Sailor with diagnosed mental health issues says he’s being targeted for asking for help

This article was originally published on Military.com April 11, 2022. Follow Military.com on Twitter.

Jatzael Alvarado Perez began battling life aboard the destroyer USS Farragut last year. The ship was preparing to deploy, and a combination of conditions aboard the Mayport, Florida-based ship and long stretches at sea were taking their toll on the 23-year-old sailor.

“It’s just not a good environment at all, it’s not healthy for sure,” Perez told Military.com in a phone conversation.

After a few false starts, Perez was taking the advice of a chaplain and seeking help for the growing strains on his mind. health, eventually being diagnosed with a mood disorder. Instead of getting that help, however, he faced repeated disciplinary action, a suddenly positive drug test, allegations of making it all up and, finally, confinement. on the ship and to a demotion. Eventually, the situation prompted his wife to come clean in a Facebook post.

Carli Alvarado, Perez’s wife and herself a former sailor, said her husband has changed in recent months. “He was just down there,” she said, adding that he told her “the ship just isn’t good for his mental state.”

“He used to be all smiles, and now he’s put on a lot of weight. He’s not interested in his health anymore,” she said.

Both spoke with Military.com and provided various documents to support their experiences and claims.

Jatzael Alvarado Perez began struggling with life aboard the destroyer USS Farragut in 2021. The sailor says he sought help for his mental health, only to be the target of disciplinary action. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jack D. Aistrup.

Their story comes just months after legislation has been passed remedy another highly publicized failure of the Marine to take care of seafarers in difficulty – the suicide of Brandon Caserta in 2018.

After Caserta’s suicide while stationed at Marine Combat Helicopter Squadron 28 in NorfolkVirginia, a command investigation found that the climate, particularly the young sailor’s chief petty officer, was a significant part of the problem.

The new legislation makes it easier for troops to trigger a mental health assessment and requires commanders to carry it out.

When contacted for comment, the Navy confirmed it was aware of allegations made by the spouse of a Farragut sailor “concerning the status and care of his spouse aboard the ship.”

Lt Cmdr. Jason S. Fischer, spokesperson for the Commander, Naval Surface Force Atlantic, said the two-star admiral “is aware of the comments and command is looking into the matter.”

Fischer added that “the health and well-being of our sailors is critical to the success of our mission.”

Traditionally, military branches have been reluctant to respond to allegations where an individual’s medical records or private information is involved out of respect for privacy concerns and regulations.

A sailor guides an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to Helicopter Sea Dragon Whale Squadron (HSC) 28 onto the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Krystofer N. Belknap.

Perez, who at the time was a second-class NCO, turned late last year to the ship’s chaplain, who eventually told him he could go to the ER to get help.

So on February 6, 2022, that’s what Perez did. He went to the emergency room at the base hospital. Out of that visit came an appointment with a Navy psychologist, but Perez says she told him “I was fine. … There’s nothing wrong with me.

The Navy had been push sailors to seek help dealing with mental health issues. In last year’s message for mental health monththe senior service officer, Adm. Mike Gilday, said: “All of our leaders there, regardless of rank, let me be clear: talk to your people, listen to them, be available and encourage them to ask for help s they need that.

“No matter your situation, there are shipmates ready to do whatever they can to help you find hope,” Gilday said in a two-minute recorded message.

In addition to the referral to a Navy psychiatrist during his ER visit, Perez was tested for drugs and, according to medical records provided by Alvarado, those results showed he tested positive for cannabinoids — the family of drugs associated with marijuana. The ship found out about the results because the psychologist emailed the ship’s medical staff directly, according to a copy of the email.

Both husband and wife contest this result. Still, Navy doctors ordered another drug test, which was also positive, according to disciplinary records.

Although disputed in this case, medical studies have shown that it is common for some to turn to drugs and alcohol as a means of self-medication when dealing with mental health issues. Recent lawsuits forced the NavyMarine Corps and Army revise thousands of general and other than honorable discharges given to troops over the past decade for issues that may stem from a military-related mental health issue or sexual assault, often with service members fired for having used substances when they did not receive adequate care.

Sailor Jatzael Alvarado Perez went to the emergency room at the base hospital to seek help for his mental health issues. Out of that visit came an appointment with a Navy psychologist who reportedly told him he was fine. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jack D. Aistrup.

The lawsuit against the Navy was brought by Marine Cpl. Tyson Manker, who was fired with a less than honorable discharge after he was caught using marijuana. He told the New York Times it helped him deal with the traumatic experiences he had in Iraq in 2003.

Perez’s enlisted supervisors called the sailor “a valuable asset” and someone who “has so much potential” as part of their recommendations on how his case should be handled. Meanwhile, his division officer simply wrote ‘Zero Tolerance Policy’, while the department head called the matter ‘cut and dry’. All four recommended that he go to the captain’s mast, a less formal reprimanding process in which a ship’s commander hears evidence and metes out punishment – ​​unlike a more formal court-martial.

Perez went to the captain’s mast on March 22. The court forms list both the Navy psychologist he saw after his ER visit, as well as the ship’s body man, as witnesses. The ship’s commander reduced Perez’s rank, stripped him of half his Pay for two months and confined him to the ship for 45 days before he was separated from the navy.

Frustrated, Alvarado contacted the ship’s attorney to obtain her husband’s documents in an attempt to appeal the conviction. She noticed that some of the drug test results were missing.

“We only have the first of the emergencies,” the ship’s attorney replied in an email on March 25. Alvarado pressed the sign to explain why the second test result was not with the rest of the documents given to her, but said she heard back.

Instead, several hours later, “they called my husband at [executive officer’s] room and basically…told him everything was dropped because they received the test results and they were negative,” Alvarado wrote in a Facebook post and confirmed to Military.com.

A letter on Navy letterhead from Commander Farragut posted alongside Alvarado’s Facebook story, dated March 25, simply says, “I have decided to rescind all sentences” to the captain de Perez’s mast on March 22.

A naval hospital discharge form provided by Alvarado to Military.com shows that Perez was seen by the psychiatric ward while under restriction for the drug charge, between March 23 and March 25, and was diagnosed with “adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depression”. mood.”

The statement ends with the phrase “r/o simulation”. R/O is a common medical abbreviation for “excluded.”

Although he was diagnosed with a mental health disorder, sailor Jatzael Alvarado Perez says his command accused him of faking and reduced his rank. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William Jamieson.

Despite the diagnosis, Perez stood before his commanding officer two weeks later at another mast. This time he said his command had accused him of faking – faking his mental health issues in order to evade duty. Perez said the commanding officer again confined him to the ship for 45 days and again reduced him to the rank of noncommissioned officer third class.

Perez is clear: He sees it all as retaliation for trying to get mental health treatment.

Alvarado had had enough. Her husband had tried to get mental help, but instead his order punished him. Twice.

Exasperated and hoping for accountability, she wrote the Facebook post in the late hours of Friday, April 8, accusing her husband’s command of retaliation and disregard for her sanity. As of Monday, the post has been shared around 2,500 times and has over 1,400 comments.

At one point, Perez wanted to leave the service because of his health issues. A second Navy psychiatrist – not the one who reported his drug results to the ship – told him it would be possible, only to say later that the Farragut denied the request.

Perez said he spoke to the ship’s body man, who told him he never received a request from the psychiatrist.

Teri Caserta, Brandon’s mother and one of the law’s leading advocates, responded to Alvarado’s Facebook post on Sunday to offer her support. “Carli, please contact me if there is anything I can help you with,” she wrote.

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