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Disabled soldier returning to war, facing 'stop loss'
 

By Tom Philpott

One day last August, while manning the .50-caliber gun atop his a Humvee on a dirt road in northern Iraq, Army Spc. Daniel "Joey" Haun suddenly lost consciousness. His vehicle had struck by a buried bomb, an "improvised explosive device." Haun was ejected, his vehicle flipped over.

On impact with the ground, Haun's left hand was driven up toward his forearm, crushing his wrist. The surgeon who rebuilt the wrist, using a metal plate and screws, told Haun last year that his infantry days were
over.

The blast also blew out Haun's right ear drum, which required surgery to partially restore his hearing. That surgeon warned him to avoid sustained exposure to any loud noises or risk having to wear a hearing aid.

As to head injuries, a neurologist diagnosed the 24-year-old with post concussive syndrome and mild traumatic brain injury, the likely cause of his daily headaches since the attack. Finally, a psychologist urged Haun to get counseling for his post-traumatic stress symptoms or they could devolve into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a more debilitating condition. So while recuperating in a wounded warrior unit at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, Haun regularly saw a psychologist. He takes the drug Tramadol for his migraine headaches and Elavil, an anti-depressant, to ease his stress.

Adding to Haun's stress is this surprising news: he's returning to Iraq.

Though Haun expected to be separated or retired on disability, Army doctors have cleared him for transfer back to his infantry unit, Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division. Rather than appearing before a medical evaluation board, Haun will rejoin 3rd Brigade which is to redeploy this fall to Iraq after only a year back home. Also, because Haun's 39-month enlistment doesn't end until January, Haun will have to stay in Iraq under a "stop loss" order. His active service time will be involuntarily extended by at least nine months.

Haun doesn't sound angry or bitter describing his predicament. But he doesn't understanding why the Army wants to keep him. He tells anyone who asks that he would prefer to leave service in January. Yet when he was told of his transfer back to the 2-27, Haun asked that he not be restricted to "pushing paper" in Iraq with the company's headquarters element. So his first sergeant agreed he could return to his platoon, Haun said.

How will he perform there? Haun isn't sure.

"I can't do push ups because I can't bend my hand that way. I can't climb rope. I can't do pull ups. I don't have any strength in my hand," Haun said. "I can't really carry anything that's heavy with my left hand because there's always the possibility of popping some screw loose."

His father, Earl Haun of Crestview, Fla., suggested there's a screw loose already with any Army policy that allows redeployment of soldiers obviously not fit for duty. His son is just one of many, Earl Haun said, and it's time somebody called the Army on it.

A Government Accountability Office report in May cited inconsistencies in Defense Department instructions on pre-deployment health assessments.

"During our site visits to three installations," said the GAO, "we found that health care providers were unaware that a medical record review was required, and medical records were not always reviewed by providers conducting the pre-deployment health assessment."

Earl Haun said something sure is wrong.

"He got blown out of a Humvee about 25 feet in the air, his commander told me. He crushed his arm. He's only got 30 or 40 percent use of it. And his first surgeon told him he was done," said Earl, an Air Force veteran who repaired aircraft during the Vietnam era. "Now, all of a sudden, some new surgeon comes in, says 'Hey, you're deployable again.' .That's kind of stupid. They're sending a kid back over there who's half a man," at least half an infantryman, Earl said.

Joey Haun doesn't blame his company's leaders for his pending redeployment. They didn't expect he'd be cleared for duty. The last doctor who saw him, Haun said, "understands I can't do push ups and climb rope and stuff. But other than that he said I was deployable."

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), Earl Haun's congressman, has asked the Army to review the decision to return Haun to full duty, given his disabilities. Miller said he understand that Haun can't pass the Army's Physical Fitness Test.

"I am extremely concerned that this wounded warrior is mentally and physically unable to deploy," Miller wrote, adding that Haun's physical limitations and post-traumatic stress could even put other soldiers at risk.

Haun said he doesn't regret enlisting to fight in Iraq. But most Americans, he said, don't understand how hard assignments there can be. Haun was involved in another IED attack three weeks before he was injured. His platoon experienced at least 10 to 15 IED attacks plus other assaults from insurgents using rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.

Haun said he lost one very close friend. Another buddy was wounded severely in the attack that disabled Haun. During his short stay in Germany last year, and in treatment at Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii, Haun said he saw injuries far worse than his. The wounded have Haun thinking about a career in physical therapy when he does leave service. But their wounds and his also have made him more anxious now about returning to Iraq.

"The first time we deployed I was actually looking forward to it because that's what I joined for. I was going to go there and fight and serve my country. I never believed something would happen to me or to any of my friends. I thought we were untouchable. Now there are so many more things I've seen. Now I realize it can happen at the blink of an eye. So I'm a lot more nervous about going over again," Haun said.

A spokesman for Miller said the congressman hasn't heard back from the Army on Haun's future.

To comment, e-mail milupdate@aol.com, write to Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA, 20120-1111 or visit: militaryupdate.com

Hal Cleveland, U.S. Navy, (Ret.)

Things to do in 2008

1. I will care enough about family military benefits to help protect them. When alerted, I will email, write or call my legislators so they know what issues are important to me.

2. I will care enough about my military friends and their families to help inform them about legislative threats and encourage them to contact their legislators on issues of concern.

3. I will care enough about the entire military community to help push for needed fixes for others, even though the issue may not affect me personally. If all members of the military family - active duty, Guard, Reserve, retired, veteran, spouses, family members and survivors - support each others issues, we strengthen the support for all, rather than "hanging separately."

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