Sunday, March 18, 2007

“I Am A Casualty of A Broken System”—One Year Later

Christen Scarano Bailey with photo of her late son, Mathew Scarano

In Memory of Mathew Scarano

by Patricia deVarennes

“I am a casualty of a broken system; I fell through the cracks of the bureaucracy that is the system which all of us must go through, as is every other one of us who have been here.”
-– Mathew Sterling Scarano
February 1985- March 19, 2006

I only met Mathew Scarano once in person, when I went to visit my son in the Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Program (PTRP) at Fort Sill. These locations are not often open for visitors. They have long operated in the shadows with little direction and even less oversight. Mathew and I communicated via email, when he could find a way to get to a library or hospital computer. [Later, a much ballyhooed "internet cafe" in the PTRP still only allowed PTRP-ers to check their official Army email and AKO (Army Knowledge Online)-PD]. Mathew Scarano was one of those special people that you never forget. It still seems impossible that he's gone. Yet Mathew Scarano is definitely gone. And there is a hole in the life of everyone he knew because of it.

One year ago, this young Army trainee's life was lost. It wasn’t lost to war, it wasn’t lost to an unfortunate accident in a training exercise, it was lost in a Fort Sill, Oklahoma facility that was purportedly “designed for injured IET Soldiers, and provides a training environment that allows for proper healing and recovery.” (Army Pub TR 350-6). The late PFC Mathew Scarano spent both his 20th and his 21st birthdays in Fort Sill’s Physical Training and Rehabilitation Program (PTRP) before his unexpected and still unofficially explained death on March 19, 2006. (Mathew Scarano was not the first death at Fort Sill's PTRP. There was another, Pvt. Poirier, in 2005, of "acute methadone intoxication".)

The PTRP program, according to regulations was for injured trainees “likely to fully recover within 4 months, and complete all of the physical requirements of training” and gave a maximum stay policy for “up to 6 months”(Army Pub TR 350-6). The punitive and abusive circumstances these young men endured was documented last year, initially in this blog, then twice in Counterpunch (here and here ), and finally by the New York Times.
(Thanks to JoAnn Wypejewski and Ralph Blumenthal)

I have excerpted some of PFC Mathew Scarano’s own words below. They are taken from two essays he sent to me during his self-study research into group psychology. At the time of his death, we had also begun an exchange about mentoring new PTRP “inmates” (His two essay letters are available in whole here):

“As of 15 MAR 05, I have been in PTRP continuously for over one year, through the equivalent of several generations of PTRP. I believe this gives me a unique position from which to examine the underlying, root problems afflicting us all, since no one else, save the couple others who have been in PTRP nearly (within a month) as long as I have, have objectively seen the evolution of PTRP and witnessed how it affects different people, and from that, the true nature of PTRP.

"I am a living symbol of the failure of the system and after having been ignored for so long, despite trying to raise as much attention as I could, I might finally be able to get on with my adult life after spending over a third of it in PTRP, deprived of everything from being able to be with my family, to fundamental physical needs such as sleep and recuperation from my injury, to the basic human freedoms and creature comforts which I will never again take for granted.”

On March 19th, 2006, five days after Mathew Scarano sent me a draft essay with his thoughts and observations about the Fort Sill PTRP, he was found dead in his bunk by his friends in the PTRP barracks.

As of the writing of this blog entry, his mother, Christen Scarano Bailey, has had no final report from the Army on her son’s death. The toxicology report raised more questions than it gave answers, and the Drill Sergeant’s medication log from the night of Mathew’s death was mysteriously still "missing" at last report.

In early 2006, the situation was tragically ripe for disaster. Another former Fort Sill PTRP occupant, Shane, had the following to say regarding "Scary" as he was known to many of his friends:

“I was in PTRP from August 19th 2005 to December 15th 2005. I have dual feet injuries (the neurlogist believes its RSD which nothing can be done about.)’

"During my tenure in PTRP I saw Scarano in his overmedicated state before christmas exodus 2005. Many of us had helped Scary to final formation. Even to the point of bringing his blankets and pillow to it.

"We usually had to support him back to the barracks. Another comment on Scary (Scarano), He had been denied christmas exodus (note: exodus is the 2 weeks when training shuts down for the holidays-PD) the year (2004) before after he had already been in PTRP for awhile."

Of his own situation, Shane continues:

“I was put on crutches and removed from them 4 seperate times. I had certain doctors tell me that I needed a med board. I had one who told it was nothing and just push thru. He actually removed me from profile completely and had me training to take my PT test by exodus. I now struggle to walk and am being told by doctors I may need a wheelchair for the rest of my life." (Note: Shane currently has a disability rating of 70%)

"I never had a bone scan, MRI, or EMG test. Those all came [were scheduled] when I applied for VA benefits when I realized I couldn't handle my old job at all. They didn't do anything for you when they knew you were leaving either. Most of us come out unprepared to reenter civilian life at all.

"No one listened to us when said things were bad there. They said we were lying.”

Note: Shane currently has a disability rating of 70% and is working to have that percentage increased as he is completely unemployable.

Former Pvt. Damien McMahon, whose abuse at Fort Sill is documented both on this blog and in the Counterpunch and New York Times articles had a couple of additional remarks on this blog in response to another reader comment about Mathew’s death:

"The first is about Scarano. I knew when the autopsy report came out there would be comments posted and mailed. It is amazing to me how somebody can make a death trivial because of the circumstances. Nevermind how long he had been there, the family who saw him 2 weeks out of the 52+ weeks he had been there, nevermind his love for the military and his desire to serve his country WHICH NEVER CEASED. Never mind the people who came to be like brothers to him, because some completely uninvolved person with a narrow outlook on life decides that his death is his own fault. Has this person who never met MATHEW STERLING SCARANO (who was still willing to sacrifice his life for their freedom) ever suffered from a dibilitating pain so bad that they had to be put on a sleep medication, a OTC anti-inflammatory, and two narcotic pain medications just to survive everyday life. And as if that wasn't bad enough, make sure that the people who lived in the place with him for 6 months plus, those who looked at Scary like a brother, are also to blame because we failed him...”

During his interview with The New York Times, injured then-Private Justin Nugent expressed his admiration for Mathew Scarano's intellect. His shock and anger on discovering that his friend, Mathew, had died while Justin was on a short convalescence at home, was still evident. His father characterized the treatment at Fort Sill's PTRP as "cruel and inhuman". (Nugent, a former athlete, was discharged, is home and currently working for an administrative firm.)

Former Pvt. Clayton Howell, who was the first to document his lengthy stay (over one year) at Fort Sill's PTRP, had also earlier attempted to report Mathew Scarano's apparent overmedication. He'd been ignored. In his essay, he documented the situation at Fort Sill at that time:

"We are being told that if we complain to any of our superiors or talk to our congressmen that they will “step on us like a bug” “be destroyed” or “crush our nuts.” We live in constant fear of retaliation for something we do or something somebody else does because they don’t punish just one person they take it out on everybody.

"Propaganda posters are strewn all over the building we live [in] about noncommissioned officers respecting their subordinates but none of us here have ever seen an ounce of respect, help, or the first sign of being treated like a decent human being."

I'd like to be able to say that things have changed at Fort Sill's PTRP since Mathew Scarano's death a year ago, but I can't. As late as December & January of 2006, I received information regarding abuses by Fort Sill PTRP Drill Sergeants. I get reports in comments and email that show the other medical hold and PTRP facilities at training bases are little better, even now. The abuses have been reported by both men and women.

Mathew Scarano and his PTRP peers were and are indeed Casualties of a Broken System. That particular system seeks to intimidate all those who would shed light on abusive and punitive actions taken in the guise of a medical environment unfortunately still entirely under the purview of Drill Sergeants untrained in dealing with injured trainees. Yet the young men who spoke up last year are more than "just" casualties. Mathew Scarano and many of Fort Sill's former PTRP occupants are heroes...they stood up for themselves and each other, speaking out and lifting each other up, sometimes literally, in an environment of fear and retribution wielded by their superiors.

Mathew Scarano has been gone for a year. Some of his friends and peers are at home now, struggling to rebuild their lives around permanent disabilities. Others (such as PFC Thurman) left the PTRP with a permanent medical limitation and have been deployed to Iraq. (At one point, an active duty Army officer calculated the odds of death in Iraq to the odds of death in Fort Sill's PTRP and declared Iraq to be safer.)

There is some hope that new pending regulations governing Initial Entry Training, including the PTRP, will be more specific in their policies and procedures. They purportedly provide more guidance and requirements for those cadre members who are actually interested in improvement and more policies to govern those who are not (regarding abuse reporting, for example).

Perhaps if harsh consequences for perpetrators of abuse and medical neglect were employed, those whom routinely practice it would be weeded out or kept on a shorter leash. Perhaps one day, the injured will not be treated as worthless malingerers and trash to be thrown out. Perhaps one day, my blog will be obsolete. That day can't come too soon for many PTRP and medical hold alumni and their loved ones.

For now, abuse and medical neglect continue to be reported in these areas. Fear overrules most family members and trainees willingness to be more than anonymous commenters to those (including journalists) whose hands are often tied by that very anonymity. For now, the abusers and the apathetic in charge are protected, their faces also anonymous in the shadows. For now, there is no justice and little consolation for Mathew Scarano's family, or for any of the other "broke-dick" trainees past & present, whose lives have been lost or shattered while trying to serve their countries.

Chronological Record of Posts on Fort Sill's PTRP:
(Note: These posts are archived by month, please scroll the pages to locate specific entries)

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