by Lenore Yarger, Quaker House Counselor to the GI Rights Hotline
When John (not his real name) joined the Marine Corps over two years ago, his recruiters made it clear that he should not disclose a prior history of psychological counseling and medication. He made it through boot camp physically with flying colors. But he was so traumatized mentally that he fled the base and went home before beginning the next phase of his training. The Marines call this AWOL status UA (unauthorized absence). His mother contacted us in December 2019 for help. She worried about how mentally changed her son seemed and told us he was struggling with deep-seated fear and paranoia. She had John call us, and he asked for our help returning to military control to resolve his situation. We explained that if he returned to Camp Lejeune, he would likely be discharged from the Marines per their standard protocol in about 45 days. We explained the benefits of having a mental health evaluation prior to returning. And we called the base and received assurances that he could receive mental health treatment while there.
John was afraid of getting caught if he didn’t surrender. But he was also terrified of returning to a military environment. In late December 2019, John came to the gates of Camp Lejeune prepared to turn himself in, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He came again in early 2020, and Kindra (QH director at the time) traveled to the gate to accompany him. He still wasn’t ready. Joanna (our QH therapist) and we (GI Rights Counselors) were all in touch with John offering support and encouragement. But we respected that he needed more time. We continued to present him with options and allowed him to decide what he needed to do. We also listened to his parents concerns and offered them options and support. They struggled watching him suffer. They were anxious for him to finish with the military so he could begin to address his psychological issues.
John remained UA. Over the next two years, he sought counseling and therapy. We continued to check in. Early this year he again began discussing with us a plan to surrender at Lejeune and resolve his status with the Marines. Then, in mid-January, his mom emailed: “The local police just came to get [John]. I don’t know what will happen next.”
Held in civilian jail for a few days, John wasn’t able to receive his medication. He was then sent to Quantico. He went UA again, and ended up in the ER of a civilian hospital, where he was diagnosed with PTSD. Upon release, he surrendered at Lejeune. We quickly reconnected him with Joanna and supported him with texts, phone calls, and frequent check ins. Ten weeks later, he was discharged from the Marines and returned home for good, ready to put the whole experience behind him. While his physical journey with the Marines is over, he is signed up to begin trauma therapy in the hopes that he can begin to heal from his ordeal. His mother recently wrote to express her gratitude:
There were so many times I didn’t think he was going to make it. And I truly don’t think he would have without your support! I wouldn’t have made it myself without you!! Your continued/constant support over these two plus years has been such a blessing!! Words cannot express my appreciation and gratitude!! You never gave up on [John]!! You were always there for us!! Thank you from the bottom of my heart!! …[Our] Family is finally “riding off into the sunset!” However, you will always remain in our hearts and minds!!