Benefit raises funds, donations for wounded soldiersRene Schwappach’s son, Gerald (“Jerry”), 25, left for Iraq in 2007 and came back “somebody different.”
By: Ashley Halladay, New Richmond News
A story in the Nov. 18 issue of the New Richmond News highlighted one Hammond mother’s fight to get her son treated for PTSD.
Rene Schwappach’s son, Gerald (“Jerry”), 25, left for Iraq in 2007 and came back “somebody different.”
For more than a year the mother, son and a handful of elected officials have done what they can to get Gerald the proper medical treatment he deserves for his physical and mental injuries, as a result of his time overseas.
Every time Rene has tried to get answers or assistance from Fort Drum, N.Y. officials, she says she is treated with disrespect, not listened to and is given excuse after excuse for why Gerald cannot be transferred.
In the Nov. 18 story, Rene was hoping to get her son transferred to Fort Sam, in Houston, Texas. Rene, usually a mild-mannered school bus driver, said her constant battle with military officials in Fort Drum has turned her into “a pitbull.”
Although Rene says she has met a number of rude and unprofessional individuals during her fight for Gerald, she said she has only met one or two kind and caring people during her trips to New York. But it seems the “higher ups” have prevented those individuals from helping Rene and Gerald make any progress.
Every let down only feeds her fire to get her son, and all the other soldiers at Fort Drum, the proper treatment, care and respect soldiers deserve for serving their country, she said.
Rene said she has put her life on hold to get Fort Drum soldiers back to the lives they had before leaving for Iraq.
Second trip to Fort Drum
One of Rene’s biggest worries is that Gerald will get forced or kicked out of the Army, inevitably losing any benefits he currently has.
“They are going to push him to the limit or kick him out, so they don’t have to do anything for him,” Rene claims.
When she received a call from Gerald at the beginning of November about him getting an Article 15 (sometimes referred to as non-judicial punishment) for disrespecting an officer as well as an Article 15 for failing a drug test, Rene said she knew she had to go back out to Fort Drum.
Rene doesn’t claim Gerald is a saint, but says the military should give soldiers some slack, considering everything the wounded warriors are going through at Fort Drum.
“Gerald has great potential. He just needs to get straightened out,” Rene said.
Rene said the punishment for an Article 15 often includes extra duty, reduction in rank and a sizable cut in base pay.
Although a reduction in pay would negatively impact Gerald, Rene worries that Gerald’s two Article 15s will be used as a means to kick him out of the Army without being compensated with military benefits or before he receives proper treatment for his apparent post traumatic stress disorder.
Rene arrived in New York on Nov. 16 and, much like her trip in October, she became angry with the attitudes, unprofessionalism and lack of care by Fort Drum officials.
Given up on transferring
Although Rene has since given up on trying to get Gerald transferred to Fort Sam, their fight to get him proper treatment is far from over.
Gerald is currently enrolled in a 28-day PTSD treatment program in Denton, Texas.
According to the University of Behavioral Health website, Freedom Care “provides treatment programs for mental health and chemical dependency designed to meet the unique needs of our military members.”
Although Rene said Freedom Care is a step in the right direction, there is still a long road ahead.
Rene said many people she has talked with say it will take years of treatment to get Gerald, “back to normal.”
“28 days is not long enough,” Rene said.
Gerald’s treatment will end on Dec. 30, and Gerald will have to return to Fort Drum. Rene is trying to get Gerald transferred closer to home, because “he needs us, he wants to come home, he wants to be with family,” she said.
Rene said, she wants Gerald, “Anywhere but Fort Drum.”
Rene was feeling optimistic until recently.
She had hoped to get Gerald transferred to Fort Snelling in St. Paul, Minn. as a reserve active duty, but has been told numerous times that Gerald is too close to being out of the Army that he cannot be transferred.
Gerald is currently in the middle of the Medical Evaluation Board process, which is one of the final steps of the exit process before a soldier permanently leaves military duty.
Rene said Gerald won’t last another year at Fort Drum. She worries that the hostile environment at Fort Drum will cause Gerald to snap, something she’s claims the military is trying to make happen.
Gerald worries his mother will get hurt because of each emotional letdown in her fight for her him and his fellow soldiers at Fort Drum.
“It’s worth it,” Rene said, “I don’t know if I can back down.”
“Back down” is exactly what some people are telling her to do. Rene said one Vietnam War veteran who has been a great source of moral support, worries that Rene may do more harm than good because “the military has their own set of rules,” and Rene is one civilian causing a whole lot of commotion in that military world.
Rene said if she cannot get her son and other soldiers the proper treatment they deserve, the least she can do is make their stay at Fort Drum as livable as possible.
Benefit a success
On Dec. 4 Rene held a benefit for wounded warriors at JJ’s Sports Bar in Hammond to raise money and donations for simple household items many soldiers in Fort Drum do not have.
Among the items donated were blankets, towels, dishes and silverware.
Rene said the number of people in attendance, and the amount of money raised at the benefit, far surpassed her expectations.
In addition to donations of household items, the benefit raised:
• $1,010 in the silent auction
• $471 donated by the VFW Post 10818 from two meat raffles they held.
• $250 from the VFW Post 10818
• $351 in cash donations
“I didn’t expect this much, it will be fun to bring it to (the soldiers),” Rene said.
Rene said she cannot thank the community members, local businesses and VFW Post 10818 enough for all they have done to help her support the wounded warriors at Fort Drum.
Rene will use the money raised at the benefit to purchase those items that were not donated. The JJ’s Sports Bar and the Associated Bank in Hammond will collect donations until Dec. 20.
Rene and her mother plan to drive the items out to Fort Drum in mid-January.