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Walking Wounded: The VA missed serious warning signs that presaged local vet’s violent breakdown

Photo: Courtesy photos, License: N/A

Courtesy photos

Adan Castaneda in 2005 after joining the Marine Corps.

Photo: Courtesy photos, License: N/A

Courtesy photos

Adan Castaneda after his 2011 arrest.

Photo: Micahel Barajas, License: N/A

Micahel Barajas

Maria Anna Esparza, still waiting for her son to "come home."

“Up until just a couple of years ago, we would see purposeful misdiagnoses, or things slipping through that really shouldn’t have,” he charged. And the stigma associated with mental illness of any kind has kept many veterans from pushing the issue, he fears. “Veterans don’t want to be seen as weak,” he said. “I’ve spoken to many who feel their careers would be in danger by seeking PTSD counseling. … For a lot of veterans the realization that they’re suffering from PTSD is a secret that they hold onto very tightly and will prompt them to take a misconduct discharge rather than to acknowledge any type of mental health problem.”

Parrish insists that when a veteran’s actions appear to stem from the stresses of war, the solution is treatment, not hard-nosed prosecution and punishment. “We, as a society, sent them to war. We are responsible for their recovery,” he said. “It’s a very sad state of affairs we’re in,” said Parker. “It’s becoming a lot more than sad, it’s becoming societally dangerous, and [Castaneda’s] case is a very, very good example of that.”

Reacting to Castaneda’s case, Luther remarked, “You know what’s funny, I hear the President and all these other people say the war is winding down. I call that BS. No, the war is coming home.”

Comal County jail guards put Castaneda in isolation soon after he was incarcerated, saying he failed to respond to orders. Esparza worries he was catatonic, caught in a daze. Sometime early into his stay at the jail, he signed papers waiving legal representation. He eventually connected with defense attorney Gina Jones, who said she couldn’t comment on Castaneda’s ongoing case. Esparza fears her son’s mental state continues to deteriorate the longer he languishes in isolation, without mental health care. He’s continued to refuse medication, claiming it’s poison, she says. Within the first week of incarceration, Castaneda also wrote a letter to the magistrate, asking for death by lethal injection. He’s been in solitary for nearly six months, often unwilling to step outside except upon visits with his mother.

And it was a struggle to get Castaneda evaluated inside the jail, Esparza says. Jail administration insisted the DA had to order it. The DA’s office told her the opposite. At one point, jail officials told her a psych evaluation had already been done. It hadn’t.

“At one point, I asked, ‘When do you refer someone to the state hospital for evaluation? At what point do you do that?’” she said. The prisoner has to be having clear behavioral or mental issues, she was told. “Since they put [Castaneda] in isolation, they say he’s a ‘model prisoner.’”

Esparza eventually went to the Texas Jail Project for help, which made its own inquiries into Castaneda’s case and treatment at the jail. The response from the jail administrators, according to Diana Claitor, Jail Project director, was, “The only mentally ill person here is the mother, that there’s nothing wrong with the son. He’s a model prisoner.”

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