Saving Pvt. Hafterson

Ronald Bradley is seeing first-hand the difficulties American soldiers are having getting treatment for the post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) they suffered as a result of their service in Iraq.

Bradley, an attorney and friend of the family, is trying to keep Marine Pvt. Travis Hafterson, 21, alive long enough to get him some treatment, but Hafterson has fallen into the hands of the military justice system, which he thinks may be more interested in punishing Hafterson than treating him.

By all accounts, Hafterson, a Circle Pines native with two tours of duty in Iraq, needs treatment in a hurry. A girlfriend says he slept with a gun under his pillow, and still has flashbacks of the cries of people he killed, and colleagues who died next to him.

He also has talked about committing suicide numerous times. Saying he doesn’t want to live, doesn’t deserve to live. He calls himself a murderer and speaks of countless innocent people he believes he killed, women and children included. He has talked about suicide countless times, but there are two times where I literally had to take his gun out of his hand because he felt it easier to shoot himself than to live with his conscience.

Hafterson’s legal problems started during his second tour. “He was experiencing problems that are classically associated with PTSD, he was self-medicating with marijuana so he could sleep,” according to Bradley. When he admitted marijuana use, he was court martialed and sent back to Camp LeJeune in North Carolina.

He was granted a leave in August but his orders changed at the last minute. “I think he had already started going away and instead of going back, he didn’t go in right away,” Bradley said. The Marines have a word for that: Desertion.

When Hafterson arrived in Minnesota last week, his mother called Bradley for help.”We arranged to get him his psychiatric evaluation and he spent a good part of Saturday being interviewed. The doctor made his report and found and substantiated PTSD,” Bradley said. Working through another lawyer, Hafterson contacted the combat stress officer — a psychiatric nurse and highly regarded expert on PTSD — at Fort Snelling and arranged for Hafterson to turn himself in on Monday.

He let the officer, Lt. Col. Cynthia Rasmussen, know they were coming in an e-mail:

I am the attorney for Private Travis Hafterson, USMC. My client has been evaluated and been diagnosed with PTSD by Dr. Peter E. Meyers. Private Hafterson is currently AWOL from the Corps, and is possibly classified as a deserter. His absence is just over 30 days from his Order to Report.

Private Travis Allyn Hafterson wishes to report and surrender to you at Ft. Snelling about 13:30-14:00 today at your office. He will be escorted by the following persons:

Ronald Robert Bradley, attorney

Dr. Peter E. Meyers, psychologist

Terri Lee Bradley, psychologist

Jamie Joyce Hafterson, mother

I understand that you will contact the front gate and let the guards know of our expected arrival. We will report to Bldg. 506, and I will call if there is any problem finding your office.

“The understanding was he was going to get the appropriate treatment, being referred to the VA (Veteran’s Administration) or work with him for the Marines. We understood and he was told that he would suffer consequences for not returning to LeJeune right away,” Bradley said. A military ombudsman was to meet him and escort him through the process, balancing treatment with the military justice system.

It didn’t work out that way. A check at the gate revealed the federal warrant, Air Force security was called, and Hafterson was taken away. Bradley said the combat stress officer was apologetic and said it wasn’t supposed to happen that way, but there was nothing she could do. The Marines had Hafterson and Bradley is worried they’re more interested in punishing him than treating him first.

Hafterson is being held at the Ramsey County adult detention center.

“It seems like it’s going to be exacerbating his problem because he doesn’t have the therapy to work this through. I’m worried he’s a danger to himself,” he said.

He was on suicide watch on Monday, but was taken off it on Tuesday, against the wishes of the combat stress officer. The Marines are expected to return him to Camp Lejeune

“There seem to be kind of blinders on that they go forward with the criminal and ignore everything else,” Bradley said. “The punishment will come at some point, but they have to recognize and triage and say, ‘OK right now the most important thing is his well being, but first we gotta make sure the kid doesn’t kill himself.'”

Bradley says he’s been assured by some in the military that Hafterson will get treatment, but he’s not convinced. “Because of the (marijuana) use, he was supposed to have chemical dependency treatment but when I talked to the chaplain’s office at Camp Lejeune, he said, ‘We do not have chemical dependency treatment for active-duty servicemen.’ They recognize certain problems but they don’t do anything about them.”

Bradley has filed a petition in Ramsey County to get Hafterson immediate treatment. “The problem is at any given time the Corps could show up to take him away, and then we don’t know what will happen,” he said.

As of late Wedneday, Lt. Col. Rasmussen had not responded to a message for comment.