As politicians in Washington wring their hands over the Veterans Affairs scandal, VICE News travels to Portland, Oregon, to see what it’s all really about. We meet Curtis Shanley, a former Marine Corps machine-gunner, who has spent the past five years wading through red tape to get medical attention for a crippling injury he suffered while serving his country in Iraq.
At 27, Carey McWilliams became the first totally blind person in the USA to acquire a conceal and carry permit. Despite weapons training during his ROTC years, McWilliams has faced opposition to his right to bear arms from both the media and public officials.
Once fervently against hunting, McWilliams now views hunting as a way to connect to a system greater than himself and cope with PTSD brought on by a recent violent dog attack. In his down time, he carries a loaded pistol to the grocery store.
VICE headed to North Dakota to witness life as America’s foremost blind outdoorsman and gun enthusiast.
Why Won’t the US Government Let Veterans Smoke Medical Marijuana?
We Americans love to send our armed forces, often recruited from black and Hispanic neighborhoods devoid of real economic opportunity, to fight in exotic foreign conflicts while we relax at home and consume things, unconcerned about the impact all that combat has on those citizens’ lives. So it should come as little surprise that the House of Representatives last Wednesday rejected an amendment to the annual bill funding veterans’ health care that would have permitted military doctors in states with medical marijuana already on the books to discuss pot treatment options with their patients.
The vote was tantalizingly close, however, with the amendment failing 222–195. In fact, 22 Republicans crossed over to join the majority of Democrats in favor of the proposal, which, according to medical studies, could help some of the millions of vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the aftermath of the protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bipartisan tide of momentum for drug legalization, it seems, is reaching the highest levels of the federal government—and even threatening to rope in our sacred troops, whom we are apparently fine with risking life and limb in the desert so long as they never, ever get high.
Ex-Soldiers Are Being Given MDMA to Help Them with PTSD
If hanging out with a bunch of strangers in a foreign country, shooting at other strangers for a living wasn’t damaging enough, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is always there to prolong the trauma once combat soldiers return from war. Around 25 percent discharged American soldiers suffer from the disorder.
Tony Macie, an Iraq veteran, is one of those soldiers. Traumatized by the deaths of two of his friends in a truck bomb attack, Macie was prescribed conventional medication to treat his PTSD after returning to the US. When that wasn’t working out for him, he started to research alternative remedies and came across the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which was offering an experimental treatment with MDMA.
I gave Tony a call and spoke to him about using the drug to try to overcome his post-Iraq trauma.
VICE: Hi, Tony. Can you tell me about your experience of serving in Iraq?
Tony Macie: I was there for 15 months. A lot of the time I was clearing roads, and there was a constant fear of being ambushed. I think it was six months into my tour. I wasn’t there when it happened, but a petrol base got hit by a truck bomb and killed a couple of my buddies. That was really upsetting; it was the point when I was like, “This is real. This is war.”
Do you think you were suffering more than your colleagues? Or was everyone in the same boat?
I think everyone was suffering. At times we didn’t realize it, though, because we were so focused on staying alive.
Were there any points when you felt particularly afraid for your life?
Probably just after the car bomb went off. We were there for three days straight guarding the road, just waiting for another car bomb to come. There was a point when we were sitting in the Humvee and we thought there was going to be an attack. Nothing happened in the end, but I was out there for three days, on night duty, just waiting for something to happen. Over there, death could have happened at any point. I was always expecting an ambush or a fire fight.
How did you feel when you got back to America?
At first, there was a lot of relief. I was glad to be back and felt kind of safe. But after a couple of days I couldn’t really sleep and I started overheating. After a couple of weeks I started drinking to go to sleep, and a month or two after that I started to have anxiety and panic attacks. That’s when I decided to go to the doctors.
More and More Veterans Are Smoking Weed to Cure Their PTSD
In America, the relationship between doctors and the hegemonic pharmaceutical industry is fraught with painful, mind-numbing contradiction. There’s no better example of this than in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among US veterans and others around the country. Drugs like Risperdal, an antipsychotic, are said to be no more effective in the treatment of PTSD than a placebo. These drugs are widely distributed to treat the symptoms of PTSD, despite allegations that they’re ineffectual in treatment of the condition.
PTSD is a disorder, characterized by extreme emotional or mental anxiety, often the result of a physical or psychological injury. When confronted with a potentially deadly situation, it’s natural for humans to feel afraid—we’ve developed pretty sophisticated fight-or-flight responses to deal with real or perceived danger. PTSD arises when that response is damaged, and the patient feels stressed or frightened even when he or she is no longer in danger. The disease disproportionately affects soldiers deployed in war zones. Very often they are in situations so dangerous that they develop the condition, and return home as shell-shocked emotional cripples. Veteran’s Affairs claims that today, almost 300,000 veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD, although the number is likely much higher due to lack of diagnosis.
JD Salinger’s War, by James Franco
Along with Shane Salerno’s new documentary about J. D. Salinger, he has co-written a book about the enigmatic author with my friend and teacher, David Shields. The book is called Salinger, just like the film, but it is filled with ten times more material than the documentary and is ten times better. The book reads like an oral biography, but is much more like a documentary on paper. Like a collage, David and Shane artfully pasted together interviews, letters, and material from J. D.’s books and stories. The result is an insightful and spooky portrait of a recluse who didn’t necessarily desire a total eclipse from the limelight. J. D. renounced publishing because it didn’t fit with his religious beliefs and, possibly, because his work became less admired as his beliefs made their way into his writing.
J. D. Salinger was the son of a butcher, but he learned early on that carving up meat wasn’t the life for him. He fell into writing and drama in high school (later he would think of himself as the only one who could play Holden Caulfield, even after he was well past his teens). After high school, he attended two of my alma maters: NYU in the late 1930s (he dropped out) and Columbia where he worked with Whit Burnett. His early prewar writing had a style indebted to F. Scott Fitzgerald, with debutantes and aimless young characters. When he went to war, however, everything changed.
I Got Raped, Then My Problems Started
Above: One of my cartoons that, apparently, make me a less credible witness to my own rape.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, one out of six American women have been the victims of rape or attempted rape. I am one of those women. I don’t think my story is particularly rare or special. It happens all the time—again according to RAINN, a rape occurs in the US every two minutes in this country—and just like 97 percent of rapists, my attacker walked free. I would like to share my personal account of what it is like to file a rape accusation though, so if you haven’t gone through the process you can learn about all the fun that comes with it. (I’m sure a lot of people, unfortunately, already have a pretty good idea of what it’s like.)
I’ll start at the very beginning: In early October of 2010, I went to meet my friends at a bar in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It was around 10 PM. There was a guy hanging out in my little cluster of people who I wrongly assumed was a friend of my friends. He was socializing pretty well with the group, as if he knew a few of us, and I didn’t give it a second thought. I was drunk. There was some cocaine use going on. While I was outside smoking a cigarette, the guy came out for a smoke too, so we talked. I didn’t flirt with him—I don’t really know how to flirt, and anyway, I wasn’t attracted to this guy in the slightest. He was about five-foot-nine with a thin yet muscular build and looked like he might be of Hispanic or Italian descent. Later, I’d describe him to the cops that way.
There was a disconnected look in his eyes, and at first I figured he was just shy and trying to connect desperately to others through drugs, as many people do. He didn’t flirt with me either, nor did he show any romantic or sexual interest in me. He did ask me if I wanted to do a bump of coke in his car, rather than waiting in line for the bathroom inside. His car was right in front of us, and even though I was nervous, I climbed in. As soon as the doors were shut, he locked the doors and started the car. I demanded to be let out, and as he started driving I told him to turn back and that my friends were waiting for me. He said, “Don’t worry. I’m turning back,” with a stoic expression carved into his face. He didn’t turn back. I kept asking where he was taking me, and soon he stopped responding.
He brought me into his spotlessly clean and creepy apartment where porn was already playing on multiple monitors placed around the room. I told him repeatedly that I didn’t want to have sex with him and that I wanted to go back to my friends. There was no ambiguity about the situation at all. I spent a lot of time pushing him off me. He threatened to kill me. He punched me. He pulled my hair when I tried to get away. Every time I told him to stop he slapped me in the face. He repeatedly called me a bitch and a whore. He ordered me to shut the fuck up. I ended up begging for my life. I even offered him money if he would just please not hurt me. The worst part of the ordeal was having to look at the massive “666” tattoo on his lower abdomen. I ran away as soon as I felt I had the opportunity to do so. He chased after me.
I didn’t really know what to do about the whole thing. I was scared to go to the police because it’s common knowledge that rape victims are often treated like shit, especially if they aren’t as virtuous as the Virgin Mary. I knew I’d be made to feel guilty about my intoxication, I knew I’d be asked about my misguided decision to willingly get into the car, and I already felt guilty and stupid about those things. A friend of mine convinced me that reporting it would be the right thing to do anyway. Her advice was to look “as broken as possible. Don’t wear black eye makeup and dress stylish like you usually do.”
Now, I think I look like I’m about 12 years old without makeup, and it makes me feel naked, but I went to the police station looking sad and makeup-less about 24 hours later. The cops were nice and cool about the whole thing as I filed a report, then I went to the hospital and got a rape kit. Afterward, I was interviewed by a detective who kept asking me about what I was wearing at the time and who told me that this case would probably never make it anywhere because I was intoxicated. Instead of focusing on what was done to me, most of his questions focused on why I didn’t fight back harder and run away sooner. The answer to both was because I was afraid and operating on a kind of autopilot—I never imagined anyone would accuse me of failing to get away.
KILLING UP CLOSE -
THE DEATH OF WILLIAM WOLD
Below is an excerpt of TheThings They Cannot Say’s opening chapter, which chronicles the tragic demise of Marine William Wold. Kevin Sites first interviewed William while covering the Iraq war in 2004, only minutes after the 21-year-old corporal and his fire team gunned down six insurgents inside a mosque in Fallujah. Back then, William was wired for combat, calloused from killing and watching friends die. This excerpt picks up with William’s story seven years after meeting Kevin in Iraq and explains how the decorated Marine’s life was irreparably broken by the things he saw and did in the name of his country.
We’ve paired the text with photos from artist Nina Berman’s Purple Hearts series, which is comprised of portraits and interviews with American soldiers who were seriously wounded in the Iraq War, focusing on their struggle to find identity and purpose after returning home. For more information about the project, visitNoorImages.com.
William Wold seemed fine initially when he came home from Iraq, according to his mother, Sandi Wold, when I speak to her by telephone seven years after my conversation with her son in Fallujah. Wold had begged his mother to sign a parental-approval form when he wanted to join the Marines at 17, taking extra online classes to graduate a year early in order to do so. But after four years of service, he had had enough.
“They were going to promote him to sergeant, but he didn’t want to reenlist. He just wanted to be normal,” she says, echoing his own words from our videotaped interview. His much-anticipated separation from the Marine Corps would come in March 2004, but in the interim, she had promised to treat him and a couple of Marine buddies to a trip to Las Vegas as a coming-home present. She and her second husband, John Wold (William’s stepfather, whose last name William took), met the three Marines at the MGM Grand and got them adjoining rooms next to their own. Sandi was elated to see her son home safe and in one piece, and she wanted to see him leave the war in Iraq behind as quickly as possible.
“There’s no way I can show you how much I appreciate your willingness to die for me,” she remembers telling the three. But she tried her best anyway, going so far as to hire in-room strippers for them through an ad in the Yellow Pages.
“They talked me into buying them suits and renting a stretch limo. These guys show up and they go out partying that night, these guys are pimped out, I’m spending so much money it’s stupid,” she says, laughing at the memory. “Those Marines swam down some drinks, just the three of them. The hotel called my room—‘Do these Marines belong to you?’—as they’re stumbling down the hallways.”
When the strippers show up at the Marines’ room, Sandi says the sound of partying was like its own war zone. Then around midnight there’s a loud banging on the adjoining door.
“The door swings open and it’s Silly Billy, drunk and laughing, and he introduces us to them [the strippers]… I could’ve gone a lifetime without meeting them,” Sandi says.
“He says, ‘Mom, I’m going to need an extra $1,200.’ ‘Dude,’” she remembers telling him, “‘you gotta be fucking shitting me.’ But I’m counting the money out, he’s dancing around, happy as can be.”
The whole trip, she says, was indicative of the closeness of their relationship. He would always stay in touch with his mom even while he was in Iraq.
“He would hang out with the snipers at night,” Sandi says, “because they always had satellite phones, and he would make sure to try and call me almost every week. It would just be, ‘Hey, I’m fine, can’t talk long, love you. Bye.’”
“He was through and through a mama’s boy. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t share with me,” she says. “Sometimes I had to tell him I just don’t want to know.”
But Sandi says she began to sense something was wrong after William made a trip back East to see a woman he had met while doing presidential-protection duty at Camp David. He had called her his fiancée and said he planned to marry her, but the relationship ended after his visit.
“He flies back there and doesn’t last 24 hours,” Sandi says. “He lost it. He calls me and tells me to find him a flight home. ‘I can’t close my eyes, I can’t sleep,’ he tells me, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ I think he knew he was so unstable he was going to end up hurting her.”
The extent of his post-traumatic stress became clear to Sandi that summer after his discharge.