Lt. Whiteside's Care

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Dec. 2 front-page article "A Patient Prosecuted," regarding one of our soldiers, 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside, should have been clearer: No decision has yet been made as to whether charges against her will proceed to court-martial. But the charges against the lieutenant are serious and cannot simply be ignored.

The Army and American society are not a consequence-free environment. Legal steps to address alleged wrongs must be applied. In the military, investigating officers look at evidence and circumstances and advise senior leaders. Senior leaders then decide whether a court-martial is warranted or dispose of charges in some other manner. For Lt. Whiteside, no decisions have been made.

The article implied that battle-hardened combat leaders are at odds with Army medical professionals. That is simply not true. All are working together within due process under military law. The advice of medical professionals certainly is being considered so we can do the right thing for this officer and the Army.

We consider the medical conditions of our soldiers to be the most private of matters. The public should know that we take the privacy of the individual very seriously and want nothing more than to protect Lt. Whiteside -- and all patients -- in this regard.

We have fundamentally changed our approach to the care of soldiers suffering from stress, brain injury or behavioral-health problems, and we provide many resources to help. As an institution, the Army will continue to fight to remove the stigma associated with behavioral health matters and their timely treatment.

MAJ. GEN. TONY CUCOLO

Chief of Public Affairs

U.S. Army

Washington

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My eyes filled with tears as I read about 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside's treatment by her "superiors." Surely, Lt. Whiteside is a victim, not a criminal.

Why does the military continue to persecute the psychological victims of our wars? Its outmoded views on paranoia, post-traumatic stress disorder and the range of ways in which the delicate balance of our human senses can be tilted into mental illness dishonor too many of our warriors.

This story reminded me of the young men I encountered at the psychiatric unit of the former Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland, Calif., during the Vietnam War. Many of these men had broken under the stress of what they had seen and done for their country. Today, as I pass homeless men of a certain age, I sometimes stop to share a dollar and exchange a few words. Too often I hear stories of society's neglect and the failures of veterans agencies. Many live with complications from post-traumatic stress or other psychological damage.

How many lives must be destroyed before those who are charged with overseeing our military men and women learn that even the best of us can break under the challenges of war?

MARY JANE OWEN

Washington


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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