Loading...

Gambling: New Combat Vets Plagued by Troubling Addiction 

Thursday, May 3 2012
Comments

In 2007, having served with distinction during two deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan, U.S. Air Force firefighter John Brownfield Jr. took a job as a correctional officer at the maximum-security federal prison in Florence, Colo., 40 miles south of Colorado Springs. Ten months later, prison officials caught the former senior airman smuggling tobacco to at least seven inmates at the facility and accepting at least $3,500 in payoffs. The U.S. attorney for the District of Colorado charged the 22-year-old combat veteran with bribery by a public official. Brownfield pleaded guilty.

Two years later, Sgt. Dreux Perkins returned home from a combat stint in Baghdad — his second overseas tour of duty with the U.S. Army — received his honorable discharge and went to work as a correctional officer at the medium-security Federal Correctional Institution in Greenville, Ill., 50 miles east of St. Louis on Interstate 70. In May 2011 the Federal Bureau of Investigation confronted Perkins with evidence that he'd accepted at least $2,600 in payoffs for smuggling cigarettes into the prison. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois indicted the 23-year-old decorated war veteran for bribery by a federal official, two counts of wire fraud and two counts of making a false statement to a federal law officer. Perkins pleaded guilty.

The two soldiers have never met, but the similarities between them go deeper than their parallel career-to-crime trajectories.

click to flip through (5) PHOTO BY JOHN H. TUCKER - Patriotic and hungry for action, Dreux Perkins followed his father's footsteps into the Army, enlisting the year after he graduated from Greenville High School.
  • PHOTO BY JOHN H. TUCKER
  • Patriotic and hungry for action, Dreux Perkins followed his father's footsteps into the Army, enlisting the year after he graduated from Greenville High School.
 

Related Stories

  • Henry Rollins: War, Continued 3

    This morning, I woke up in a small hotel room in Gordonsville, Tennessee. Outside my door: Taco Bell, Subway, McDonald's and Waffle House. I packed my gear and headed down to the lobby for another day of shooting 10 Things You Don't Know About. Scheduled for today was a tour...
  • Ajax in Iraq Merges Greek Mythology With Sexual Assault in the Military (GO!)

    The Los Angeles premiere of Not Man Apart Physical Theatre Ensemble's Ajax in Iraq, directed and choreographed by John Farmanesh-Bocca, relies on an unusual conceit. Its framework is the classical tale of Ajax, the ancient Greek warrior overlooked by his commander who slaughtered a field of cattle and then turned...
  • Rooting For Iran? 9

    Watching Iran play in the World Cup over the last few weeks, I found myself grappling with a series of contradictory emotions. As an Iranian-American who was born in the United States, at times I've wished that I could claim another heritage. Like the time in 2006, just months before...
  • Henry Rollins: Fort Hood and the Cost of War 3

    I am in Austin, Texas. Well, sort of. I am in a hotel, in a row of hotels off I-35. I'll be here for several days, working on another season of the H2 network show 10 Things You Don't Know About. I like Texas. I like the Texans I have...
  • Controversial Saudi Rapper $kinny

    Perpetually stoned, Saudi Arabia-born rapper Skinny is asked constantly about the political situation in his homeland. "That's when interviewers hear ignorant answers," explains the man whose name we'll spell Skinny, his thick dread-locks resting on his shoulders as he lounges in a Glendale recording studio. "I'm just not really into...

Although he had not been formally diagnosed, Brownfield manifested symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder. A pre-sentencing report in the former soldier's case noted "incidents of his alcohol abuse, excessive sexual activity, fighting in bars and domestic violence."

Perkins was diagnosed with PTSD after he sought counseling at the VA St. Louis Healthcare System. A psychologist there diagnosed him with the disorder, but Perkins was already in a downward spiral he could not control, gambling the nights away at St. Louis–area casinos and, as his losses mounted to the point where he couldn't pay the mortgage on the home he'd bought, smuggling cigarettes into the prison in return for cash.

In the federal court system, the fates of the two young soldiers diverged.

Prior to sentencing, Brownfield's attorney asked Senior U.S. District Judge John L. Kane to take into account his client's military service and his PTSD-like symptoms. The federal prosecutor handling the case sought a prison term of one year and one day. Kane ignored the sentencing guidelines and sentenced Brownfield to five years' probation.

"Figuratively speaking, Brownfield returned from the war but never really came home," Kane wrote in a detailed 30-page sentencing memorandum, adding: "We are now, in a manner of speaking, charting unknown waters."

Perkins' lawyer also asked for leniency, citing his client's PTSD, pathological gambling addiction and a letter from his psychologist recommending treatment in a VA-operated residential program.

U.S. District Judge Michael J. Reagan sentenced Perkins to two and a half years in federal prison.

While officials in federal courts have in recent years gained an increased understanding of combat-related PTSD, a seemingly related mental illness — pathological gambling — remains largely overlooked, despite a growing body of scientific research suggesting that gambling addictions are alarmingly common among servicemen returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. For afflicted servicemen who commit crimes post-deployment, the prospect of being paired with a sympathetic judge amounts to a roll of the dice.

"Gambling, just like drugs, allows you to keep distress, depression and anxiety at bay and remain in control of your own mind," says Minneapolis VA Health Care System staff psychiatrist Dr. Joseph J. Westermeyer, a professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School. "So for veterans who are distraught — maybe thinking they're a coward because they lived and their comrades died — they sometimes think gambling can save them."

In 2011 Westermeyer, who has studied addiction for 40 years and served for a time as the Minneapolis VA's director of mental-health services, completed a VA-funded study that delivered a jolt to his profession. He looked at the gambling behaviors of 2,185 vets who had sought treatment at least once in the prior two years, either at the Minneapolis VA or at the New Mexico VA Health Care System. He found that 2 percent had a pathological gambling addiction and another 8 percent had a gambling problem — double the rates commonly found in surveys of civilian populations.

The data portend a greater problem in the future, judging by the shockingly high number of younger veterans who exhibited so-called problem gambling — often a precursor to (and thus a major predictor of) pathological gambling.

On Feb. 8, with a week of freedom between him and the scheduled onset of his prison term, Perkins nurses a Bud Light at a sparsely populated sports-themed restaurant just off I-70 in Troy, Ill. At 26 he has the look of a broken man. His voice is soft and gravelly, his gaze distant. He's wearing a fishing-shop T-shirt that smells like the cigarette he just caught outside. The 180-pound soldier who manned an armored personnel vehicle in Iraq is now a saggy-gutted convict-to-be, having packed on 45 new ones.

Related Content

Now Trending

  • L.A. Porn Production Shuts Down Over HIV Report

    The adult video industry's trade group today called for a moratorium on production after a performer might have tested positive for HIV. The Los Angeles-based Free Speech Coalition said in a statement that one of the facilities used by porn stars under the industry's voluntary, twice-a-month STD testing protocol "reported...
  • Woman Fatally Struck by Vehicle at Burning Man

    A woman was fatally struck by a vehicle at Burning Man today, organizers said. The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office in Nevada identified the deceased as 29-year-old Alicia Louise Cipicchio of Jackson, Wyoming. Burning Man spokesman Jim Graham said she fell under a bus or "large vehicle" that was carrying participants early today. See...
  • Venice Boardwalk Beat-Down Caught on Video

    A brutal beating next to the Venice boardwalk this week was captured on video (on the next page). Los Angeles Police Department detectives are asking for your help in tracking down not only the suspect, but the victim, who "we haven't been able to locate," Officer Nuria Venegas told us...
Los Angeles Concert Tickets