Saving Pvt. Hafterson: ‘We were so close.’

hafterson_oct_1.jpgPvt. Travis Hafterson, a Marine from Circle Pines, was within hours today of getting the help for post traumatic stress syndrome that he’s been trying to get since the first of two tours of duty in Iraq (See my earlier posts here and here). Then the Marines stepped in.

Hafterson, 21, has been held at the Ramsey County jail since he was arrested at Fort Snelling, where he arrived on Monday with assurances he’d get help for PTSD. He’s wanted on charges of desertion.

Armed with an evaluation from social workers and experts, who said he is suicidal and desperately in need of mental health treatment for PTSD, Ramsey County officials moved up a Monday hearing to this afternoon to civilly commit him to Regions Hospital.

The Marines were notified of the hearing, and about two hours before it was scheduled, a Marine “chaser unit” showed up at the jail, took custody of Hafterson and are carrying him back to Camp LeJeune in North Carolina to face charges, instead.

“We almost got him back,” his mother, Jamie, told me before the scheduled hearing. “I just hope they treat him.”

Few of the attorneys and experts involved in the case seem to think they will. The hearing went on as scheduled, and after Atty. Patrick Cotter, a court-appointed attorney for Hafterson, described his meeting with the Marine at the jail yesterday, Judge Steven Wheeler quickly ordered him committed in absentia. “There’s more than an adequate basis to find this young man meets all the (symptoms) of mental illness and should be committed,” Judge Wheeler said.

Travis Hafterson is now a pawn in a very high-stakes game. The Marines want to punish him. Minnesota wants to treat his mental illness.

“This is not just a Travis thing anymore,” his mother said. “There are lots of boys just like him. He told me ‘if you can’t save me, maybe you can save them.'”

“I’m not trying to lash out at no one,” she said. “I’m mad. But I’m not mad at no one. The Marines have their thing, tool. He’s going back as a deserter, not as a person with PTSD.”

Jamie Hafterson met with Patrick Cotter after the hearing.

“He’s a heck of a good kid,” he told her.

“He’s a heck of a good Marine,” she said.

Hafterson’s family has tried to get area politicians to help, but have had little luck. Jamie Hafterson left two voicemail messages with Sen. Amy Klobuchar that haven’t been returned. A relative, Atty. Ron Bradley, contacted Rep. Michele Bachmann’s office, filled out some paperwork and then was told there wasn’t anything she could do. “He’s kind of Marine property,” Bradley said Bachmann’s aide told him.

This afternoon, Rep. Paul Gardner, DFL-Shoreview, had picked up Hafterson’s cause in an effort to get Sen. Al Franken’s office involved.

As for Hafterson, his whereabouts are unknown. The Marines have confirmed, however, that he’ll spend tonight in the brig at Camp LeJeune.

“I am ashamed of the USMC, as it appears they intentionally interfered with potentially life-saving treatment. I am ashamed of how the Corps has treated one of their own,” Atty. Bradley said in an e-mail to a Marine liaison in Hafterson’s Wounded Warrior Battalion this afternoon.

  • Heather

    I hope he’ll be ok.

  • Jane

    Heart breaking. So sorry for him and his mother.

  • Bellopheron

    As we used to say, “Get Active.”

    Write your Senators (both supporters of our military personnel) and add your name to those of us who are angry that a Marine would be treated this way by The Marines.

  • This is insane. I understand being a deserter is awful, but this kid needs help. Can’t they see that? Isn’t that more important? His personal safety and health?

  • Minnwhaler

    The Marines…

    The few…

    The proud…

    The incapable of accepting mental illness as a medical diagnosis with symptoms which cause people to do things they wouldn’t do if not ill…

  • cyneskandary

    As the mother of a Marine currently serving in Helmand Province and someone who has worked in mental health, This is very disheartening. Combined this with a recent story about Marines suffering from breast cancer who all drank tainted water at Camp LaJune and are being told it is not service-related. It does not reflect well on the Marine Corps.

  • Lily

    The Military has a horrific record in its treatment of VETS, especially with those with service connected onset of Mental Illness. They are still in the Dark Ages.

    That said, the rest of society has not come too far either.

    Let’s hope that this is not the last chance this young has for treatment of his PTSD.

    Shame on you, Marines. I thought you were men.

  • hoby

    Marines take care of their own. That includes self medicating deserters. Let him pay his debt to the Marines, sans shoe laces and a belt. When he has served the time THAT HE ENLISTED FOR he can come home to mama.

  • Janet

    PTSD is nothing to be ashamed of. It is real and it can mess with you for a long time. I know, I have spouse suffering from the same thing. Travis is a good kid, I have known him for many years. He does not deserve to be treated this way. All he wanted to do was serve his country and this is how they pay him back. This is horrible and he does not deserve to be treated this way.

  • Bob Collins

    Let me just step in here — having just deleted some comments — for a moment to say we’re not going to go “all YouTube” on the comments here. We’re not going to be calling a guy names — a guy who has seen and participated in unimaginable carnage. We’re not going to be sitting in the comfort and safety of our homes and judging Pvt. Hafterson’s character. There isn’t anyone who doesn’t believe he’s mentally ill and that includes the Marines.

    So if you want to add a comment and provide some perspective, even if you disagree with some decisions the Private made, by all means do so.

    If you want to just throw in some stupid comments to play tough guy for a night, you need to go to the Star Tribune, the Pioneer Press or You Tube, all Web sites that have no problem with Neanderthals.

    We don’t do that here. This is where intelligent and civil thoughts are exchanged. If you’re not interested in that sort of thing, you’re not welcome here.

  • Asha

    Travis is my cousin and he needs help. He has already been punished enough by seeing people in Iraq killed. Everyone should try to be understanding and put yourself in his shoes. He saw awful things that he will never be able to take out of his memory. Things that will torture him for the rest of his life. Travis is a very good person and I love him dearly. I hope that we can save him before he ends his own torture. I thank those who have sent encouraging posts – they will help my aunt and the rest of Travis’ family. I hope that our Senators and President can help Travis.

  • Nikki

    I know the military has rules for a reason, but what I don’t understand is why those rules basically take away the HUMAN part of someone.

    This man needs help. If he needs to pay some dues to the Marine Corps then keep that on record, but how about healing the man first so he can actually perform whatever duties he needs to. If he doesn’t receive treatment and tragically chooses to end his life, he definitely won’t be fulfilling his duty. Ugh. Sad and frustrating.

    I hope for the best for Pvt. Travis Hafterson and his family.

  • Jodi

    My dear Nephew Travis is a wonderful young man who loves his country and wanted to be a Marine to help keep us all safe. Now he is very sick and needs his country to help him.

    I pray the Marines , Senators and the President will help him NOW.

    He has a gentle soul and I love him with all my heart, please help us get him the help he needs and deserves for his bravery.

  • Dan

    All of our hearts are with you Travis and we are all hoping you are able to get the help that you need.

  • Sara B

    I feel like my comments will be trivial and inadequate to express my anger and sadness at the Marine’s treatment of Pvt. Hafterson. Sadly, he is probably not the only one and one is already too many in my opinion.

    After reading these posts it got me thinking about an article I had read recently about Maj. Gen Graham who lost both both of his sons (one in combat and one to suicide while in ROTC). Maj. Graham is now leading the Army in a suicide prevention program. I know that Pvt. Hafterson is a Marine and we’re dealing with two different branches of the military who probably don’t speak to each other but in looking for information on Maj. Graham I found the U.S. Dept. of Defense, Military Health System webpage. At that webpage a Natl. Lifeline Suicide Hotline is listed 1-800-273-8255. I have no idea if this will help but its worth a try.

  • beryl k gullsgate

    There is something very wrong here when the military has jurisdiction over the state; over a man in need of immediate professional care. He is also a citizen with constituional rights and certainly the Minnesota Attorney General’s office should have some direct opinion on this…if not there, Commander in Chief Obama.

    Is he military first and his civilian status secondary in this situation? Which is the higher authority?Has this happened before?

    Who owns his body, who kills his spirit…who demands his soul?

    Where are our congressman..Oberstar etc. needs to step in very soon I would hope?

  • matt

    As a former Marine and a human I wish Pvt Hafterson the best and pray for his recovery. Unlike what many have posted here I do know the Marine Corps to be a strong brotherhood that does look after its own with great love and veracity. Many Marines have substituted their lives for one of their brothers and far more have paid that ultimate price for people they did not know. From the day we were born in 1775 in Tun Tavern to today we have served at the request of our nation and were the point of the US sword in each in every battle (regardless of the merit of any of those battles).

    The reason the brotherhood has survived and thrived for over two centuries is mutual commitment to one another. That commitment is what enables to willingly serve with honor and valor – it is crucial. Pvt Hafterson broke that commitment and that is a grave matter than cannot be glossed over. More importantly today Oct 2, 2009 this brotherhood cannot return wrong with wrong and allow a brother to fall.

    I do not know what this young mans fate will be. I do have faith in my brothers that they will stand behind him and save him from the demons he faces. The path that the Corps may take will not resemble the path that is taken by those outside the Corps but it is a system that has existed for centuries. Please also remember that the system outside of the Marine Corps seems strange to many as well and, at times, fails those who struggle. The human brain is eminently more adaptable than any mental health system we have envisioned. When the brain leans towards a destructive end, just as towards a creative end it is difficult to stop.

    Jamie you and Travis, along with your family will be in my prayers as long as it takes for Travis to be restored. The Marine Corps motto of Semper Fidelis is not a hollow creed. While I have not served for 15 years I still see Travis as a brother in need and so do millions of other Leathernecks and we have his back.

    Matt, Waseca MN

  • kennedy

    The emotional side of me aches for this young man and his family. It is especially poignant as it has been caused by his courageous service on our behalf.

    I cannot even pretend to understand the stress our marines endure. Surely aiding soldiers in this type of distress is nothing new. From the outside, it seems the Corps is failing this young man. I hope that what we know is not the entire story, and they are dedicated to preserving the well-being of soldiers both during and after battle.

  • Lynn

    I dearly hope this young man gets the treatment he needs. I don’t know the trauma of PSTD, can’t begin to imagine it, but I do know about other forms of mental illness and wouldn’t wish that horror on anyone.

    Also, a big thank you to Bob Collins and MPR for keeping this site a place of thoughtful commentary. Be proud. You do good work.

  • Bob Collins

    Matt in Waseca. Thanks for stopping here and sharing your unique perspective.

  • Mary

    This situation is just sadder than sad. My heart goes out Travis and his family. My daughter has PTSD and we almost lost her. Thank God she was able to get treatment and is doing well these days. I pray that every person with PTSD has the courage and the opprotunity to get treatment. I hope the Marines wise up and provide treatment to Travis and other Marines that need it. After all the situation the Marines [under the direction of the president] put him in is what caused his mental illness, but I suppose they don’t want to admit that and address those issues.

  • Jennifer

    First of all, Bob, thank you for not letting your comments sections be a place of name calling and cruelty.

    This story is especially heartbreaking to me, because PTSD is something I have been dealing with myself (though mine is not combat related), From that experience, I just wanted to provide a little perspective.

    The human brain will go to great lengths to protect itself when it sees/experiences things that it is not ready/capable of emotionally handling. But as it tries to process those experiences, it becomes this bizarre and helpless situation where you realize that you have no control over some of your own thoughts or responses to things that remind you (even subconsciously) of your trauma.

    There are sounds that will immediately elicict a response of incredible anxiety and fear for me, but I don’t actually remember hearing them during my trauma. There are moments, sounds, and experiences that my brain recalls and responds to of which I have no conscious memory.

    One of the worst parts of all is the constant feeling of being unsafe. It’s as if the area of your brain that allowed you to take refuge and trust that you will make it through has been completely rewired. It leaves you completely on edge, and expecting disaster at any moment.

    It leaves one’s emotions out of whack, because usually they’ve been shut down in an attempt to avoid the tradegy that’s been experienced. So when they come rushing out of the flood gates they can be unpredictable and difficult to control.

    You begin to feel so disconnected, endangered, and messed up that you don’t really see yourself as having a normal or bright future and don’t always know how to relate to others. And you’ll go to any lengths to avoid situations that could lead you to experiencing that sort of trauma again.

    As if that weren’t bad enough, you can face crushing insecurities from a society that has stigmas and false ideas about PTSD. I personally have been told that I need to “stop overreacting” and “get over it.” Responses like that are especially harsh since I don’t feel in control of my responses.

    That is what I battle every day. I can’t even imagine what is is like for Pvt. Hafterson, because what I experienced pales in comparison to what he must have seen.

    You can make what ever judgement you want to on his actions, but I just thought before doing so, you should have an idea as to some of what he must be going through.

  • Christine Risberg

    I have known Pvt. Hafterson for eight years and have spoken directly with him numerous times in regards to his two tours in Iraq. The details he shared of events that occurred are things that you and I could never imagine.

    Had he gotten the help from the Marines that he needed for the PTSD before going AWOL, this would all be mute.

    Yes, he is a Marine and ‘signed up’ for it – but do any of our young enlisted soldiers know what they are getting into? Killing fathers while children watch? Sure, I may be a namby-pamby civilian, but if I put my own children in his shoes – or myself for that matter – I wouldn’t be able to cope half as well as he has. Step up to the plate, Marines, and take care of your own. Step up to the plate, America, and take care of your own.

  • Adam

    As a US Marine and combat vet of the invasion of Iraq all I can say is that everyone should let his brothers take care of him. All I see here is a bunch of civilians who have no real understanding of how the military, let alone the Marines, works. He’ll get the help he needs and deserves, but he will also be punished for his wrongs.

  • Bob Collins

    Adam, you realize Hafterson asked his brothers for help twice, right? After his first deployment and during his second?

    The answer was “no.” I’m only a civilian but how does it work that the military takes care of someone by not helping him?

  • Adam

    Bob, I don’t expect you to get it. Very, very few civilians even have a hope of understanding the Marines.

    From the previous articles you have written I have only seen one attempt of his to get help. He apparently stood in a line and was finally turned away without getting treatment. That, I must say, is BS. It doesn’t work that way in the Marines. Any Marine who feels they need some sort of medical attention, be it physical or mental, reports to sick-call. No Marine is turned away at sick-call. The help was there if he really wanted it. He, however, chose to deal with it through drug use and turning his back on his commitment.

    Furthermore, much of your story relies on second hand information from a mother who is entirely too close to the situation to offer a clear, unbiased chain of events. On top of this, a mother who appears to have little to no understanding of the Marine Corps period. I suspect because of this we are not getting the full scoop.

    I have no doubt he has PTSD. I have it, albeit a mild form, and I know many other Marines who have it. The best place for him to recieve the treatment he needs is with the Corps; with his brothers.

  • Bob Collins

    The Marine’s primary focus may well be help for Private Hafterson, but the actions are still puzzling. Why squirrel him away so he couldn’t go to his civil commitment hearing. He was on the ground until 3:30. The hearing was at 1:30?

    And if the Marines’ primary concern is the welfare of their brother, why is he in a military prison tonight and not a military hospital?

    If the marines’ primary concern was the mental health of their brother, why were they trying to get him to re-up and transfer to a deployable unit?

    And, yes, it’s true we’re only getting one side of the story. The Marines are not interested in having anyone inspect their side of the story.

    His mother, by the way,has made perfectly clear that her only concern right now is getting her son the medical treatment he needs.

    The actions of the Marines so far have suggested that that’s not really their primary concern.

    Pvt. Halfertson IS a Marine who knows the Marines. The Marine who posted over in the other thread may well be right and that it’s more an issue of command.

  • Trav’s dad

    When Travis was 14,I ask him what do you want too be when you grow up?A Marine.Then I asked why?To serve our country,isnt that what your supposed to do.then become a police officer.I said wow,good for you Trav.I thought for sure he would change his mind in the next few years,but instead he trained and trained.Swimming,running,hunting,reading combat books and watching military movies.Next thing you know he’s a Marine and he’s proud of it.Now it’s off to Iraq to serve his country,kill or be killed.Except theres a rule,you can’t kill unless they kill first.Theres a another rule,if someone finds a trace of marijuana in a box in the garbage your disqualified and no longer can serve your country.Go back to base and go to jail.What seems more tragic here,killing Iraq citizens or a trace of marijuana.Travis now suffers from rejection,being harass,and painful loss of pride.What would you think if you killed Iraqis women and children for nothing and then end up in a Ramsey county jail?Travis does need to serve his punishment,then fulfill his marine commitment,then get help for his PTSD.But most of all give him his pride back. pops

  • Still Praying

    Praying is all I can do ! My heart is bleeding for this young man.

    No news on him.

    Did you hear anything Bob.

    so very sad, Travis your worth the long run to me.

  • Devoreyou

    The sad fact is that no one really cares, and when Amy Klobuchar say, ” I wrap my arms around every veteran returning from war.” And you know that it is a load of crap and that woman doesnt care about anybody but herself and the next presidential bid. Its the same reason Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize. Saving face and forgetting about the REAL problems that pauge this country AND its military.

  • b.a. hafterson