Photo: serkan senturk/Shutterstock

What Happens to Our Heroes?

by Julie Schwietert Mar 31, 2009

Maybe the name “Jeans Cruz” doesn’t ring a bell.

After all, the 600 U.S. soldiers who participated in the operation to capture Saddam Hussein in December 2003 were never named publicly.

But Cruz, one of the special forces soldiers who literally pulled Hussein out of his underground hideout, was recognized by the military as a hero in the War on Terror for the role he played in ridding Iraq of its dictator.

Today, Cruz lives just around the corner from my old apartment in the South Bronx. He takes his son to school, comes home, and spends time reliving–and trying to ward off–the horrors of war. Many days, though, he fails, cutting or burning himself, and wondering when, exactly, his life fell apart.

Cruz– who like so many soldiers joined the military for its financial benefits, hoping to improve his lot in life– was honorably discharged from the military, fully expecting the benefits he’d been promised. But Cruz, like more than 20,000 other soldiers, was cut off from benefits, diagnosed by military doctors with Personality Disorder.

Cruz’s story is told in this 15 minute documentary, “Jeans Cruz,” released last week by London’s Journeyman Pictures on YouTube.

In the short film, Joshua Kors–investigative journalist for The Nation– explains Cruz isn’t the only soldier who was lauded as a hero, only to be told that he had a pre-existing psychiatric condition that now makes him ineligible for the benefits he desperately needs. 22,500 other soldiers have also been disenfranchised from care over the past six years.

The cost savings for the US government? 12.5 billion USD.

What makes the situation particularly problematic is the fact that the US military does a full psychiatric assessment of every new recruit– so even if 22,500 service members REALLY have personality disorder (a diagnosis that is rarely made anymore by civilian psychiatrists), why didn’t the military catch what it’s now claiming was a pre-existing problem in so many of its soldiers?

Kors wasn’t buying it, so he began investigating. And what he found has led to important changes in military policy. His full report can be read here.

As for Cruz, his struggle continues.

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