Justice may have been served Wednesday when Joseph Bozicevich was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the September 2008 shooting deaths of Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson and Sgt. Wesley Durbin in Iraq. But even though the sentencing decision likely was what the families of the deceased had been hoping for, there clearly are no winners in this situation.
Both the Durbin and Dawson families lost sons, and the Bozicevich family is grieving as well. The convicted man’s family members are secondary victims of his crime.
The high-profile case’s sentencing marks the end of an emotional three-year period filled with hearings, motions, court-martial delays and heart-breaking testimony. And while this chapter is now behind us, another is about to begin.
Spc. Neftaly Platero is accused of killing Spc. John Carrillo Jr. and Pfc. Gebrah P. Noonan on Sept. 23, 2010, in Iraq. He is also accused of shooting and wounding a third soldier. Platero, who currently is confined in Coastal Georgia, already had an Article 32 hearing and is awaiting court martial.
Adding to the overwhelming sadness of these situations is the fact that it all possibly could have been avoided. While the Army has worked hard to fight the stigma traditionally attached to seeking mental health assistance, there will always be soldiers who refuse to go for help. In those cases, evaluating the mental health of troops before sending them off to war is essential. While pre-deployment screening procedures already are in place, there’s always room for improvement.
On its website, Time magazine recently expounded on an April American Journal of Psychiatry article about a study done by five Army mental health experts, who found that standard military screening referred only 0.3 percent of troops for mental health evaluation before deploying. The more rigorous checkups advocated by the doctors in the study drove that up to 7.7 percent and kept 0.7 percent of screened soldiers from deploying.
Lt. Col. Christopher Warner, the study’s lead author, once served as the chief of the department of behavioral medicine at Winn Army Community Hospital. So, where better place to put his findings to good use? Doing so likely will strengthen the Army and save the lives of many of those who serve.