Monday, May 9, 2011

Lewis-McChord combat vet loses GI Bill for pot and spice... the day before he was to be released from active duty.

Former combat infantryman Bill Surwillo (left) with battle buddy Nick White.
Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

First let me give you the article from local radio station KPLU:

Here's a soldier's tale. Bill Surwillo deploys to Afghanistan. Nearly a quarter of his platoon is killed. He comes home with PTSD. He turns to marijuana and spice – a synthetic version of the drug – to relax. The Army kicks him out and takes away his GI Bill. Is this fair?

I meet Bill Surwillo at a noisy café just outside the gates of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. His car is packed and he's ready to head home to Wisconsin. He's been kicked out of the Army for drug use one day shy of his official end of service date – and he's bitter.

"I gave my life to that unit for the past four years."

Surwillo is especially upset the Army took away his college benefits. He wanted go to trade school to become a plumber or welder.

Sitting next to him in the café booth is his friend and fellow battle buddy, Nick White. Over the din, they describe the chaos in both their lives since they returned home.

That leads them to war stories from what they call their "gnarly" deployment to Afghanistan.

Surwillo tells me about one of the many roadside bombs that maimed and killed his friends and fellow soldiers.

"We were driving down a road on a resupply mission and our 2-1 vehicle hits an IED. Saw the mushroom cloud. Stryker go up."

Two soldiers were killed in that incident.

Dr. Bridget Cantrell, of Bellingham is an expert on soldiers and PTSD. She believes Surwillo's commanders should have gotten him help instead of booting him from the Army.

"This is a very big deal. To lose your objective, to lose your purpose, your goals, your goals are cut short because you made a mistake."

Dr. Les McFarling heads the Army's substance abuse program. He says combat vets are subject to the same zero-tolerance drug policy as soldiers just out of boot camp.
"We don’t a policy that says if you have PTSD you get a pass."
But he adds commanders can consider those factors when deciding how to handle a soldier who's been caught using drugs.
"We place a lot of trust in a commander's ability to make discretionary decisions such as this."

That is some of the article. The link for the whole thing is at the top of this blog.  There is a link on that page to the audio if you prefer.

I do agree, that we can't just let these soldiers come back and cry about what they've been through and think that gives them a pass to break the law. And maybe commanders should have discretion to make some decisions.

But someone needs to stand back and look at this kind of thing and say, NO, we help our soldiers. If they come back and are addicted, action or crime prone, you have to look at their record before they left and see, were they like this before? Or, did our sending them into harm's way cause them problems and it's the responsibility of the United States Government to see that they are fixed as best as possible with the available resources and not dumped on the roadside like a corpse from a roadside bomb. We treat the dead better than we do the living sometimes. Because the living can dissappoint us and cause us effort, money, time and resources.

It is the Government's responsibility to NOT send people to war. And if they do, to go out of their way to treat them with respect and care, not to dump on them just because we can. If you go to war, if you are in harm's way, if you especially have seen action, you need to be treated with respect and seen to be put in a situation allowing for the best possible reset of your life after.

If you go around killing people, raping, maiming, etc., then you are broken, and locking you up, is a reasonable response. But sneaking some pot on to a base, though stupid, isn't grounds to ruin someone's life who has nearly given their own life up for their country. It's wrong. It's always been this way. It needs to stop.

One of the responses to PTSD is acting wrong, over reaacting. placing blame, acting inappropriately. That is a person's way of calling for help. So how does it make any sense at all that instead, we punish them, instead of setting them up in life to succeed, to help them through this rough patch, to help them assimilate back into common society. And yes, that can take years, and even millions of dollars.

And if you don't like it, stop sending people to wars. Put up, or shut up!


  1. I know him...he was shooting up my girlfriend (Lea Nowicki) with heroin and now they are dating lol. Thought she was getting clean. Guess not. Yea he is a total piece of shit loser who doesnt seem to have much respect for life or the uniform. Right call kicking his ass out the military...if we could only get him out the human race. Skum Bag for sure.

  2. The military gave him three chances on a zero tolerance I don't understand why Bill is being such a cry-baby...he knew the rules...he didn't care multiple do the crime but then you don't want the consequences. Sounds more like a child and not a soldier...he even sounds like a scared little boy on the phone. Even if they gave him a GI bill he would not have much use for it...his behavior and choices since he's been back has only signed his death warrant...last spotted selling and using heroin...which supports the people killing of US troops when you think about it...glad military made the right call.