Iraq Veteran Suffering From PTSD Charged With Attempted Murder

Abstracted from story by Jim Spellman and Wayne Drash, CNN.com/crime, and supplemented with court records


 

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Originally published August 6, 2009, updated September 6, 2010 —Army Spc. Thomas Delgado saved lives as a combat medic on the front lines in Iraq, earning a Purple Heart when a bomb rocked his vehicle during his nearly yearlong tour. After returning to Fort Irwin in California in December 2005 he was sometimes assigned the role of insurgent during combat training at a mock Iraqi village in California.

After developing medical problems he was transferred to Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

"He told me he felt like he never left" Iraq, said his wife, Shayla.

Soon after his return Delgado realized something many war veterans fail to recognize. He was suffering from post-traumatic stress and needed help. He complained of "fear of losing self control," "feelings of hopelessness" and "paranoia," medical records show.

As noted in Table 7 a personal injury lawsuit was reinstated against Delgado in November 2006 after his return from combat. Apparently as his conditions continued to worsen he was charged with speeding in Summit County in June 2007 and received a DUI/DWAI conviction in Littleton municipal court in October 2007 (Table 7).

All available data suggest that if treatment for PTSD is to be successful it must be started as early as possible after the trauma. Drinking, erratic driving, and speeding are certainly manifestations of PTSD and if veteran courts are to be successful they must order treatment when such arrests for minor violations first occur. There is clear evidence that if left untreated veterans with PTSD will reoffend and likely become more violent. It was for the purpose of avoiding that outcome that Judge Robert Russell evolved the first veteran court in Buffalo, New York. Unfortunately, treatment for Thomas Delgado effective treatment was not begun when his symptoms were first recognized.

In September 2008 then 25-year-old Thomas Delgado became the center of a controversial attempted murder case and was charged with trying to kill his wife. She says prosecutors have it all wrong. Her husband of five years needs medical help, not prison. And, she says, he never tried to kill her. A CNN video reviewing the Delgado case can be seen here.

Delgado medically retired from the Army on August 5, 2009. He appeared at a hearing the next day before Fourth Judicial District Judge David Miller, where he was released into the care of his father and monitored by an ankle bracelet while awaiting his November trial. Prosecutors refused the family's request to move the case to the new veterans' court. Prior to trial he pled guilty to felony menacing and third-degree assault involving domestic violence. He was given a deferred sentence of four years, placed on four years probation, fined $2,400, and ordered to pay restitution of $3,217 (Table 7).

"I feel like it was 100 percent preventable," Shayla Delgado told CNN. "All we've really wanted this whole time was someone to help us, someone to give him treatment."

Delgado praised his wife for standing by his side. "I would definitely be another one of the lost causes if I didn't have her backing me up in my corner. She's just been amazing, doing amazing things on my behalf," he told CNN by phone. "It's unfortunate that it took an incident like this to get proper treatment."


 

What really happened?

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For the Delgados, the evening of September 24, 2008, just days after their fifth wedding anniversary, began with drinks and an argument. Then everything escalated with whirlwind speed.

Shayla Delgado says her husband grabbed a gun and rattled off suicidal thoughts. "I've been thinking about how I'm going to do it," she recalled him saying. "I just can't live like this any more. I can't do it, I can't do it."

"He was telling me, 'Take our son and leave because you don't want to be here for this,'" she said, breaking down in tears. "I was really, really scared."

She says she pleaded, begged him, to get on the phone with his father. The two spoke. The soldier kept telling his dad how much he loved him, she says. She rushed to the bedroom, cradling their sleeping year-old son, and sprinted out of the apartment.

She dropped the infant off at a neighbor's and returned home, heading straight to the bathroom where her husband was holed up. She kicked in the door. "I see him with the gun in his mouth and I just ripped the gun from his arms and I ran."

It was during that scuffle to wrestle the gun away, prosecutors say, that the soldier tried to kill his wife, breaking her nose and attempting to choke her. Prosecutors have charged Thomas Delgado with one count of first-degree attempted murder and an array of other charges. They have offered a plea bargain of 5 to 15 years in prison — a deal Delgado wisely rejected.

Note how a wife trying to save her husband's life has now become a felony crime.

A police report on the incident says Shayla Delgado was treated for a broken nose at a hospital, but she had no "visible marks on her neck at that time." The police affidavit says she told authorities her husband wrapped his arm around her neck in the fight for the gun. "Mrs. Delgado stated that she was in fear that he was going to kill her or hurt her very badly," the affidavit says.

She then got away and he pursued her, according to the affidavit. "He followed her into the bedroom and again attempted to choke her once more," it says. "Mrs. Delgado stated she stopped fighting in belief that he would let her go and after a few moments he did."

Shayla Delgado told CNN her nose was broken as a result of the struggle for the gun — not from a malicious, intentional blow from her husband. Her husband was in crisis, she says, and she saved him from suicide in a violent scuffle.

Delgado's medical records, reviewed by CNN, indicate he remembers few details from that night. Delgado, who was taking the anti-anxiety drug Ativan (lorazepam), "believes that he got suicidal while intoxicated, got a weapon to kill himself, his wife wrestled with him through this, called the police, and with her visible injuries, he was taken into custody for assault and attempted murder," the medical records say.

"He has limited recall of these events," the records say. "He feels if his mother had not died 'that day' would not have happened." His mother had died three months earlier, in June 2008, after battling breast cancer.


 

Trauma court for veterans

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The veterans' courts in Colorado Springs and elsewhere are being set up in response to an alarming trend: A growing number of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are returning home and committing crimes — from offenses like theft and forgery to more serious charges like domestic violence and murder. However, the court will not deal with homicide cases or other serious crimes of violence. And the Colorado Springs court is one of the few that will even consider violent crimes.

Fort Carson is at the epicenter of the problem, with 14 homicides and attempted homicides there since 2005. Numerous soldiers have been charged with an array of other offenses.

"If you catch this early, you stop a cycle of people who are self-medicating or acting out in a violent way," says Ron Crowder, a district court judge in Colorado's Fourth Judicial District, and a retired major general from the National Guard who served in Vietnam.

Crowder volunteered to preside over the new court, which will model itself after a handful of others already established in the United States. In the pilot program underway carefully-selected veterans and active-duty soldiers accused of felonies will be offered plea bargains in exchange for mental health treatment that will be rigorously monitored. The district attorney's office has the final say in deciding which cases get sent to the veterans court.

Note that help is offered under the current drug-court model only after the veteran has pled guilty, often a fatal mistake for the rest of their lives. Also, only felony cases are considered when it is clear that intervention and treatment are essential at the lowest possible level. In Thomas Delgado's case a veteran court should have intervened when he first got a speeding ticket in June 2007 (Table 7) after returning from Iraq in December 2005. The DUI in October 2007 was a sure sign his PTSD was getting worse and he was self medicating. Crowder says the goal of the court is "to get these people the help they may have not gotten heretofore."

According to a recent U.S. Army study, only 65 percent of authorized positions at the behavioral health department at Fort Carson were filled in 2008, forcing Army doctors to send half of all cases to civilian doctors off base.

Fort Carson, home to about 25,000 soldiers, has seen the number of soldiers seeking help skyrocket to 2,400 walk-in cases a month — or nearly 1 in every 10 soldiers.

"I'm trying to track my population and identify people who are symptomatic," said Col. George Brandt, the senior behavioral health officer at the base hospital. Brandt came on board in 2008 with a mission to improve mental health care for troubled soldiers. He has brought staffing levels up to 74 percent, with a total of 14 psychiatrists, 14 psychologists and 29 social workers. "I always want more staff and resources," Brandt said. "We're trying to build the system right, get the care near where the soldiers are, increase access."

The facility does not have any in-patient care on the base. Even with staffing shortcomings, Brandt said, "I'm never going to let a soldier go without care who asks for it," although reports from troopers say they don't always get the care they need. As of September 2010 many vacancies remain but the base has embarked on a massive expansion of medical facilities and the Warrior in Transition Unit (WTU) for wounded and disabled soldiers has now expanded to a battalion (WTB).

One nearby facility utilized by Fort Carson, he said, has a staff consisting of two-thirds former military members who are specially trained in PTSD. "If I can't provide it, I'm going to get a civilian colleague to help me with that," Brandt said, and the Army is clearly trying. The problem is with civilian courts.

Maj. Gen. David Perkins, the current commander of Fort Carson, told CNN the base has spent a lot of time assessing problems with PTSD and trying to develop solutions. One of the biggest concerns, he said, is overcoming the stigma of seeking help.

"This is the key point that we're focusing on across the Army," he said. "You have seen, from four-star generals on down, personally come out and talk about their issues with post traumatic stress disorder. And this alone has created a large momentum to taking the stigma away."


 

A soldier's journey

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Delgado was deployed to Iraq as a combat medic in January 2005, stationed about 20 miles south of Baghdad. His war at home began around Christmas of that year.

His medical records show that he "treated more Iraqi casualties than Americans," but he twice lost comrades — one from war wounds in the field and another to infection. "States he saw it all," the records say. "He takes great pride in being a competent combat medic. He notes he has had great emotional distance, feeling numb and disconnect since his tour."

Delgado's first job back in the States, at Fort Irwin in California, was to train combat soldiers in a mock Iraqi village. Sometimes, he dressed in Army fatigues and battled would-be bad guys; other times, he suited up as an Iraqi villain, according to his wife.

Delgado first began getting treatment for his PTSD at Fort Irwin, according to his family. At that time, his mother was dealing with terminal breast cancer back in the couple's home state of Colorado. In March 2008, as his mother's condition worsened, the Army compassionately relocated Delgado to be near his mother's side. The couple, now with a young son, moved to Fort Carson.

He worked at the emergency room of Evans Army Community Hospital on base, and spent his time off with his ailing mother. She died in June 2008, and according to his wife, that's when he began to unravel. Three months later, he was arrested.

How did it come to this — a decorated war veteran who sought help now charged with trying to kill his wife?

Delgado's medical records reveal that in the nearly three months between his mother's death and the incident in September, the soldier sought help four times at the behavioral health unit at the base hospital.

Each time, he was referred to a civilian doctor. He saw the off-base doctor twice, and was prescribed anti-depressants, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety drugs.

"It scared me, because I didn't know what was really happening," his wife said of his troubled state. "I didn't know what was going on."

Shayla Delgado believes the treatment her husband received was inadequate. Unfortunately, she says, it took his arrest to get him the care he needed: in-patient treatment at civilian facilities specializing in PTSD.

While her husband tries to heal from his invisible war wounds, she's trying to clear his name.

"It's just so sad because, you know, my husband's a really good person," she said, weeping. "He deserves to be treated better."

However it is clear from subsequent arrests in March 2009, February 2010, April 2010, and May 2010 (Table 7) for a variety of traffic offenses, including another DUI, that Thomas Delgado has a long way to go to reintegrate into society.
With a felony conviction reintegration may well prove impossible and the prognosis for he and his family is, sadly, not favorable.

 
    Table 7: Civil and criminal background of Thomas Salvador Delgado DOB 8/26/1983 according to COcourts.com as of September 5, 2010

Case Number

Judicial District/County

Judge(s)

Date Arrested

Filed

Closed

Charged With

Level

Disposition

Sentence

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2001T4162

First

Jefferson

Fisch

Archuleta

4/18/2001

4/25/2001

9/4/2001

Careless driving-causing death/injury

Speeding-too fast for conditions

T1

 

T1A

Dismissed

 

Pled guilty

 

 

Fine

2001R4298

First

Jefferson

Vance

11/16/2001

11/30/2001

1/8/2002

Following too closely

T1A

Pled guilty

Fine

2002M20

First

Jefferson

Burback

Olsen

12/29/2001

1/3/2002

1/18/2002

Alcohol-underage possession/consumption

Unk.

Dismissed by court

 

2002C3451

First

Jefferson

Moore

Olson

Civil

3/4/2002

4/25/2002

Restraining order

Delgado sought RO against Reine L. Martinez

N/A

TRO granted

3/4/2002

TRO vacated 3/25/2002

2002T6179

First

Jefferson

Moore

Olson

6/1/2002

6/5/2002

7/16/2002

Fail to yield right of way/left turn

Driving under restraint

T1A

M0

Dismissed

Pled guilty

 

Fine

2002CV3165

First

Jefferson

Tidball

Civil

11/25/2002

4/1/2003

Money

State Farm vs. Delgado

N/A

Default judgement

State Farm Insurance granted their claims against Thomas Delgado

Married Shayla in September 2003

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2004CV9377

Second

Denver

Whitney

Lemon

Civil

11/15/2004

11/8/2006

Personal injury-Motor vehicle

Robert Morgan vs Delgado

N/A

Change of venue motion granted

 

Deployed to Iraq in January 2005. Returned in December 2005

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2006CV4600

First

Jefferson

Jackson

Civil

11/22/2006

1/4/2008

Personal injury-Motor vehicle

Robert Morgan vs Delgado

N/A

Dismissed with prejudice after jury trial

 

2007R886

Fifth

Summit

Casias

6/17/2007

8/7/2007

8/29/2007

Speeding 10-19 over limit

Speeding 20-24 over limit

T1A

T1A

Pled guilty to lesser charge

Fine

2007T1057

Eighteenth

Arapahoe

(Littleton)

Tobias

10/6/2007

10/26/2007

12/28/2007

Driving while ability impaired

Driving under the influence

DUI per se

Turning without signaling

Lane usage violation

M0

M0

M0

T1A

T1A

Pled guilty

Dismissed

Dismissed

Dismissed

Dismissed

Fine

2008CR3998

Fourth

El Paso

Samelson

Miller

Acker

Crowder

Walker

9/25/2008

9/29/2008

3/31/2010

Murder 1 after deliberation

Murder 2

Violent crime-used weapon

Violent crime-death/injury

Criminal mischief <$500

Felony menacing

Second-deg. assault/DV

Third-deg. assault/DV

F2

F3

F4

SE

M2

F5

F4

M1

Not charged

Dismissed

Dismissed

Dismissed

Dismissed

Pled guilty

Dismissed

Pled guilty

 

 

 

 

 

Deferred sentence-4 years

 

4 years probation, $2,400 fine

Mandatory restraining order

Restitution $3,217.32

2009R1982

Eighteenth

Douglas

Clerk of Court

3/29/2009

4/2/2009

4/13/2009

Speeding 10-19 over limit

T1A

Pled guilty

Fine

Thomas Delgado was medically discharged from the Army first week of August 2009

Top

2010T943

Eighteenth

Douglas

Bowling

2/22/2010

2/26/2010

6/7/2010

Driving w/o license

Driving under restraint

Speeding 10-19 over limit

T2

M0

T1A

Pled guilty

Unknown

Dismissed

Fine

2010C45491

First

Jefferson

Curtis

Civil

3/22/2010

Money

Account Brokers vs Delgado

N/A

Default judgement

Claim is unsatisfied by Delgado as of 3/30/2010.

2010R3299

First

Jefferson

Curtis

4/29/2010

6/1/2010

7/6/2010

Speeding 5-9 over limit

T1A

Failed to appear

Guilty by default

Summons issued 6/1/2010.

2010T4370

First

Jefferson

Hoppin

5/8/2010

5/10/2010

Open

Driving under the influence

Driving under restraint

Careless driving-death/injury

Leaving scene of accident

M0

M0

M0

T2

 

 

Top


 

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| Chapter 3 — The Impact Of Domestic Violence Laws On Veterans And National Security |

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| Back — The War Against Veterans: Why A Special Court Is Needed by Charles E. Corry, Ph.D. |


 

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Added September 6, 2010

Last modified 5/18/15