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The government was supposed to take care of mentally disabled Marine combat veteran Brian Callan. It didn't.

But during one exchange of gunfire, Callan later told his superiors, he'd hurt his neck while taking cover in a makeshift foxhole. He later said he hadn't known for several days how badly he'd hurt himself. But the damage to Callan's neck and upper spinal cord was so severe that he later had to undergo two major surgeries to repair it.

Seventy-three hours after coming ashore, the last Marines left Somalia.

In August 1995, the Marines promoted Callan to the rank of chief warrant officer. His joy was short-lived, however; the Marines soon decided to eliminate all warrant officers from the intelligence field. Callan didn't know what and where his next job would be, and expressed great concern in several letters to his loved ones.

Brian Callan during Desert Storm, 1991: "The more we can kill now, the less they will have to kill us."
Brian Callan during Desert Storm, 1991: "The more we can kill now, the less they will have to kill us."

Then Callan learned while stationed in Okinawa that his daughter, 15-year-old Cheryl, had given birth on September 22, 1995, to a baby girl, Seandeen. His mother says he hadn't even known she was pregnant.

"Another crushing blow to my hopes and dreams," he wrote a year or so later. "Now, I don't give a shit. Praying has helped, but not always. I am desperate."

On October 20, 1995, the Marines evacuated Brian Callan to San Diego after he requested hospitalization for his depression and suicidal thoughts. He stayed in a psychiatric ward there for 10 days, then was released with orders to take his prescription antidepressant drugs and to participate in group counseling.

The Marines placed Callan on a limited-duty roster for one year because of his mental problems.

By this time, doctors also had decided they needed to surgically repair Callan's neck, the injury he said he'd suffered in Somalia months earlier. He underwent the operation in December 1995, and began his rehabilitation at the San Diego home of his father, who was living there after retiring from the public health field.

"Brian talked a lot about his PTSD in those days, though they hadn't officially diagnosed it yet," recalls Larry Callan, a former Marine himself. "He told me he had run through a field of bodies, and had to do a shoulder roll into the dirt to avoid getting hit, and ended up with a hurt neck. I also know he was crushed when the Marines canceled his [job] after promoting him, which proves the overall stupidity of the military to take him out of intelligence, even after the broad range of his combat experience."

Though Brian Callan's military career was on hold, he tried to move his life forward. In 1996, he earned his master's degree in management from National University in La Jolla.

Despite his disappointment over his daughter's out-of-wedlock pregnancy, he bonded instantly with his new granddaughter (and later, with her little sister, Bohazhonii). VA records from that time show he said he was taking his antidepressant drugs and, for a while, participated in group sessions on anger management and other mental health issues.

But in the spring of 1996, Callan's commanders gave him negative ratings because he had gained so much weight since arriving in San Diego. He also received low marks for his productivity in his light-duty assignment.

Callan responded that the poor ratings were unjustified: "I am stressed-out, burnt-out, pissed-off, fed-up, and tired. I have sacrificed every thing I have for the Marine Corps and have gotten nothing in return. At this point, there is nothing left to give -- the well is dry. I feel self-destructive, not so much physically, but certainly professionally/career wise. The thought of suicide has crossed my mind -- why go on, what is it all for? -- but not actually visualizing it. I need help."

On January 7, 1997, a Marine psychiatrist wrote of his session with Callan, "The patient reported that while in Somalia he saw numerous people killed and raped, and felt extremely helpless because he and other military personnel were not permitted to assist these civilians in distress. He felt horror at the experience as well. The patient appears to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic."

In July 1997, the Marines issued chief warrant officer Brian Callan an honorable discharge for depression.

Callan returned to Arizona after his discharge, and found work for about a year as a manager for a Scottsdale construction firm. But he had ongoing problems with his co-workers because of his acute mood swings, and lost his job in October 1998.

Callan then followed another management job to Richland, Washington, where he sought help for his continuing mental problems from a local VA clinic.

But that job also didn't work out, and Callan returned to Tempe in late 1999, defeated and depressed.

He'd become a permanently disabled vet during a sea change inside the VA, a colossal maze of programs and services that is drowning in federal tax dollars despite recent budget cuts.

In recommending sweeping changes at the VA in the mid-1990s, the U.S. General Accounting Office concluded that the agency had been providing "uneven and uncertain access to care."

Some of those changes were implemented in 1996, when the VA split into 21 autonomous "little VAs," called Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISNs). Arizona, New Mexico and west Texas are covered by VISN 18, known locally as the Southwest Health Care Network. The agency serves more than 155,000 vets a year, with an annual budget of almost $750 million.

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