John Yoo wrote it up accordingly in his August 2002 torture memo (PDF) to CIA's John Rizzo: "Through your consultation with various individuals responsible for such [SERE] training, you have learned that these techniques have been used as elements of a course of conduct without any reported incident of prolonged mental harm."
Hence, this is an interesting case to ponder, today being Memorial Day and all, from a government record:
A May 1989 service medical screening form for survival, evade, resist and escape (SERE) training shows that the line for whether the veteran had been seen by a doctor or psychologist in the past three months was unchecked. The veteran reported he was under no emotional strain at present. It was commented that the veteran no longer drank or was dependent, and it was not felt this would be a problem.Interesting, eh?
A psychiatric disorder was not diagnosed at the appellant's February 1993 separation examination.
In February 1994, the veteran filed a claim of entitlement to service connection for an anxiety disorder.
On VA examination in March 1994, the veteran reported symptoms of anxiety and depression over the past few months. He stated the symptoms increased since his wife left him in November 1993. The veteran reported he had panic attacks in 1989, which started following in-service survival training. During the training, he was "drowned" on a torture board, and since then he had nightmares of the incident. He reported being distressed about the flashbacks and nightmares. The veteran stated that he continued with the survival training since he volunteered to do so. Prior to 1989, he did not have anxiety or panic attacks, but since then he had unusual fears.
After examination, it was commented that the veteran by history had symptoms of anxiety, panic disorder, and symptoms suggestive of PTSD. The trauma in his case was the training he had received in the military. The drowning incident had affected his life quite significantly. Although he had PTSD symptomatology, his disability was related to associated anxiety, depression, and psychosocial stressors, particularly regarding his two difficult marriages. The diagnoses were major depression, recurrent, in partial remission; PTSD, delayed, of mild severity; panic disorder, in remission; and history of alcohol use, active.
By rating action of April 1994, with notice to the veteran in the same month, service connection for PTSD was denied. The RO determined that the VA examiner accepted the veteran's report regarding the incident in service at face value, and there was no independent verification that the rigorous training actually existed.
Evidence included in the claims file subsequent to the April 1994 rating action, includes VA treatment records dating from December 1993 to December 2002 that show treatment for alcohol abuse, PTSD, panic disorder, depression, and anxiety. A record from December 1993 shows the veteran was seen with sleep disorder. He had a history of anxiety attacks for three and one-half weeks. He reported he could not sleep, and was paranoid and edgy. He thought this related to his survival training in service when drowning was simulated. The diagnostic impression was anxiety/depression and question panic.
A record from February 1994 shows the veteran reported anxiety and panic attacks. He had survival training in service where he was strapped and tied. A few months later, he started having panic attacks. Stressors were trauma while in a service prisoner of war training, leaving service, break up of marriage, and finding a place in civilian life. The impression was dysthymia, anxiety, panic, and adjustment reaction to civilian life.
A VA record from September 1998 notes that the veteran reported that he had experienced panic attacks over the prior 10 years which he believed stemmed from specialized "POW training" in service when he was nearly drowned. He believed that he was going to die and experienced panic attacks and nightmares ever since. He stated he drank to avoid panic attacks. He also described problems with relationships, and wanted to be isolated. A December 1998 record shows that the veteran had PTSD with the traumatic event being well documented in the record.
A Vet Center record from November 1998 shows that the veteran reported that in service he volunteered for a survival, evasion, resistance, and escape school in May 1989. He reported being tied, stripped of clothing and beaten. He also reported that a bag was placed over his head, an unloaded gun was placed to his head and the trigger was pulled. With respect to the drowning episode the veteran stated that he was strapped to a table with a cloth over his mouth and was unable to breath and water was poured in his mouth when the cloth was removed and replaced quickly to prevent breathing. He reported experiencing panic attacks one month later and having violent nightmares. The diagnosis was chronic PTSD....
In response to a request from the veteran sent to people who had been in the SERE program with the veteran, Mr. G. stated that he would like to help concerning the VA claim, however all events that occurred during SERE school were classified and could not be discussed without the service's permission.
Don't worry, I wouldn't bum you out on Memorial Day. There is a happy ending to this story. In June 2003, the VA heard this vet's appeal, and decided to consider a statement he made under oath in November 2001 about his experiences to constitute "new evidence", even though it mainly repeated his earlier story. In any case, the VA appeal board stated:
In light of the fact that the veteran has been diagnosed with PTSD, as the evidence shows that the appellant did experience a verified in-service stressor at SERE school, and as the SERE school experience is the basis for the diagnosis of PTSD, the undersigned finds that service connection for PTSD is in order.Now, this is not the only case in which a VA service connection for PTSD related to SERE training has taken place. A few years ago, I wrote about another such case here.
Given the inherent interest of these cases for their impact on the lies that were used to justify SERE-style torture and the psychological and permanent damage resulting therefrom -- even in school training -- lies presented by and to OLC, DoD, CIA, etc., and not to mention the fact that SERE training may just be too dangerous to use in general... how much media interest has there been in these cases? I'll tell you. Zero.