NewsChannel 5 took hidden cameras inside Army recruiting stations in Middle Tennessee to see how recruiters handled someone who revealed mental health issues. Watch video of the recruiting sessions. more>>
Jay Mallard killed himself last year during basic training at Fort Benning. His family says that, to get into the Army, he had been urged by a recruiter to lie about his continued use of antidepressants.more>>
The United States Army insists that it's not so desperate that it would recruit the mentally ill. But now an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation has the Army investigating three of its recruiters.more>>
The U.S. Army has punished four Nashville-area recruiters. It stems from our exclusive investigation of the recruiters' Dishonorable Deceptions.more>>
(Story created: 5/9/07)
There's now a call for a congressional investigation of Army recruiting practices.
It's a result of our NewsChannel 5 investigation of Army recruiters and their Dishonorable Deceptions.
Wednesday, Congressman Jim Cooper sent the request to the chairman of a House Armed Services subcommittee.
He says that "recruiting practices such as those uncovered in Tennessee should alarm us all, and if they are happening at three locations in Middle Tennessee, they are likely happening elsewhere." (Read Cooper's letter.)
But it's not just recruiters.
We also uncovered questions about whether higher-ups themselves may have ignored some serious warning signs.
At Fort Benning, Ga., the Army's basic training isn't fun and games.
Instead, drill sergeants push sometimes undisciplined young men until they become battle-ready soldiers -- ready to ship off to war.
"A lot of stuff comes out under the stress of combat basic training," drill sergeant Phillip Eidson tells NewsChannel 5 chief investigative reporter Phil Williams.
For a few, it may push them to thoughts of killing themselves.
"Many times, it's soldiers coming in with a history of depression that maybe they've not told their recruiter about," says Army chaplain Capt. Kent Buffington.
Buffington says, in those cases, the soldiers may even have been on antidepressants before coming to boot camp.
"And they have the attitude well I can do without, everything's good and they stop taking the medication and they come in. After a few days, that depression begins to creep back up in their life and it gets the best of them."
But these days, drill sergeants must train more and more soldiers that the Army knows have troubled pasts.
"Past felonies, past medical problems, past mental problems, depression and stuff like that," Eidson counts off.
Last year, one out of every five recruits needed a waiver exempting them from some rule that might have kept them out of the Army.
"They're taking anybody -- psychological problems or whatever," says John Mallard.
His 30-year-old son Jay was at basic training on a waiver last year when he shot himself to death.
The Army had accepted him even though he been released from basic training back when he was 19 after he became suicidal.
His discharge documents show Army doctors had diagnosed him with a "personality disorder."
"They knew his background," John Mallard says. "He should never have been let back in."
Army recruiting's Lt. Col. Patrick Brewington says "that's a medical determination."
Still, he had recommended approval of the waiver for Jay Mallard.
But a report on the private's death -- prepared by the Army's criminal investigations division -- only hints at how little the Army really knew about his condition.
"They didn't look at his medical records until after his death as part of their investigation," says Jay's kid sister, Rachel Mallard.
She says they didn't know about his dependence on the antidepressants -- something the family says his recruiter urged him to keep secret.
"If they would have looked at his medical records, they would have known he was talking Zoloft."
Phil Williams wanted an explanation from Brewington.
"Would it proper for someone to consider a waiver for a personality disorder without talking to the doctor of the recruit, without interviewing the family, without pulling medical records?" he asks.
"I will say again," the lieutenant colonel responds, "that that case has been investigated by CID. They've closed the case and there was no wrongdoings found."
Even more disturbing, Congressman Jim Cooper says, is the recommendation for the waiver that we obtained.
Written by one of Brewington's aides, it concludes that since being diagnosed with a personality disorder, Jay had "matured greatly." (Read the recommendation. )
"I think that is incompetence," Cooper says.
"The reasons given here the fact that he got married, received a commercial driver's license, that means you've gotten rid of your mental illness -- I don't think so."
John Mallard says, "If they got problems, don't let them in. You know, what's to keep a guy from going over there and going bezerk?"
Perhaps the most notorious examples of that can be found at Fort Campbell.
One solder who received waivers for drug and alcohol charges was Private Steven Green. In Iraq, the Army says Green raped an Iraqi girl, then killed her and her family.
The Army later discharged him for having a personality disorder that recruiters had either overlooked or ignored.
Back at Fort Benning, drill sergeants insist they are on constant lookout for soldiers showing signs of personality disorders.
"The rest of the platoon will let you know if someone is just acting weird," Eidson insists.
But they're also keeping the pressure on them, sometimes threatening them, to keep them from quitting when boot camp is the most intense.
"If most of them had the opportunity to quit, a lot of them would walk away," Chaplain Buffington says. "We don't want to make it easy for soldiers to give up and quit on themselves."
Back home, the Mallards sensed from their son's last letter that all was not well.
"I don't want to be here and everyone knows it -- I can't be a killer," his mother, Mary, reads from the letter.
"Pray for me. I'm lost and can't find the way."
John Mallard says, "I had a feeling something was wrong."
The next day, they got the word that Jay was dead.
As to why the Army was willing to take a chance with Jay's life, the Mallards say they have their suspicions.
"We are at war -- they need everybody they can get," John Mallard says.
"It's almost like they are going to war and they know they might not come back, so what's it going to matter."
The Army says that it granted 86 waivers for people with histories of personality disorders in the previous four years, which is a small percentage of the total recruits.
But that leaves the question that we uncovered in our hidden camera investigation: how many more slipped in since the Army doesn't pull the recruit's medical records?