Joshua Eisenhauer, an active duty service member, has severe PTSD and a traumatic brain injury and suffers from depression and anxiety. A small fire outside his apartment brought police and firefighters to break down his door. Thinking he was back in Afghanistan, he grabbed his gun and began firing. No one was hit, but Eisenhauer consequently was sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison.
While that sentence is being appealed, Eisenhauer is incarcerated in an open room with 30 other prisoners, allowed to see a social worker only about once every two months. The prison abuts a shooting range, which worsens his trauma. Eisenhauer has asked to be placed in a cell by himself but was told that he would have to get into trouble and be put into solitary confinement in order to obtain relief from his environment.
Eisenhauer is one of some 700,000 veterans in prison. The suicide rate for imprisoned veterans is five times that of the general population, and the violent offenders’ suicide rate is nearly three times that of nonviolent offenders.
Quaker House of Fayetteville provides free and confidential counseling to service members, veterans and their families through our GI Rights Hotline and our Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Moral Injury in the Military Counseling Program. As a result, we see the human damage that too many civilians, and especially our political leaders, do not.
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We feel compelled to share these stories so that the nation will understand the true human costs of war, reconsider before embarking on new wars and provide the appropriate services and benefits that our wounded warriors deserve and need in order to heal. This is especially true for our incarcerated service members and veterans who are not receiving adequate mental health care.
The men and women who served our country often suffer the “invisible” wounds of war: post-traumatic stress, moral injury or traumatic brain injury. These combat-related injuries increase the likelihood of violent, aggressive and impulsive behavior and require a regular regime of therapy and medication, often for years if not a lifetime.
Such injuries can lead to alcohol and substance abuse, exacerbating the symptoms and tendencies of PTSD/TBI and increasing the likelihood of the victim’s getting into trouble with the law. According to one esteemed medical journal, “Head trauma can cause impulsive and violent behaviors such as domestic violence and driving while intoxicated.” Another report asserts that “compared with other veterans, justice-involved veterans (those caught up in the legal system) have consistently higher rates of mental health concerns, particularly substance use disorders.”
Service members and veterans who do not receive adequate post-deployment mental health care, or are not able to get adequate care from the VA, are at increased risk for suicide and for incarceration. “Given the frequency with which VA patients and returning soldiers face difficult transitions and the problems that seem to emerge during such periods of change, the transition seems to be a worthwhile target for aggressive intervention,” advises one recent study. By not receiving adequate mental health care, these wounded warriors too often end up living tortured and traumatic lives in prison.
Jails and prisons need to prioritize veteran status as a part of intake screening. And once incarcerated, service members and veterans with PTSD and TBI must receive the mental health care they so desperately need. Otherwise, their chances of being reintegrated successfully into society are very poor. Our service members and veterans deserve better.
Our work leads us to advocate adequate and compassionate mental health care for the many incarcerated service members and veterans in North Carolina, and we are calling upon our legislators to address this ongoing travesty quickly and completely. Everyone must understand that our wounded warriors deserve much better assistance reintegrating into society than neglect, abandonment and mass incarceration.
Lynn and Steve Newsom are directors of Quaker House Military Counseling Center in Fayetteville.
Sign the petition
Find the petition urging N.C. lawmakers to provide adequate and compassionate mental health care for incarcerated service members and at quakerhouse.org.