War Within: Putting A Face On PTSD

A suicide devastates the family of a former Fort Carson soldier. They believe the military could have prevented it.

Sergeant Walter Padilla smiled often in his final days. His mother Carmen Sierra says no one suspected the end was close.

"He looked so fine to me. We were all enjoying him so much there, the whole family," Sierra said.

But behind his smile, the war the one-time Ft. Carson soldier left three years before continued to torture his soul.

There were nightmares.

"When he had to follow orders, do what he had to do, that part was haunting him," said Sierra.

He carried a gun, and worried about people sneaking up behind him.

In early April, Walter Padilla ended the battle in his home with a single shot. Alone. A suicide.

"He was just the opposite of someone to be like before they do it. Happy, planning for the future. Nothing saying I'm really dying inside," said Padilla’s fiancee, Mia Sagahon.

Sagahon knows the army diagnosed Padilla with post traumatic stress disorder before giving him a medical discharge in 2005, but she never knew the worst of his suffering.

Neither did, she says, the military doctors he turned to for help.

"They just want to fill you up with meds. They don't really want to get to the root of the problem," Sagahon said.

Padilla was one of a rising number of soldiers coming home with P.T.S.D.

During a visit by the army's Surgeon General in January, Ft. Carson officials reported advanced health programs on post helped physicians recognize nearly 600 cases of the stress disorder at the mountain post alone, up from around a hundred cases in 2003.

But Sagahon says when soldiers like Walter want help they're on their own.

"There's none of that. There is no transition, no here are the options for you," she said.

Sagahon isn't the only one speaking out

National lawmakers and veterans advocates are asking questions too, pushing for answers and pointing the finger at commands close to home.

"There is a extreme misunderstanding or uncaring attitude by commanders about soldiers' medical conditions. They're not getting the proper, appropriate care," said Andrew Pogany, a representative of Veterans For America in a recent interview.

"I don't think there is a leader in the Army who would look the other way if a soldier, or soldier's family asked for help," said Brigadeer General Michael Tucker.

Top army figures like Tucker say treatment now is moving away from a system he describes as archaic.

"The intent is that we clear that away from these families and streamline the process for them," Tucker said.

Tucker helps oversee operations at Walter Reed Army Medical center cites more than one hundred initiatives across the army underway to tackle brain injury and mental health concerns.

Commanders are turning to soldiers in the field, coaching junior enlisted officers how to spot and report early signs of P.T.S.D in battle.

Once home, tucker says soldiers in need will find a system of physicians and squad leaders to support them.

"We are learning everyday. We don't have it perfect yet, but we're getting better everyday," he said.”

In the meantime, the investigations will continue at several other military installations across the country.

"It's a huge thing. We're just a small part," said Sagahon.

She thinks investigators will find more men and women in uniform with symptoms like walter's who will tell a similar story of finding inadequate care or none at all.

But by shedding light on the issue, Sagahon and sierra hope others will emerge from the kind of darkness Walter never could.

"We don't want this to stop right here because there is no light at the end of the tunnel as far as we can see," Sagahon said.

Even now the army is planning to establish one of it's medical facilities to specialize in treating P.T.S.D and traumatic brain injury.

A group from the Governmental Accountability Office is expected to tour Ft. Carson with congressional investigators early next week.

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  • by antione johnson on May 18, 2009 at 10:36 AM
    This is a sad commentary, especially in a time when help is available and information on PTSD interventions are right at our fingertips. I am a retired Military Veteran and current special education teacher for students ages 5-21. My expertise and licensure is in woking with people with Serious emotional and Behavior Disorders; ranging from ADHD to PTSD. I have had a successful 9 years of theching experience earning the Colorado Teacher of the year award in only my second year of theaching. I have led soldiers during the Gulf War, and The Bosnian Peace Accords, were they afraid and uncertain? Why yes; but as a leader soldiers will gain confidence from leaders who disply the quality of a caring professional, which is tremendously lacking in today's military. The so called "Help" that's being looked at or "practiced" is just to keep the us quiet. I personally have made contact with key officilas on FT. Carson and have offered my services to help soldiers and their families,to no avail.
  • by SHARRON Location: COLORADO SPRINGS on May 17, 2007 at 03:38 PM
  • by Gabrielle Location: Rio Rancho , NM on May 11, 2007 at 07:09 PM
    My nephew in-law is one of the soldiers who suffer with PTSD and TBI. This was not a shock to me, what is a shock is the way the Army is treating it, he has done 2 tours in Bagdad. Thats enough hell and he went because he is proud of the job he's doing.He was able to come home in April because of one of his daughters serious medical conditions, he was also wounded on Christmas Eve where 10 GI's were killed by a roadside bomb, but he didn't come home then because of his committment to his duty.Last week he was visited at home by Mr Obamas' rep and they agree not enough is being done. My nephew in-law has 5 children, 1 of whom has sever medical issues, she is very well known at Memorial Hospital as a fighter, and her "daddy" is the light of her life, but he did his duty and went over there.Now it's the armys' turn to do whats right and not fill him with meds but really help. I hate to think that we could lose another soldier through the cracks or worse.We are very proud of the men and women that serve now lets take care of them. My family is not asking for anything from the army except that they treat the soldiers with the respect and concern they deserve, and give the help where needed. Not just meds. Thank you for covering this story and showing that your station is in the business of telling it like it is, not "sugar coating" the story.
  • by John Location: Colorado Springs on May 11, 2007 at 02:47 PM
    Ya know it totally amazes me how ignorant Psychologists and other mental health professional are. This condition and these symptoms have existed for decades. It can be found in children with attachment disorder to grown fully functioning adults sent into battle. The root cause is the the brain and the spirit is in extreme conflict and a physical change in the brain in the area of the amygdala the fight or flight mechanisim becomes super charged and takes control of the persons emotion flooding the brain with emotions locked into memory. No amount of pride, character questioning or destractions will work. And certainly meds are just a huge freakin band aid. And for all of the ingnorant military brass that thinks that this can be addressed with anything less than the spiritual scar and brain derailing that it is, are just confused and wasting everyones time and costing soldiers insurmountable greif because of the ignorance. This stuff makes me sick the answers lye in the understanding of brain trauma not giving lip service. The brasses understanding and ability is completly inadequate for these soldiers.
  • by Cheryl Location: Colorado Springs on May 11, 2007 at 01:12 PM
    The system is still far from perfect. My husband was in Saudia Arabia back during the first gulf war and suffers from PTSD from that experience. He has already ended up in the VA hospital in Denver twice this year. They told him when he ended up there the second time that they will not treat anyone at that facility for more than 10 days. If they need care for more than 10 days, they are shipped to Sheridan, WY and kept there for at least three months with only letter contact with family. He still struggles with the nightmares and depression on a daily basis and feels like a walking pharmacy because of all the medications they have him on. Yet, he can only get into the local VA clinic every 6 weeks to see his therapist or his psychiatrist. They don't offer enough support with keeping him in the right state of mind, and only offer support groups to families if they pay. The system is seriously broken with no fix in sight.
  • by Reese Location: Colorado Springs on May 11, 2007 at 10:26 AM
    It just amazes me that our country is so willing to send these men and women out to battle, but ignore their needs when they come back. They put someone through horrific experiences that changes their life, but unwilling to help them get back to life before war? I'm appalled at the support these men and women are receiving. It's like sending pigs to the slaughterhouse.
  • by Charlotte Location: Colorado Springs on May 11, 2007 at 09:03 AM
    i worked with Walter and Mia and from the outside you would of thought life was great. When Our call center at HP heard the news on April 1st of Walter's death we were all in disbelieve. It's a real wake-up call when something lke this hits so close to home - even if it is just your work family. I believe that many of us here in the call center now have a new sense of awarenees to the co-workers around us and in some ways have brought us all closer together. Each day that i walk past Walter's old desk i say a prayer for his family, friends, Mia and for all of the others that he left behind but i know that even though he is no longer with us, his spirit is living in each and everyone of us and we all in someway or another will continue to fight his battle so that others do not have to go though all of the emotions and questions that we have. Thank you so much for taking the time to hear Walter's story and for letting Mia speak out. America needs to know that our Military is fighting for us and we can now give back to fight for them.
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