War Within: Putting A Face On PTSD

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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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