Decorated sergeant had PTSD denied

Jason Holmer joined the Army in 1999 at age 19 and quickly rose in the ranks. The infantry soldier hoped to be a career sergeant major.

Men who served with him said he was exceptional.

“One of the best NCO’s I had the pleasure of working with,” a former captain said in an email to Fort Carson officials.

After three tours, when his war experience left Holmer with a drinking problem, the Army moved to kick him out for drunken driving.

The Pentagon says it screens soldiers to make sure those with post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury are not punished for behavior caused by their injuries, but a Gazette investigation shows this is not always true. When Holmer got in trouble, the Army took steps to downplay his PTSD and speed his punishment.

“The Army fails to take responsibility,” he said. “Guys like me are a product of these wars. The American people decided to send us over there, they made us this way. Now they (Army) go out of their way to get rid of me.”

One night in Afghanistan in 2004, Holmer’s platoon was ambushed. As mortars and gunfire raked the convoy, other Humvees retreated, but Holmer “calmly acquired enemy targets, designated them to his gunner and driver, and gave commands to engage,” according to a citation for an award for valor he later received. His team took enemy positions, saving American lives, even as incoming mortars hit so close that he was slammed against the side of his Humvee.

Jason Holmer spent 39 months in combat and has seven medals for heroism.

Courtesy Jason Holmer

Holmer was never the same after the tour, he said. He started drinking. He would yell in his sleep. His mother once found him passed out on the floor in his combat gear.

He went to the Army for help for his drinking in 2006. Records show the alcohol abuse office told him he did not fit the criteria for its program and sent him away.

“I didn’t think much about it. I was young. It was 2006. PTSD just wasn’t on my radar,” he said. “The Army said I was fine, so I was fine.”

He went through two more tours. As part of a team capturing suspected terrorists in Iraq in 2008, he earned a Bronze Star for what he described only as a “classified action.”

Late in 2011, still dogged by sleeplessness, depression and excessive drinking, he was transferred to the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment at Fort Carson.

A few months later, in January 2012, a State Patrol officer found Holmer passed out in his car on the side of Interstate 25 a few hours before dawn.

He was arrested for drunken driving.

Holmer said his arrest was a wake-up call. He enrolled in an Army alcohol abuse program and started getting therapy for PTSD. He said he has not had a drink since.

The Army says each soldier represents a significant investment and the service goes to great lengths to rehabilitate soldiers.

Even so, Holmer’s battalion told him he would be discharged for misconduct for the DUI.

For his mandatory mental health screening before discharge, Holmer was sent in March 2012 to Fort Carson psychologist Ashley Bittle. She evaluated him twice in two weeks. In medical records from both meetings she stated he likely had PTSD and needed further evaluation.

A week after saying Holmer needed more evaluation, the psychologist wrote a private email to Holmer’s commander, saying while Holmer “may have a significant (behavioral health) condition, I’ll be able to clear him...I’ll have the (mental status evaluation form) for legal ready as I believe it would be in our best interest to assist in expediting the process..... thank you! :)”

The email was accidently forwarded to Holmer.

Privacy laws prevent Bittle from commenting.

Bittle marked on forms that Holmer was healthy enough to be kicked out of the Army.

Holmer could not reconcile the actions of the psychologist. He requested his medical records from the hospital so he could try to appeal.

The psychologist refused. Holmer kept asking for the records through other channels.

After three months, Fort Carson’s hospital, seeing no reason to hold the records, released them to Holmer.

A few days later, the psychologist, who had not had any contact with Holmer for five months, noted in the sergeant’s medical records that he had made previous threats to against her, medical records show.

Holmer said he had not seen Bittle for those five months nor had he called or emailed her. He saw the accusation as reprisal.

“I was being attacked by people who are supposed to be allies,” he said.

Holmer said he wrote a formal complaint to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies.

The state informed Holmer and the psychologist of the complaint in January, according to a letter from the state. A few days later, having had no contact with Holmer for almost a year, Bittle got a restraining order, saying she was “urged by the soldier’s command” to seek protection due to “multiple aggressive encounters” with Holmer and “increased imminent threats directed at me.”

Holmer was taken to a detention cell at Fort Carson and held for a day before being released to his commanders.

In April, a civilian court dismissed the restraining order for lack of evidence.

Holmer said his complaint to the state was also dismissed.

During the months Holmer was fighting the accusations, Army doctors independent of his battalion found he had PTSD and a spine damaged by a mortar blast that qualified him for a medical discharge. A civilian psychologist had also linked his alcohol abuse to PTSD. The Army pushed to discharge him for misconduct, anyway.

As a soldier with more than six years in the Army, he was entitled to a hearing by an independent separation board to review his discharge. At the hearing, Holmer’s defense attorneys were not allowed to mention that he had PTSD that qualified him for a medical discharge, nor that the Army psychologist had refused to hand over his records. The board voted to discharge him for misconduct, and the Army moved forward with it. He was to be stripped of Army disability and education benefits, and banned from Fort Carson.

Three weeks later, after pleas to Fort Carson’s commanding general, Maj. Gen. Paul LaCamera, the general reversed the Army’s decision and reinstated Holmer.

Holmer is now going through evaluation for medical discharge with benefits.

Even so, Holmer said he feels the Army treated him and other soldiers with similar injuries unjustly.

“No one listened, even the doctors who are supposed to help you,” he said. “All they wanted to do, after all I had done, was kick me out.”