One of our own — Toa o Samoa need not walk alone
In a seminal address at Riverside Church in New York City, entitled “Beyond Vietnam” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King stated boldly, “The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. Such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.”
The year was 1967, and King understood, better than most, that it was time to break the silence and protest the profoundly immoral war which America was waging in Southeast Asia.
In that highly controversial speech, King noted, “this business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows … of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love.
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
Fast forward to Iraq or Afghanistan, for any in the last ten years. The country names change, but the admonition is as valid today as it ever was.
ONE OF OUR OWN
Sometime around September of last year, a young man, 27 years old, a son of American Samoa of Samoan and European heritage, made a serious attempt at taking his own life.
He is a veteran of the ongoing wars in the Middle East.
Since that time, he has tried at least two other times to end the sadness, isolation, paranoia, and terror that keeps him awake at night and shreds any hope of a happy and productive life.
Last week, Samoa News received an email from a concerned citizen, Aaron Forsgren about this young man, with a plea for help sent out to the wider community. Forsgren takes seriously the admonition to be his brother’s keeper.
It was about two weeks ago that Aaron Forsgren had been alerted to the young man’s story. As it goes, the veteran soldier now lives among us, and was employed in the private sector. His story is tragically not unique, but is told over and over again in the journals of those who have been to war and returned with the invisible wounds which do not heal easily, if ever.
With respect for his privacy, and until a time when he wishes his name to be known, we will call this Toa o Samoa simply “Jay.”
In his email to the community, Forsgren stated, “Yesterday I was approached by an Army Veteran here in American Samoa. He told me about a young man, 28 years old, who served in Afghanistan in 2005 and 2006 and went through a traumatic IED experience.
(Unfortunately, this war has gone on so long, that most people already know that an IED is an Improvised Explosive Device.)
In 2010, after more than four years of issues he could not understand, Jay was diagnosed with the bane of this, and all wars: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder- PTSD.
Said Forsgren in his plea to help the young soldier, a married man who is the father of four young children, “I’m not going to butter this up and make it sound fancy. Since Afghanistan, Jay has come back a different person than the man that left. He constantly has nightmares, suicidal actions and violent episodes where he doesn't feel in control.
There was an episode where a very violent altercation occurred between he and a family member that landed him in jail for almost two years.
The military released him and he subsequently lost his benefits which covered his medication.
“For some reason beyond me, he has not received proper treatment for the severe PTSD he has, and has slipped through the cracks of bureaucracy,” said Forsgren.
Several months ago was the first time Jay tried to take his life. Mid January of this year he slit his wrist in several places and only a few days ago he slit his chest, a violent act which landed him in LBJ for three days, under medication. He was released, as there is no long term care for patients with these issues.
Forsgren described the returned soldier as “ a ticking time bomb”… who has lost all hope that any real help will come to him.
Attached to Forsgren’s email is a video, telling the details of this story, and shot only a few days before the young man cut his chest, and one week before he made another attempt on his own life, saying that "nothing is going to help, no one cares”.
One man who was working with the Tripler TBI clinic at the VA, Patrick Doar, has tried to help him as much as possible outside of the VA system, as Jay is no longer covered. Doar is trying to get him to a psychiatric hospital in Hawaii so he can get proper treatment and medication.
Said Forsgren, pleading for help for this soldier, “All I'm asking is — if you can help in anyway possible whether it be financial or through connections you may have.”
According to several reports in both mainstream and online media, the United States is now losing more soldiers in Afghanistan to suicide than to actual combat. Jay’s story — that of a tortured soul — is told and retold all across America, to her shame and the shame of those who sent American troops into the quagmire of Iraq and Afghanistan under false pretenses in the first place, without legitimacy and beyond reason.
It is Samoa News understanding that Jay had served first in Afghanistan and had been honorably discharged. Following his time in Afghanistan, he became a recruiter in Hawaii. But he knew something was amiss, and according to Jay, he went continually to the doctor in Hawaii, with various problems which would now routinely be seen as PTSD -related.
It was reported to Samoa News that the Hawaii doctor, a military man, told Jay he “couldn’t possibly have PTSD” because he hadn’t shot anyone.
He was prescribed various medication, sent home, and within months there was a violent incident which involved a stabbing, and the Army eventually incarcerated Jay for nearly two years.
According to Doar, who is familiar with the details of the case, Jay has stated he had “not one minute of counseling while in jail, and Jay’s wife repeatedly told the authorities, “this is not him, this is not the man I know.”
Upon his release from jail, the family moved back to Tutuila. Jay came to the VA clinic in American Samoa where he was seen by a nurse practitioner.
One official at the local VA, believing that Jay was going to get a “dishonorable discharge” made it known to Jay that “he was no longer eligible for VA benefits.” An eyewitness who heard the exchange, said that the VA official literally pushed Jay out the door of the building, while Jay pleaded with the official to reconsider.
(As it turned out, Jay had not yet received a “bad conduct” discharge, and should have still been eligible for care until that discharge was given.)
For nearly a year, he and his wife were seeing a psychiatrist through the Tripler Program which is available for Vets. The program is housed in the VA building, retirees are eligible, and anyone with Tri-Care is eligible for the Tripler based program.
With some help from the Tripler program, Jay found a way to “be around people again.” He was hired eventually by Bluesky, and “seemed to enjoy his job there, and was an excellent employee, according to Doar, who spoke to Jay’s supervisor.
The third time he tried to commit suicide, he went to his employers and tried to resign. It was told to Samoa News that when Bluesky finally heard the whole story, they wanted to help the young man, who they valued as an employee.
BlueSky has kindly offered to pay his airfare to Hawaii.
Aaron Forsgren, who owns KoKo Bean cafe was subsequently told about Jay’s story, and following hundreds of postings to Facebook, Twitter and numerous emails with the YouTube video, is helping the community to rally behind this young man.
The Congressman’s office is now involved, trying to get his military discharge status changed. Dr. Michael Russo, a retired military colonel and neurologist, who lives in Hawaii heard of the situation, and offered to do one of the most important psychological tests (one of the most expensive) for free.
However, mental care is costly in Hawaii. It can be upwards of $1,000 a day without insurance. The facility he hopes to go for treatment is not with the military, so he can get some immediate treatment, until he can hopefully get his Veterans benefits restored. This will be the fastest way to get him the care he so desperately needs right now. Jay has little trust in the military system at this point, and a civilian facility will work well for him at this time.
In order to help Jay get the treatment he needs, a Paypal account has been set up where donations may be sent. Enter: JVPTSDFUND@yahoo.com. The money will go to the hospital in Hawaii.
Doar, who has been actively working to get this man help, has also said to please call him at 731-4666 if you have any questions, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.