"People don't understand," Jermon says. "We went through hell together."

Nick decided he'd had enough after just three months. That's when he took his 30 days of R&R, even though it meant he'd have to serve a year straight when he returned to Iraq. "I don't think he expected it to be that shocking," Todd Cutter says of his son. Nick spent the month with his mother in Florida, where he slept a lot and spoke little about what he had seen.

The horrors resumed as soon as he touched down again in Samarra. One day, Nick was guarding a convoy while other soldiers searched for IEDs. A gray sedan appeared in the distance. When it disobeyed signals to stop, the soldiers fired a warning flare. The car kept coming. Nick fired in front of the vehicle, but it only ­accelerated. He buried a bullet in the engine block. Nothing. Finally, when the car was only 40 yards away, Nick unleashed a barrage of .50-cals into the driver. The car swerved and crashed. Inside, soldiers found the man's head split in half and his brain on the passenger-side floorboard. Plastic explosives were strapped to his chest, stashed under the seats, and packed into the trunk.

Nick playing with a childhood friend in Illinois.
Photo courtesy of Rainy Hopper
Nick playing with a childhood friend in Illinois.
Nick playing with a childhood friend in Illinois.
Photo courtesy of Rainy Hopper
Nick playing with a childhood friend in Illinois.

"He would have killed everybody in the convoy if Nick hadn't hit him," Jermon says.

By military standards, Nick was an excellent soldier, but his mind began to slip. His calls home became less cordial and more cynical. "There are a lot of people over here who are on the base and never leave," he complained to his father. "They never go outside the wire. They never have to do the dirty work. They might get shelled every once in a while, but we're out there risking our lives every day.

"Sometimes I wonder what we're even doing over here," he said, his voice somehow sounding even farther away than the 7,000 miles between Samarra and Greenwood, Missouri. "It's obvious that the minute we leave, they are going to go back to the same thing they have always done. What's the point?"

The next time Nick called home, he was distraught. His platoon had been searching a house for weapons, he said, when a girl began shouting and reached under her abaya. Nick thought she was about to detonate a suicide vest, and in an instant he put a burst of M16 bullets into her. When the soldiers searched underneath the abaya, however, all they found was a dress dyed scarlet with blood.

"Dad, it was like having to shoot my sister," Nick sobbed. "I can't believe what I've done."

His father and fellow soldiers tried to console him. After all, some Iraqi schoolgirls were used as suicide bombers. She didn't follow instructions. He was just doing his job.

Nick nodded but didn't seem to listen. He stopped eating but kept working out in the base's sweltering gym, as if every lost pound was a punishment he deserved. He became lean, then ripped, then gaunt. The 22-year-old who earlier in the war had moonwalked to Michael Jackson's "Beat It" on top of a tank, had giddily posed for photos with Saddam's gold-plated AK-47s, and had rapped over the radio to keep his comrades awake was now withdrawn.

Less than a month before the end of his tour, Nick's platoon returned from patrol to find the base on lockdown. The commanding officer had ordered a communications blackout, which meant only one thing: another casualty. That night Nick learned it had been a close friend of his who had been promoted and transferred to another platoon. They had just made plans to meet up back in the States. Then his friend's Humvee had hit an IED.

A few weeks later, Mary saw her son step off an airplane and onto another, more domestic battlefield. He looked thin and tired, his fatigues hanging off his now-slender frame. Mary and Rainy held up a homemade sign that said "WELCOME HOME NICK!" in red, white, and blue glitter.

Nick walked over slowly. But just before he reached them, a stranger intervened. She was short and blond — and angry. She screamed something at him about war crimes, her face so close to his that spittle flecked his face and uniform.

Rainy watched the big brother who had once broken a boy's nose for her now wipe his face and keep walking.

That's not like him, Rainy thought. Something is wrong.

But she had no idea how badly broken her brother was. No idea of the nightmares and the drugs and the death wishes to come. And no idea Nick could survive insurgents set on killing him but not the doctors paid to save him.

Nick had become like the bomb-strewn streets of Samarra: Beneath a seemingly ordinary surface lay terrible violence. With enough time and pressure, he would explode.

To be continued in next week's issue.

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frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

..................... the existence of an industrial military complex is to enlarge the DADDY WARBUCKs scheme whereas a very few get wealthy and many get killed or wounded


CHENEY was given a $100,ooo,ooo bonus from HALIBURTON 


CHENEY was given seven deferments from the draft


CHENEY was given the best immediate medical attention on ALL of his heart conditions



for CHENEY it certainly was "mission accomplished"

Gina Rose
Gina Rose

This is a powerful story about how this VA crisis impacts us in south florida! I was on Capitol Hill last week asking our senators and congressmen in FL to call the VA and demand professional counselors be hired immediately. As a profession we have been kept out of the va yet academically we are just as prepared as the other mental health professions, and are the only ones who are specially trained in substance abuse also. Although it's too late to help here we can not allow this to continue! Call your legislative representatives, share your story, and demand changes be made!

tlaurent123
tlaurent123

be dammed nice if our politicians would protect our vets wether there in our service our out of service instead of useing them as a political  prop fund the VA instead of makeing excuses   you hear me republicons!!!!!!!  yes this means you,,,,,,,

smeeveo
smeeveo

Part 1 is very nicely written. I look forward to the next episode. BUT . . . there's more going on than the unfortunate death of one veteran at one VA hospital.  The VA is broken, but while the problem manifests at the street level, the cause and the fault is at the highest level,  particularly a Congress that underfunds, micromanages  programs over which it has insufficient information, and most especially  gets our young men and women into harm's way on false premises.  


Before Iraq the American public had no particular knowledge or interest in PTSD.  Only after abolishing the draft and creating a "professional" military has that syndrome come to everyone's attention.  We throw a lot of money, therapy and way too much drugs at the problem.


Consider how we handled WWI, WWII, Korea etc.  A drafted military stayed in uniform, in theatre, as long as it took to win the war.  My parents and especially my father-in-law served in WWII. My in-law was in Africa, Italy and elsewhere in Europe for 5+ years.  He experienced as much or more horror than the young man in this story.  He survived,  but never spoke of his in-combat experience.


My point is NOT to downgrade any current vet's experiences.  It is to bring a bit more perspective to what is going on now.  If  you really care about veterans,  you will elect a Congress that truly cares about our military personnel,  not making war contractors rich or cheap-siding the VA budget for caregivers of our broken soldiers.

Kantzler
Kantzler

The tragic story of Nick Cutter and other vets who have suffered neglect and loss on the VA front is not representative of the vast majority who benefit from the VA care they receive.  The reporting of uncovered incidents within the VA has gone too far in causing a negative reflection upon the total service the VA provides to tens of thousands of vets.  While incidents like Nick's and recent events concerning the scheduling manipulations by administrative personnel at some facilities point to problems that affect some aspects of managing the administration of care, the medical side of the coin is not the major factor in these incidents.

I am one among many, many vets who are thankful for the dedicated care that has been our experience at VA facilities, which comprise one of the largest medical-services networks in the world, one which, for the most part, has been effectively managed by the government.

I have received care at Miami's VA facility and at Cincinnati's VA Medical Center, where the combined efforts of the doctors, nurses and technicians have saved my life, examining, diagnosing, and successfully treating malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, fatal more than 60 percent of the time.  And I, as well as all other vets, continue to receive excellent and punctual follow-up treatment for this cancer.

It is a mistake to believe that any system as large and widely distributed as the VA health-care system will be free of errors or even abuses in some aspects of its operations, especially under circumstances where the consequences of wars were not a factor in the poor decisions of the Bush administration to engage in Iraq and focus there instead upon ending the defensive response in Afghanistan as quickly as possible, heaping upon the VA health system a responsibility, grown over ten long years, which they were not prepared to accept, but for which they have since largely risen to face.

But make no mistake, even in VA facilities where administrative abuses have been uncovered, there are hundreds of dedicated healthcare professionals, thousands system-wide, whose priority is to provide the best possible care to the veterans they serve, and there are many vets who, like myself, are thankful for the work they have done and will continue to do for us.

Luiz Felix
Luiz Felix

War is something to make a few richer than they are. Fcuk the one s fighting them.

Dereal Nostasio
Dereal Nostasio

The greed and the envy shows in their eyes long after the war was over. Now its time for us Americans to distance or selves from the ignorance of our own people with our heads held high and our souls full of true pride, but never the less humbled by what we have witnessed and thank God every day that we still have breath to share our stories with our children.

Susan Werb
Susan Werb

absolute proof war is a racket for private interests using nationalist propaganda to recruit idealistic, ignorant, desperate, aimless, lost, unquestioning or low-educated recruits with more machismo than enough intelligence to think for themselves

 
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