Walking Wounded: The VA missed serious warning signs that presaged local vet’s violent breakdown
Published: November 30, 2011
On a recent visit, Esparza says, Castaneda claimed he was taken to his room by six or seven guards, thrown down to the floor and kneed in the testicles. Jail administration later told her a review of the security tape showed Castaneda was unresponsive. “They told me that they pushed him down, and if in the scuffle that ensued he got scuffed up a bit, that was certainly possible,” she said. “I guess it’s a difference of interpretation.”
Asked if soldiers like Castaneda, who battle mental trauma following wartime service, should be handled differently in the criminal justice system, Comal County DA Tharp responded, “I don’t know that we can dictate a blanket policy on how all cases should be handled. … This particular case was evaluated and determined by the court that he was incompetent to stand trial, and at this point in time our office didn’t fight that. We could have contested that,” she said. If he regains competency, she said, he’ll face the same serious charges.
Meanwhile, Castaneda sits in isolation, waiting for a bed at the North Texas State Hospital to open up — hospital administrators tell Esparza it could be well after the first of the year before they find a spot for her son, she says. He’s still not receiving treatment, and his mental state continues to deteriorate, she insists. On a recent visit, his clothes were on backwards and inside out, there was a large slash across his right sleeve. He proceeded to show her a large gash on his back. He’s increasingly paranoid, insisting guards sneak into his cell while he’s sleeping to cut holes in this clothes. He claims they put pubic hair in his food, and he often refuses to eat. Perhaps more troubling, Castaneda’s memory continues to wear away. When Esparza visited him a day after his competency hearing, Castaneda asked why his little brother hadn’t yet visited him. “I just stared at him,” Esparza said. “What do you mean?” Castaneda, not remembering his brother’s death, had added him to his jail visitation list. “He says he’s still waiting for his brother to come visit him,” Esparza said, fighting back tears.
Esparza is fighting for the son she has left, or what’s left of him. Inside her house, pointing to where bullets struck the walls, ceiling, and even a framed picture of her dead son, she says Castaneda never really returned from Iraq.
“I just want him to get the treatment he needs. I just want him to come home.” •
* An earlier version of this story misidentified Parker as a U.S. Army chaplain. The Current regrets the error.
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