Ron Capps: Seriously Not All Right, Five Wars in Ten Years (Excerpt)

Posted: 5:23 pm PT
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Ron Capps is a U.S. Army veteran and a former Foreign Service officer. He served in the military from 1986 until the early 1990’s. In 1994, he moved to the Army Reserved and joined the Foreign Service. His FS assignments took him to Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Kosovo, and Rwanda. Between 1996-2002, he also deployed as an intelligence officer in Uganda and Zaire for the U.S. Army.  According to his online bio, after the September 11 attacks, he served with XVIII Airborne Corps and the Defense intelligence Agency in Afghanistan as a soldier. Later, he was also deployed to Darfur and Chad as a soldier, and Iraq and Darfur (again) as a Foreign Service officer. “Throughout his career of service, Capps was often working in close proximity to murder, rape, and genocide. He suffered from regular and intense nightmares; he was diagnosed by an Army psychiatrist with PTSD and depression, and prescribed Prozac. In 2006, he nearly committed suicide. He was medically evacuated from service by the Regional Medical Officer of the State Department.”

He retired from government work and pursued a Master of Arts in Writing from Johns Hopkins University in 2009. In 2012, he founded the Veterans Writing Project, a non-profit organization that hosts free writing workshops and seminars for veterans and service members, as well as their adult family members.  VWP is a 501(c)(3) non-profit. You can support the group with a tax-deductible donation or through the Amazon Smile program.

Ron Capps is the author of the book, Seriously Not All Right: Five Wars in Ten Years, which details his own experiences with PTSD.  To mark June as PTSD Awareness Month, we’re sharing an excerpt from Mr. Capps’ book with you (courtesy of Amazon Kindle).

Via Amazon/Kindle

Click on image to read an excerpt or buy the book  Book cover via Amazon Kindle

 

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June Is PTSD Awareness Month — Let’s Talk Mental Health, Join Us at the Forum

Posted: 11:13 pm  EDT
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Join us at the forum today at http://forums.diplopundit.net, noon – 2pm, EST

I’ve blogged about mental health in the State Department for years now (see links below). I know that a mental health issue affecting one person is not a story of just one person.  It affects parents, spouses, children, siblings, friends; it affects the home and the workplace. It is a story of families and communities. While there is extensive support in the military community, that’s not always the case when it comes to members of the Foreign Service.

I once wrote about a former Foreign Service kid and his dad with severe PTSD. A few of you took the time to write and/or send books to the ex-FS employee incarcerated in Colorado, thank you.

I’ve written about Ron CappsRachel SchnellerCandace Faber, FSOs who came forward to share their brave struggles with all of us. There was also a senior diplomat disciplined for volatile behavior who cited PTSD, I’ve also written about Michael C. Dempsey, USAID’s first war-zone related suicide, and railed about suicide prevention resources.  The 2014 Foreign Service Grievance Board 2014 annual report says that eight of the new cases filed involved a claim that a disability, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or other medical condition affected the employee performance or conduct that resulted in a separation recommendation.

With very few exceptions, people who write to this blog about mental health and PTSD do so only on background. Here are a few:

  • A State Department employee with PTSD recently told this blog that “Anyone outside of our little insular community would be appalled at the way we treat our mentally ill.”  The individual concludes with clear frustration that it “seems sometimes the only unofficially sanctioned treatment plan encouraged is to keep the commissaries well stocked with the adult beverage of your choice.” 
  • Another one whose PTSD claim from service at a PRT in Iraq languished at OWCP said, “I can assure you that OER and State Med have been nothing but obstructions… as a vet, I have been treated at VA for the past ten months, else I would have killed myself long ago.”
  • Still another one writes: “VA indicates the average time between trauma and treatment-seeking is eight years. The longer it is undiagnosed and treated, the more difficult to ameliorate. I have a formal diagnosis from VA but could not even get the name of a competent psychiatrist from DoS. The bulk of DoS PTSD claims are still a few years away (2008/2009 PLUS 8), with no competent preparation or process.”
  • A friend of a State employee wrote that her DOS friend was “deployed/assigned to a  war-torn country not too long ago for a year. Came back with PTSD and  was forced by superiors to return to very stressful/high pressure work  duties while also seeking medical attention for an undiagnosed then, but eventually diagnosed (took about 6 months) disease  triggered by environmental conditions where s/he was last posted.”
  • Another FSO said, “I actually thought State did a decent job with my PTSD. After I was subject to an attack in Kabul, the social worker at post was readily available and helpful. He indicated I could depart post immediately if I needed to (and many did after the attack). When I departed post I was screened for PTSD and referred to MED here in DC. After a few sessions here with MED, I was referred to a private psychologist who fixed things up in a few months.”
  • One FSO who suffered from PTSD assured us that “State has come a very long way since 2005” and that it has made remarkable progress for an institution. Her concerns is that PTSD is widespread in the Department in the sense that people develop it in a wide range of posts and assignments. She cited consular officers in particular, who evacuate people from natural disasters and civil wars and deal with death cases on a regular basis, and are particularly at risk.

 

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June is PTSD Awareness Month. We are hosting a forum at http://forums.diplopundit.net for an open discussion on PTSD.

It’s not everyday that we get a chance to ask questions from somebody with post traumatic stress disorder. On Monday, June 29, FSO Rachel Schneller will join the forum and answer readers’ questions  based on her personal experience with PTSD.  She will be at this blog’s forum from noon to 2 pm EST. She will join the forum in her personal capacity, with her own views and not as a representative of the State Department or the U.S. Government.  She’s doing this as a volunteer, and we appreciate her time and effort in obtaining official permission and  joining us to help spread PTSD awareness. Please feel free to post your questions here.

Rachel Schneller joined the Foreign Service in 2001. Following a tour in Iraq 2005-6, she was diagnosed with PTSD. Her efforts to highlight the needs of Foreign Service Officers returning from tours in war zones helped prompt a number of changes in the State Department, for which she was awarded the 2008 Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent.

Prior to joining the U.S. Department of State, Rachel served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali from 1996-98. She earned her MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in 2001. We have previously featured Rachel in this blog here, and here.

The forum, specifically created for PTSD discussion is setup as an “open” forum at this time; readers may post questions without registration.  We’re hosting, same Privacy Policy apply.

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Below are some of our previous blog posts on mental health, PTSD, security clearance and the State Department’s programs:

What to do when different voices start delivering multiple démarches in your head?]

USAID’s First War-Zone Related Suicide – Michael C. Dempsey, Rest in Peace

State Dept’s Suicide Prevention Resources — A Topic So Secret No One Wants to Talk About It

Former Foreign Service Kid Writes About Dad With Severe PTSD  (Many thanks to readers who took the time to write and send books to Tony Gooch! We appreciate your kindness).

Ron Capps | Back From The Brink: War, Suicide, And PTSD

Rachel Schneller | PTSD: The Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me

Senior Diplomat Disciplined for Volatile Behavior Cites PTSD in Grievance Case, Fails

Pick the Long or Short Form, But Take the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Screening

On the Infamous Q21, PTSD (Again) and High Threat Unaccompanied Assignments

Ambassador Crocker Arrested for Hit and Run and DUI in Spokane

Quickie | Running Amok: Mental Health in the U.S. Foreign Service

Former FSO William Anthony Gooch: No Mercy for Broken Men?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: The Ticking Bomb in the Foreign Service

Clinton issues note on mental health; seeking help a sign of maturity and professionalism

EFM shouldn’t have to see three RMOs, do a PPT presentation and wait 352 days for help

Join the Petition: Revised Q21 for the Foreign Service

State Dept’s WarZone Deployment Incentives, Programs, Training and Medical Support

DMW: Mental Health Treatment Still a Security Clearance Issue at State Department

Insider Quote: Returning to the Real World

What’s State Doing with Question 21?

 

Stocking Stuffers: Are you making a list, and checking it twice?

— Domani Spero
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The Demilitarization of American Diplomacy: Two Cheers for Striped Pants
by Laurence Pope

The author’s retired friend from the Foreign Service emailed to say that he has been approached about running a very major embassy, yet again and Ambassador Pope asks what we’ve all been thinking, “What would we say if over and over the Navy couldn’t find an admiral on active duty to run a carrier battle group?”

Laurence Pope is a retired American diplomat who lives in Portland, Maine. He is the author of several books, including François de Callieres: A Political Life (2010), a biography of the first proponent of professional diplomacy. He was previously  the U.S. Ambassador to Chad from 1993 to 1996 and was the US Chargé d’Affaires to Libya following the Benghazi attack.  The author said in an interview with PDC that “At the State Department history is just one damn thing after another.  Its culture is profoundly hostile to ideas and theory, remarkable for such a smart group of people.  (That is why nobody has read the QDDR —my book takes it apart so you won’t have to.)“The QDDR is 242 pages long, this is shorter!

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Career Diplomacy: Life and Work in the US Foreign Service, Second Edition
by Harry Kopp

An insider’s guide that examines the foreign service as an institution, a profession, and a career, written by an FSO with a long and distinguished career in the U.S. Foreign Service. The second edition published in 2011 addresses major changes that have occurred since 2007: the controversial effort to build an expeditionary foreign service to lead the work of stabilization and reconstruction in fragile states; deepening cooperation with the U.S. military and the changing role of the service in Iraq and Afghanistan; and the growing integration of USAID’s budget and mission with those of the Department of State. We’ve previously written about this author here: Career Diplomacy | Life and Work in the Foreign Service, 2nd Edition – Now OutForeign Service, Civil Service: How We Got to Where We Are (via FSJ).

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Seriously Not All Right: Five Wars in Ten Years
by Ron Capps

We have previously blogged about the author here (see Call in the Civilians. Pray Tell, From Where?!Ron Capps | Back From The Brink: War, Suicide, And PTSD).

Seriously Not All Right is a memoir that provides a unique perspective of a professional military officer and diplomat who suffered (and continues to suffer) from PTSD. One FSO writes that this book should be required reading for everyone in A100, the orientation training course for all diplomats when they first begin their careers.

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The Diplomat’s Dictionary
by Chas Freeman, Jr.

On the caution of diplomats: “The training and life of a foreign service officer are not apt to produce men well fitted for the task [of innovating policy]…The bureaucratic routine through which foreign service officers must go produces capable men, knowledgeable about specific parts of the world, and excellent diplomatic operators. But it makes men cautious rather than imaginative.” (Dean Acheson, p.84).

The Diplomat’s Dictionary is an entertaining and informative collection, with lots of gems — from career diplomat Chas Freeman ( I don’t leave home without it). The 2010 expanded second edition contains 476 new entries, including definitions for selected up-to-date terminology and hundreds of additional quotations from across cultures and centuries. Chas. W. Freeman, Jr., has been a career officer in the U.S. Foreign Service, ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War, and assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. He was a fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in 1994-95 and is also the author of Arts of Power: Statecraft and Diplomacy (USIP Press). We previously blogged about Ambassador Freeman here, see Ambassador Freeman on American statecraft — It’s hard to think of anything that has gone right.Protecting Diplomats Post-Embassy Attacks: More Fortresses or Rethinking Fortresses?Who’s Gonna be Kicked Around Next?).

 

 

The State Department: More Than Just Diplomacy
(The Personalities, Turf Battles, Dangers Zones For Diplomats, Exotic Datelines, Miscast Appointments, the Laughs — and Sadly, the Occasional Homicide) by George Gedda

This is a book by an AP reporter who covered the State Department for about 40 years and travelled with nine secretary of state to more than 80 countries. Bound to have lots of interesting stories and quips like “He’s the only guy I know who can strut while sitting down.” Bwa-ha-ha! Or when the then Cuba desk officer meet Fidel Castro. He asked if she was there as a spouse of a member of the American delegation, and she replied, “I’m head of Cuban Affairs.”  “Oh,” said Castro. “I thought I was.” The book has a people’s index so you can start there!

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Realities of Foreign Service Life, Volume 1 & 2
by Patricia Linderman (Author), Melissa Brayer Hess (Author), Marlene Monfiletto Nice (Author)

It has been said that the Foreign Service is more than a profession; it is a way of life. As much as it is fulfilling to most people I know and a grand adventure to all, it is not for everyone. And if you have a spouse or a partner interested in pursuing his/her career, consideration on the trade offs you both are willing to make or what you are willing to give up must make for serious conversation. Here are a couple of books that anyone considering a career in the Foreign Service should read. The Realities books are published by the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) a non-profit organization that represents Foreign Service spouses, employees and retirees. The AAFSW volunteers have been around forever, supporting multiple evacuations and assisting members of the Foreign Service community. Its tireless volunteers even supported somebody we know who was not a paying member of the group.

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Pomegranate Peace [Kindle Edition]
by 
Rashmee Roshan Lall

Rashmee Roshan Lall was The Times of India’s Foreign Editor based in London, reporting on Europe.  Till June 2011, she was editor of The Sunday Times of India. An EFM, she spent a year in Kabul, Afghanistan, working for the US Embassy’s Public Affairs Section and six months in Washington,D.C., reporting on the 2012 American presidential election. Rashmee currently works for a paper in the Middle East. This book is kind of We Meant Well,Also in Afghanistan, except it’s fiction. The protagonist’s boss quotes from Alice in Wonderland: ‘We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad. You must be or you wouldn’t have come here.’ And there’s Little Sam, “the Haiku poet laureate on the frontline of a war no one could properly explain any longer.” In the novel, Little Sam could churn out fourteen syllables for every mission objective, every ambassadorial platitude – Rule of Law; Transparency and Accountability in Government;etcetera, etcetera. Here’s one.

It’s war, but we spend like peacetime
Blood, treasure,
Strewn. Yours, mine.

The protagonist in the story, who is a former journalist manages a  Pomegranate Grant, which had been previously approved with the following rationale: ‘Pomegranate production can sustain the Afghan economy. This Afghan-led grant proposal will persuade farmers in the highly kinetic Kandahar area to change from the habit of poppy production.’ “The grantee,” the author writes, “lived in Canada all his life and seemed unwilling to change his address of record.” Jeez, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

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The Foreign Circus: Why Foreign Policy Should Not Be Left in the Hands of Diplomats, Spies and Political Hacks [Kindle Edition] by James Bruno

Via Amazon: An ambassador orders his staff into the lawless interior of a civil war-torn country as guerrillas are targeting foreigners for assassination. Hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S.-bought weaponry are channeled to Afghan religious fanatics, the future Taliban. White House players leak classified information to the media, then blame the leaks on career civil servants. Diplomats succumb to the temptations of exotic overseas sexual playgrounds. Political hacks and campaign money bundlers are rewarded with ambassadorships in a diplomatic spoils system that hearkens back to the Robber Baron age. Computer nerds Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning steal a veritable Croesus of sensitive national security information and give it away free to our adversaries.  What’s wrong with this picture? Everything.

We previously blogged about the author here: Ex-Diplomat With Zero Acting Experience Wants to Join Cast of The Bold and the Beautiful. James Bruno is also the author of  Havana Queen, Tribe, Chasm and Permanent Interests.

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Ron Capps | Back From The Brink: War, Suicide, And PTSD

Ron Capps retired from the Foreign Service and the Army reserve in 2008. During a twenty-five-year career, he served  in Kosovo, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Sudan, just about all the hell holes on earth.  He is founder and director at Veterans Writing Project.  He blogs for the Battleland blog at TIME Magazine and in his personal blog, The Next Lost Generation.

In a 2010 issue of Health Affairs, Mr. Capps wrote, Back From The Brink: War, Suicide, And PTSD. The piece is one of the most poignant agonies of post-traumatic stress disorder I have read.  He imagined the dead coming to talk to him every night asking, “Why didn’t you do more to save us?”  He had memories of “the dead, the mutilated, the burned.”  He wrote a story where the protagonist shoots himself in the head with a pistol.  He borrowed a gun, and put a gun to his head.  A timely phone call from his wife saved him.

“When the phone rang I jumped—startled—and nearly shot myself. This was almost comic, because I was already planning to kill myself and was holding the pistol in my hand. So I would have pulled the trigger while the pistol was pointed at my foot rather than my head. The ringing phone broke the spell.”

He was afraid to ask for help, writing, “I thought I would be ridiculed, considered weak and cowardly.”  This from a man who had two Bronze Star medals and tours in Airborne and Special Ops units.

He also writes about Question 21, the one that keeps many soldiers from asking for help. This was changed under Secretary Gates but apparently some things remain the same.

The magazine won’t allow republication on the web (we asked), so go read it in full at the HA website.
Domani Spero