I'm not sure if I ever shared this, I probably have, but, regardless, I'm going to type it all out.
Seeing as it's lengthy, I'll place it behind a cut.
When I first started seeing a psychiatrist back in 2001, he asked me if I could identify one particular moment in time where I felt everything went horribly awry. It didn't take long for me to answer yes and provide all the details, the details I now share with you.
In mid-1996, I had a severe moment of clarity. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I wanted to serve in the United States Air Force.
My grandfather had served in the Navy during WW2, my father had served in the Navy during Korea and then moved to the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve when they offered rank and pay incentives stateside during Vietnam. I grew up in southeastern Virginia where all of the industry exists to serve the military. To this day, all but one of the area's largest employers exists solely to support the military. I grew up around the military and it finally clicked that I wanted to be a career serviceman.
So, in June of 1996, after two months of talking with recruiters, I headed to the Richmond Federal Building - home of MEPS (the Military Enlistment Processing Station). Since I had never taken the ASVAB tests, I would have to make two separate trips to MEPS - one for the ASVABs, another for the physical and swearing in. No problem. My first trip was uneventful. I went up there, stayed one night on the Government's dime, took the ASVABs and came home. I had to wait two weeks for the results to come back before they could/would sign off on my second, and supposedly final, trip to MEPS.
Two weeks later and the recruiter calls me in. When I get there, not only is the local recruiter there, but the regional recruiter is there as well. I had scored a 98th percentile on the ASVABs. That meant that out of everyone, only 2% of applicants who take the ASVABs did better than I did. They were both flabbergasted and ecstatic. Here was this highly intelligent, physically fit young man who wanted to be a career soldier. By the time I had left that meeting, I had two letters, signed by the local and regional recruiters, guaranteeing me a position as a network computer communications specialist. Anyone who has ever gone through the enlistment process knows how rare it is to get anything signed in writing by any recruiter, let alone one who is responsible for an entire region.
Before I continue, I'd like to add another tidbit of information. It was during this time that the US Armed Forces had started a program with the Boy Scouts of America. Any enlistee who had obtained the Eagle Scout rank in the Boy Scouts of America were guaranteed one rank higher than what they left Basic Training with. In short, had I finished Basic Training as an E-1, my Eagle Scout status would have granted me an instant promotion to E-2. Had I finished Basic at E-2, I would have gone immediately to E-3. I hadn't known this when I went in to enlist, but it became a very powerful motivator after I had learned about it.
The following weekend, I was shipped to MEPS for the physical, paperwork and swearing in. This is the MEPS most people are aware of. It's the typical "asshole to appetite" testing. It starts Saturday morning and does not conclude until Sunday afternoon. If you pass everything, you take your swearing in ceremony on the spot and then go home and await a notice of when you're going to be picked up and flown, in my case, to Lackland Air Force Base.
I was quite nervous during this part but halfway through Saturday my nerves began to ease off. I had gone through the most strenuous tests without problem, including the confined area/hearing test that freaked out quite a few people (it was a hearing test in a very small, air tight, sealed room). Late Saturday, however, the last batch of us, as determined by alphabetical last name, had to be transported to a local civilian hospital for our psychiatric exam. We were bused up at 4pm and got to the hospital at 4:30. There were 30 of us who had to see the psychiatrist for a quick exam and then we'd be back on our way. Among us there was a guy my age who's entire family served career in the Navy. While waiting we got to discussing the psychiatry part of the exam and he confessed he was a bit concerned because his parents had divorced when he was 6 years old and he had a year of child therapy to help deal with the stress as a kid.
I went in before him. The psychiatrist barraged me with questions as fast as humanly possible. It was your typical "have you ever done drugs?"; "have you ever tried to commit suicide?" battery of questions. However, there was one question on which I stumbled: "Has anyone in your extended family tried to commit suicide?" On the spot and just wanting to be done, I answered to the best of my knowledge: "Yes." My cousins had a troubled past and all three of them tried to kill themselves at one time or the other. However, what I failed to mention, and should have in retrospect, is that they are not blood relatives - they are my cousins through adoption. By now, it was too late. I was ushered back to the waiting room when the doctor came out complaining he still had a dozen more interviewees and a golf tee time in 15 minutes.
He tore through the rest of the applicants, including the guy I had been speaking to and we were all rushed back to the bus. As we were waiting to leave we saw the doctor run out, golf clubs in hand, and haul ass to his car in the parking lot. We finally managed to get back to the Richmond Federal Building and turned in our folders. One by one, we were called in to see the head MEPS doctor. When he called me in, he said, "I have looked at your file and it is not very good. The psychiatrist has noted that you are bipolar and a severe suicide risk. You are permanantly disqualifed from ever serving in the US Armed Forces." Funny how he could diagnose all that in a 5 minute interview.
And with that, he ushered me out. I went and told the regional recuriter and, to my complete amazement, he merely shrugged me off. Instead of giving any advice on how to fight the ruling, he had me escorted to the bus station where all the "PDQs" now were. Come to find out, of the 30 people who went to see the psychiatrist, 27 of us were classified as "PDQ", including the guy who had to see a child therapist when he was 6 years old. So here we were at the bus station, many of our hopes defeated, when I realized the last bus heading back to Newport News had left over an hour ago. I had no way to contact the MEPS station, so I could only call my parents. I told them what had happened. Fuming at the situation, my dad came to pick me up.
For a couple months thereafter my dad, my mom, my general practitioner and a psychiatrist I had seen when I was in high school tried fighting the MEPS ruling, all to no avail. Even the local recruiter tried to get the situation fixed. My file was then sealed and I was formally classified "PDQ", and even had PDQ stamped on my Selective Service card.
My life has been a downward spiral ever since. Granted, it hasn't been all bad. I met Wendy and made several new good friends that I wouldn't have made had I gotten into the Air Force. However, I can't help but feel I had my entire purpose in life ripped out from under me because of a psychiatrist who didn't want to miss his precious tee time. All I know is that I wanted to spend 30 years in the military and would have gladly done so. To this day I'd still like to serve. But now it's far too late. I'm too old and now I suffer from legitimate psychological problems - namely Anxiety Disorder and Panic Attacks - and part of me wonders if any of that would have transpired if I had gotten to see the psychiatrist earlier in the day.
And part of me wonders how the Navy guy who also got PDQ'd is coping these days.