The Army has overturned a decision that would have kicked quadriplegic Green Beret Timothy Brumit out of the military and stripped him of benefits, on charges of being drunk and drugged when he injured himself, U.S. officials tell The Daily Beast.
“I feel blessed, and so thankful to so many people, starting with my dad, who is my caregiver, and stayed by my side to use any means necessary to right this wrong,” a relieved Brumit told The Daily Beast on Thursday.
“An injustice has been corrected,” added his father, former Green Beret Randy Brumit, after receiving the news.
The decision against Brumit was reversed after the head of U.S. Army Special Operations Forces, Lt. Gen. Ken Tovo, wrote a letter in support of the injured soldier—and after Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley heard of the case.
“They took a look at it and said, ‘Hey, this isn’t right,’” said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), a former Marine who has championed many similar special operators’ cases.
“They are going to give him an honorable discharge,” and they’ve dropped punitive legal action to strip Brumit of his Green Beret designation, Hunter told The Daily Beast.
Brumit was paralyzed in July 2015 when he dove off a boat in stormy waters to save what he thought was a drowning girl. Instead, he hit a sandbar, instantly breaking his neck. The missing girl was found later on shore.
An Army investigation ruled he was reckless because of alcohol intoxication and alleged traces of cocaine, prompting Brumit to tell his story to The Daily Beast. The investigation also dismissed more than two years’ worth of Brumit’s pleas for help treating his PTSD after eight combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He drank himself to sleep every night to drown out nightmares, but military psychologists insisted he did not have PTSD. He eventually enrolled himself in a military alcohol and substance abuse program, but 7th Special Forces Group kept pulling him out of counseling for missions.
Six weeks after being pulled out of the addiction program, he fell off the wagon and made the disastrous decision to jump into that stormy sea.
“The Army broke me. I believe they owe me an honorable discharge, my record clean, and a lifetime of medical care that I’m going to require to live a normal life,” he said.
U.S. Army Special Operations commander Tovo wrote that it was unclear whether Brumit’s substance abuse stems from post-traumatic stress or even if he truly has PTSD, and pointed out he’d gone through 20 medical, psychological, and substance abuse-related meetings—which Tovo said was proof Brumit’s commanders were making help available to him.
“Still it’s undisputed that SFC Brumit served multiple combat tours and the negative aspects of his multiple deployments created stressors at home and likely contributed to his substance abuse,” Tovo wrote in his Sept. 13 letter, first shared by Hunter on Fox News. “Erring on the side of the soldier and presuming that his head-first dive was not an act of willful negligence adds an element of empathy to this case.”
The top brass responded to Tovo’s letter, Brumit’s public plea, and multiple congressional inquiries about the case by changing a single word in its ruling: from “willful” to “simple” negligence. That means Brumit can now begin the process of medically retiring from the Army with his neck injuries included in his future care, and an honorable discharge assured, according to Randy Brumit and congressional staff briefed on the case.
The only question remaining is what will become of Tim Brumit’s security clearance. After Brumit went public with his story to The Daily Beast, his 7th Special Forces Group commander, Col. Michael Ball, sent him a notice that Brumit would be stripped of both his Green Beret designation and his clearance, a document viewed by The Daily Beast. Ball sent notice to Brumit on Wednesday that he’ll keep his Special Forces certification but offered no update on the clearance issue. The Brumits say Ball has never called to check on the health of the injured soldier since his injury.
Hunter’s office and Brumit’s lawyer Will Helixon are still working to protect his clearance, which will determine what kind of work he can get as a disabled veteran.
The Brumit case highlights the difficulty faced by the military in diagnosing and treating the invisible injuries of combat, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Special Operations Command has worked to expand the number of counselors available and to destigmatize seeking help—and officials say there’s been an overall drop in suicides within the force. But troops often don’t want to admit they have those issues because they believe going for counseling means they’d be pulled off their elite teams, and also because once such treatment is listed on their military medical record, they won’t be able to apply for post-military jobs with the CIA or other intelligence agencies. The military doesn’t strip anyone of their top secret clearance if they’ve been treated for PTSD, thanks to an initiative championed by Adm. Bill McRaven, then head of special operations.
But the intelligence community, where many special operators seek to work post-retirement, hasn’t followed suit.
So operators often cope with alcohol or even illegal drugs, eventually ending up in trouble at work and at home, and often only admitting to PTSD or TBI symptoms after they are facing disciplinary action. Senior special operations officers tell The Daily Beast this practice has led some commanders and clinicians to believe that special operators are “faking it” to get out of trouble. It’s also resulted in a trend where clinicians are reluctant to diagnose PTSD and more likely lump bad behavior under the catchall diagnosis “adjustment disorder.”
Multiple special operators told The Daily Beast that such a scenario happened to them when they sought help, just as it did to Tim Brumit.
“While some soldiers may try to take advantage of the system, in my experience, that is probably an extremely small number,” Lt. Gen. Tovo wrote to The Daily Beast on Thursday evening. “What is likely more prevalent is that soldiers do not report medical issues or ask for help because they believe they will be pulled from their team, be pulled from a deployment, or be viewed as weak.”
He added that the Army as a whole, and USASOC specifically, “has made a concerted effort to allay these fears and reduce the stigma of reporting medical conditions, especially PTSD.”
As for the moves to strip Brumit of his clearance, Tovo reiterated that “soldiers cannot lose their clearance based solely on a PTSD diagnosis” but can lose it because of misconduct such as drug- and alcohol-related incidents.
California Republican Hunter blamed the controversy on toxic leaders at 7th Special Forces Group, rather than seeing a wider pattern of neglect by the Army.
“You have little spheres of influence with bad leadership in those spheres, and once it gets exposed, you can fix them,” he said, crediting Secretary of the Army Fanning and Army Chief of Staff Milley for fixing this case.
But he said he’s asking the Army to tell him how many troops who saw combat were dishonorably discharged since the attacks on New York and Washington of 9/11, including how many of them were diagnosed with adjustment disorder rather than PTSD.
“What if the numbers are big? Then we may have a problem,” he said.
Lt. Gen. Tovo defended the harsh calls made by 7th Group commander Ball, saying, “I am committed to supporting subordinate commanders who have to make the difficult decisions in their units. They continually have to balance the requirement to maintain good order and discipline in their ranks with an individual soldier’s specific circumstances.”
Randy Brumit said his phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from other troops.
“I have a database of special operators who have almost the same stories, the coping, the hiding, not being treated for PTSD, and then being punished for bad behavior stemming from their injury,” he said.
His paralyzed son said he plans to finish the university degree he’d started before dropping out to join the Army after the attacks of 9/11. He already volunteers at Walk Rite Ministry, an evangelical nonprofit he hopes can help others.
“Even though my hands and my legs aren’t working, my heart is,” he said. “I can help change other lives.”
Brumit says he has some tough lessons to share with other troubled vets, like how he pushed away his now ex-wife and turned to alcohol and illicit drugs to cope with the numbness from post-traumatic stress and suicidal thoughts.
“I was unable to change because I was focused tunnel vision on the job,” he said.
He had a message to other troops who might be suffering in silence.
“If you don’t get help, you’re going to lose everything anyway because you are going to go off the deep end,” he said. “Don’t wait until it’s too late, like me.”