Colonel John McGrath, was removed from his command for making inappropriate sexual comments to his female subordinates.
Now Amber was claiming that more inappropriate sexual conduct was occurring on base. But instead of assigning her complaint to an investigator outside of the unit, as she had requested, 10th Group chose to handle the matter in-house -- even though there's been a push lately against military units handling sexual-harassment and assault claims internally. Earlier this year, Democratic senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York tried to pass the Military Justice Improvement Act, which would have required that military lawyers, and not Army commanders, decide whether to prosecute sexual-assault cases. As Gillibrand argued on the Senate floor, "It's not whether anyone in this chamber trusts the chain of command. The people who do not trust the chain of command are the victims."
But since Gillibrand's bill did not pass, commanders are still allowed to make decisions on sexual-harassment claims -- and on March 10, Amber was called into the office of Colonel Michael Lazich, second in command of 10th Special Forces Group, to hear his decision. She says he told her that while Aaron Blim had made a mistake in propositioning her, there was no proof he'd sexually harassed her. Lazich offered no paperwork detailing the basis for his conclusion. The Blims themselves were no longer in Colorado; Aaron Blim had been transferred to Germany right after Wojcik had filed a lawsuit against the couple for defamation in El Paso County Court.
A Green Beret's greatest strength -- his ability to work in a close-knit, highly skilled team -- can also prove to be his greatest weakness, according to Susan Ullman. "When you are a Green Beret, your job is to be on a team," she says. "These guys are super-overachievers, super-driven, very success-oriented; they have been preparing their whole careers to go to war. It puts unique pressure on them. And when they stop performing at peak levels, whether physically or psychologically, it gets noticed. There should be a way to scoop them up and take care of them, but instead, they are isolated. People start to feel marginalized, and then they feel desperate."
Ullman knows this from personal experience. She saw it happen to her husband, Mike Lube, a Green Beret formerly with 10th Group in Fort Carson.
Lube's troubles began after he returned from a mission to Afghanistan in 2011, one of his many deployments. He started drinking, got written up for bad behavior, dreamed of hurting his wife, at times even attacked her. A private psychiatrist diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder, but he was afraid to inform his command. Eventually, Ullman reached out to her husband's superiors at 10th Group -- but she says they ignored her concerns. "Have him arrested or cowboy the fuck up," she remembers one of Lube's superiors telling her.
Instead of receiving help, Lube found himself increasingly isolated. Because of his abusive behavior, Ullman and Lube had separated; he began sharing a rental house with several other Special Forces soldiers. But then Lube was transferred from Fort Carson, where he'd spent much of his military career, to Fort Bliss, Texas. And in the summer of 2013, he was told he was going to be dishonorably discharged. "He had no friends, no support systems, nothing," says Ullman. "He was so devastated and crushed. It had everything to do with Mike's sense of worth and value in the Army."
On July 11, 2013, Lube wrote a note saying, "I am so goddamn tired of holding it together." Then he took his gun and committed suicide.
Ullman believes her husband's death might have been prevented if his commanders had responded to the warning signs. "There were red flags everywhere, and the Army did not act on them," she says. "If the Army had acted on them, perhaps Mike would still be alive. It takes more than half a million dollars getting Special Forces guys ready to fight. Why aren't they preserving their investment and preserving these guys' mental health?"
Psychologically, Special Forces soldiers might be better prepared to deal with the trauma of modern warfare. "Special Forces soldiers are specially assessed and selected for their mental and emotional stability, and then endure tough and realistic training in their qualification process -- and beyond -- generally resulting in increased resilience to traumatic exposure," says Donigian, 10th Group's public-affairs officer. But Green Berets are not immune to traumatic brain injuries, PTSD and other psychological injuries stemming from their frequent deployments -- nor is it easy for them to break through the "tough guy" attitude of Special Forces and admit to their colleagues that they need help.
According to Donigian, his unit takes its soldiers' psychological well-being very seriously. "Because individuals are ultimately responsible for whether or not they ultimately request help, 10th SFG(A) leaders continue to work to decrease the stigma associated with seeking behavioral-health treatment," he says. "Our intent is that soldiers utilize the many resources available and receive appropriate support whenever needed."
There are many ways those soldiers can get help, he explains in an e-mail. "10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) has an abundance of resources under the Trojan Warrior program, including Behavioral Health and Chaplain support for soldiers suffering from PTSD and TBI," he writes. "Additionally, 10th SFG(A) Soldiers benefit from a close-knit community, which allows peers and teammates to notice problems and intervene very quickly. We recognize that no system is perfect and every loss of life or tragic outcome is painful for the soldier's family, their fellow service members and the entire unit. 10th SFG(A) is committed to learning from every case in order to continue improving the overall health of our individuals and our organization."
But from what she's seen, Ullman doesn't believe 10th Group is prepared to deal with struggling Special Forces soldiers. And according to Wojcik and Hamilton, Lube wasn't the only Green Beret from the unit to commit suicide over the past few years. "The 10th Group has been described to me by numerous guys within the unit as having a particularly toxic leadership," says Ullman. "If you don't fit the mold, if you are not the perfect G.I. Joe operator, in their eyes, you suck."
Soldiers' advocate Andrew Pogany, CEO of the Denver-based nonprofit Uniformed Services Justice & Advocacy Group, agrees. "The primary thing we have identified in 10th Group is toxic leadership," he says. "They just want robots, they want machines, and when they are broken, they become disposable commodities." A former Special Operations soldier stationed at Fort Carson, Pogany has been working to help soldiers with medical, disciplinary and judicial problems since he retired from the Army in 2005 ("The Good Soldier," March 20, 2008). And he says that many of his clients are from 10th Group, despite what he sees as the unit's diligent efforts to sweep any problems under the rug.
"The 10th Group is a tight-knit unit, and they try to keep all their dirty laundry inside the compound," Pogany says. Don Hamilton agrees that the specialized unit holds itself apart from the rest of the 25,000-soldier base: "They take full advantage of being Special Forces, and don't abide by Fort Carson rules."
"10th SFG(A) follows Army requirements and policy in terms of suicide-prevention programs, involving regular training for individuals and groups," responds Donigian. But Wojcik says he's been told by staff at the Fort Carson traumatic-brain-injury clinic he's been attending that 10th Group has not been participating in brain-injury and PTSD trainings that units are required to attend each year.
Pogany hasn't only been rebuffed by 10th Group. In 2012, after years of working with soldiers on base, he and his colleague Robert Alvarez were banned from Fort Carson for disrupting "good order and discipline." The order came from Colonel David Grosso, Fort Carson's garrison commander, who was also a member of 10th Group.
In response, Pogany and Alvarez filed a lawsuit claiming that they were illegally barred from the base. While that case is pending, they're continuing to help Fort Carson soldiers, including both Wojcik and Hamilton.
Others are working to help Special Forces soldiers on a more systematic level. After her husband's death, Ullman began lobbying lawmakers and officials -- including Admiral William McRaven, then head of the entire U.S. Special Operations Command -- to do something to help struggling Green Berets. In response, McRaven asked Ullman to be part of a new Preservation of the Force and Family Task Force, which is focused on finding new ways to support the psychological well-being of Special Operations Command Forces.
At the same time, Ullman has launched a nonprofit called Warrior2Warrior that helps connect Special Forces soldiers with counseling, mentoring and support outside of their own unit. "Yes, you can go to your chain of command," she says, "but you are vulnerable if you do."
On July 9, an Army administrative separation board found Wojcik guilty of assaulting his wife and recommended that he be removed from service with a general discharge. If Fort Carson's commanding general signs off on the recommendation, Wojcik will leave the Army with none of the benefits of an honorable discharge: no severance check, no access to college scholarships for his kids through the G.I. Bill, no ongoing top-secret clearance that he would need if he wanted to parlay his time in Special Forces into a job as a government intelligence analyst. What's more, if he's discharged in this fashion, Wojcik estimates, it might take six months to a year to access health benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs -- rather than having the immediate access to VA programs he would get if he were medically retired, as he had originally hoped.
Pogany is working with Wojcik to appeal the recommendation -- even though such appeals are rarely successful. "There was complete lack of regard for how his alleged misconduct might be correlated with his underlying medical condition," explains Pogany.
But Donigian says psychological issues are considered when soldiers are accused of misconduct. "Our behavioral health providers have a close relationship with all levels of command and are consulted whenever a particular soldier is observed to have some kind of personal or professional difficulty," he says. "Our providers look through a bio-psychosocial perspective when considering alleged misconduct, and use this perspective to help commanders understand possible, additional contributing factors in a situation."
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In the case of Wojcik, though, Pogany points out that there was little consideration given to how his many deployments, his physical and psychological injuries, his ongoing cocktail of medications and work- and family-related stress might have contributed to his problems. Maybe Wojcik and his wife weren't the victims of a conspiracy to drum him out of the Army and recruit her into a military sex club, as they've come to believe; maybe this was just an example of a marriage coming apart at the seams. Still, instead of seeing Wojcik as a soldier who needed help, his command labeled him a troublemaker. "The moment someone does not fit within the cookie-cutter mold they want them to be in, guys become outcasts," says Pogany. "If you cannot perform, you are of no use to them, and the moment you become of no use to them, they treat you like trash." The same thing happened with Don Hamilton and Mike Lube: As soon as someone doesn't fit the perfect image of the Green Beret, he's no longer wanted.
Apparently not all misbehaving Green Berets from 10th Group are treated similarly. Wojcik says his superior, Sergeant Major Jerry Lambert, was among the first to openly blast him for his conduct last October. But a month later, Lambert himself was arrested for allegedly assaulting his 82-year-old mother-in-law. Like Wojcik, he received a general reprimand because of the incident -- but Wojcik says that Lambert is being allowed to retire from the Army with full benefits.
Even with Pogany's help, Wojcik is unlikely to receive such a parachute. "The way I see it, they broke him," Amber says of her husband, who can't help thinking about other broken men, like Lube. "What if he wants to do what others have done? It scares me."
Far from a hero's welcome, Wojcik feels his years of service as a Green Beret have been rewarded with a kick to the curb. "They don't care about me or my family," he says. "They just care about shutting us up and getting us out of there."