Kansas Army National Guard Veteran Zachary Schaffer Found Unresponsive in Kansas City Home; Death Ruled Fatal Drug Overdose (January 23, 2019)

Zachary Schaffer

Spc. Zachary Schaffer, Kansas Army National Guard

Kansas Army National Guard veteran Zachary Schaffer, 21, was found unresponsive in his Kansas City, Kansas home on January 23, 2019. According to the Dodge City Daily Globe, Zachary fatally overdosed only a few days after he was punished and discharged from the Kansas Army National Guard. According to his mother, Wendy Mottas, Zachary, or Zach, as he was known to most, was accused of failing to show up for multiple weekend drills and discharged with an “other than honorable.” In the midst of losing his military career and eventually his security clearance, Zach was flagged by his command for the prescribed use of Adderall to treat ADHD, even after he was reassured it was okay for him to take the prescription. Wendy doesn’t know if her son’s death was intentional, but stated Zach began suffering with depression and substance abuse during his time in service with the Kansas Army National Guard. Zach went from being a stellar soldier at the age of 19 to being hired as a full time military technician to losing that same position less than one year later for reasons undisclosed. Six months after being fired by the Kansas Army National Guard, he was also passed over for deployment to Afghanistan, having been told he was ‘red flagged’ for the use of Adderall. Six months later, Zach would also experience sadness and grief after losing his friend, 24 year-old Kansas Army National Guardsman Khamis Naser, who died by suicide on July 31, 2018.

Zach grew up in the Hutchinson, Kansas area and joined the Kansas Army National Guard in May 2014. Zach’s mother, also an Army veteran, said he was born in Germany when she was in the military. Zach came from a military family and it was a natural fit for him too. Wendy shared Zach was always intelligent and she knew he would be successful because he was very skilled in anything related to computers and coding. After Zach completed Army basic training and specialty training, he progressed quickly as a soldier and eventually got a full-time job with the Kansas Army National Guard at age 19. Zach was a federal military technician (Personnel Security Technician: GS-7) during the week and on Guard weekends, he was an Intelligence Analyst (E-4). Zach’s downward spiral began when he lost his full-time job as a federal technician and was made to feel incompetent by those who also originally built him up to be a great soldier with a bright future in the military. Zach’s mother does not know why Zach was fired during the probationary period, but she does suspect that Zach had information about other National Guard members whose misconduct were overlooked during routine background checks so they could maintain their security clearances.

Once Zach lost his full-time position, he went from being a professional soldier to not caring about anything anymore. He moved from his home in Topeka, Kansas to Lawrence, Kansas and became somewhat estranged from the family. Zach became secretive, fell in with the wrong crowd, stopped going to therapy and became reliant on self-medicating to take care of the pain of depression he was feeling.  Realizing this lifestyle was not healthy, Zach moved back home to Junction City and tried to get his life together in early January 2018. After about three months of living at home, he discovered the Kansas Army National Guard unit in Junction City, Kansas was tasked with a deployment to Afghanistan, to which he inquired and expressed interest to the unit’s leadership. The leadership put him through mobilization procedures for nearly a month and then his deployment orders to Afghanistan were cancelled citing he had been flagged during the pre-deployment process for Adderall use. Zach was prescribed Adderall for the diagnosis ADHD and his mother states he was prescribed the drug due to a struggle with concentration and focus. Once Zach was flagged, someone made the decision to prevent him from deploying to Afghanistan and his mother does not know if his National Guard unit influenced the decision at that time or not.

Zach was looking forward to the deployment. Instead his orders to Afghanistan were cancelled and it was then Zach started meeting regularly with mental health personnel for depression. It is unknown what Zach may have shared with health care professionals, but his family realized something changed in Zach’s life. Shortly after, Zach moved from Junction City to Kansas City with a friend with which his family was not familiar. He remained distant from his family and friends. Worse yet, the same military officer (O-4) who made the decision to fire Zachary from his full-time military technician position also influenced National Guard unit leadership to end Zach’s military career in its entirety. Leadership observed the changes in Zach’s attendance and behavior. Instead of helping him, they used it to revoke his security clearance knowing he needed a security clearance for his job as an intelligence specialist in the National Guard and his full-time job with the Marine Corps. During this time, the only thing done to assist Zach or try to get to the root of the issues he was having was to refer him to the unit’s social work office. At some point, this social worker was told to ‘stand down’ and allow the unit’s part-time civilian social worker to take care of his issues. To his mother’s knowledge, this individual never contacted Zach to offer support and he was never offered any type of assistance including participation in the Army Substance Abuse Program.

In early July 2018, Zach contacted his mom and stated he wanted to go to an inpatient rehabilitation program. He self-admitted to the substance abuse program to help him stop his drug dependency and get his life back on track. The day after Zach left the rehabilitation program and returned to Kansas City, he learned his best friend and fellow National Guardsman, Khamis Naser, had died by suicide. Zach told his mother he had talked to Khamis only five hours before he was found dead in his apartment. Zach attended the August 2018 drill weekend and his mother said he told her he was met with disdain from his leadership. Zach’s mother states she has text messages from her son indicating the NCOs in his unit were bullying him. Zach told her they said his best friend would still be alive if he ‘wouldn’t have been high’ and ‘would’ve been there for him’ (Khamis). After Zach was blamed for the death of his friend, he got in a physical confrontation with one of his NCOs. During another drill weekend, word got around the unit that leadership wanted to ‘get rid of that “shitbag”’ (referring to Zach) because he made the unit ‘look bad.’ Despite the ill treatment by the Kansas Army National Guard, Zach picked himself up and got a new job as a civilian contractor for the Marine Corps in Kansas City at age 21. Unfortunately, a short time after he got the job, he was terminated when he learned the National Guard had suspended his security clearance. At this point, Zach had no income, including from his drill weekends, due to a status discrepancy. Zach was still considered in ‘active duty’ status because of the deployment orders to Afghanistan and no one in his military leadership would assist him to get transferred back to his original unit. His mother states he discussed this with someone at his unit who agreed with him — why bother going to weekend drill if he was getting bullied and not receiving any pay? He stopped attending drill after September of 2018 and once again became estranged from his family. He would never return to the National Guard.

According to the Kansas Adjutant General’s Department, the Kansas Army National Guard suicide prevention program is “based on the premise that suicide prevention will be accomplished through the positive action of unit leaders and implementation of command policy. The key to the prevention of suicide is positive leadership and honest concern by supervisors for military personnel who are at risk of suicide and appropriate intervention for all such personnel.” Khamis Naser died by suicide in July 2018 and six months later in January 2019, Zach Schaffer died of a fatal drug overdose. How did the Kansas Army National Guard’s suicide prevention program help Khamis and Zach? Although we don’t know why Khamis Naser chose to die by suicide, we do know he was a current member of the Kansas Army National Guard. One would think losing a fellow comrade would initiate a more proactive suicide prevention approach yet instead we learn the very people tasked with a “positive and honest concern by supervisors” for military personnel at risk of suicide and appropriate intervention was not implemented in the last couple of years. Zach was a soldier dealing with the loss of his full-time job, grief from the loss of his friend, the loss of his military career, and the loss of his security clearance. Military leadership knew Zach was not well and they knew he was a risk to himself.

The top 10 most stressful life events include death of a loved one, separation, starting a new job, workplace stressors, financial problems, and chronic illness/injury. Zach’s mom shares he was dealing with six out of ten of those stressful life events at the age of 21. Wendy wonders why the military wouldn’t be especially cognizant of the fact they are molding young kids into warriors at a very impressionable time in life. At a time when young adults need guidance most, instead in the military environment, they are forced to deal with additional stressors, caused by military leadership in Zach’s case. Why would the same organization at the root of the cause of the downward spiral of young lives be interested in also pretending to care about suicide prevention of those same personnel? The moment Zach was let go from his full-time job was the moment he started to struggle. Why did he get let go? Why did it contribute to a need to use drugs to self-medicate? And one can only imagine the kind of grief Zach experienced after losing a close friend in such a tragic way. Did anyone refer Khamis or Zachary to mental health programs or the Department of Veterans Affairs?

It appears Zach’s source of pain or original stressor began when he lost his full-time federal military technician position as a Personnel Security Technician. After Zach lost Khamis, another high-paying job and his military career, his downward spiraled accelerated. Zach was dead less than six months after his friend passed. How can the National Guard implement a suicide prevention program when they are the suspected cause of the unit members’ downward spiral? Why did the National Guard choose to characterize ADHD treatment as a ‘mental health risk’? The prescription was used to assist with concentration and focus. Why would Adderall negatively impact a deployment when it is a fact the active duty deploy personnel on all kinds of prescribed medications? Why not help Zach transfer from Active Duty status back to his National Guard unit so he would be paid for drill weekends? How did Zach go from successfully holding great positions of responsibility within the unit to losing his entire military career? Why did they give Zach an ‘other than honorable’ discharge knowing it will negatively impact the rest of one’s working life, never mind the impact losing a security clearance has on anyone’s future financial security. Why did Zach have to lose everything? How does that help his mental health?

Wendy Mottas told the Dodge City Daily Globe that there is a stigma to be tough in the military. And this was confirmed the day the National Guard decided Zach was a “mental health risk” because he had a prescription for ADHD he wasn’t even currently taking. Each Commander has the ultimate say on whether or not an individual can still perform despite taking medication. The prescription was for concentration and focus and not something that had to be a military career ender. Wendy said her son could have used extra support following Khamis’s death and that she would like to see mental health be taken more seriously by the Kansas Army National Guard. While she realizes there were many factor’s influencing Zach’s death, she doesn’t understand why the National Guard wouldn’t offer to help him like so many soldiers with substance abuse are assisted. In Zachary’s case it appears leadership actively contributed to the decline of Zach’s mental health. Who at the Kansas Army National Guard would offer help to Zach after the chain of command (supervisors and leadership) decides a soldier is a “shitbag”? How does the Kansas Army National Guard implement a command driven suicide prevention program when they are the same leadership contributing to a downward spiral? How can the same people tasked with punishing their personnel with a heavy hand simultaneously help prevent a suicide or untimely death of young soldiers? At the very least, in this situation, the National Guard needs to upgrade this soldier’s other than honorable discharge to honorable to make this right for Zach and his family.  It’s one thing to let someone go, it’s an entirely different thing when a person’s life and future is destroyed.

“The military still has to take some responsibility for this, I think, and I think more could have been done to be preventative and be proactive instead of reactive. They have a responsibility to these young men and women. It’s not to live their lives for them or to be mommy or daddy or anything like that, but the soldiers still have to live by the army creed, and in order to do that, they have a role in that.” -Wendy Mottas (quote in Dodge City Daily Globe)

Source: Wendy Mottas (Zachary Schaffer’s mother)

Related Links:
Obituary: Zachary L. Schaffer, Kansas Army National Guard
Obituary: Khamis A. Naser, Kansas Army National Guard
Kansas National Guard captain submits resignation in wake of suicides
Kansas National Guard captain submits resignation in wake of suicides
Kansas National Guard Captain Submits Resignation in Wake of Suicides
Kansas National Guard captain submits resignation over handling of suicides
Kansas National Guard captain submits resignation over concerns of soldier suicide
Kansas Guard captain resigns over concern about suicides
Kansas Guard brigade captain resigns over suicide concerns
Kansas Guard brigade captain resigns over suicide concerns
Governor Kelly to sign bill aimed at preventing National Guard suicide
Sen. Moran, Bipartisan Colleagues Raise Concerns Over Alarming Increase in National Guard Suicides
Moran requests DOD review of rising National Guard suicide rate
Sen. Moran joins bi-partisan group of senators addressing national guard suicides
Bi-Partisan Senate Group Calls Attention to National Guard Suicide Rate
Department of Veterans Affairs: National Guard and Reserve
10 Most Stressful Life Events

How do we stop the retaliation from happening so victims of crimes in the military feel safe to report?

Even if you do go forward with a case and it’s adjudicated in your favor, it’s the retaliation that kicks our ass and de-rails our careers. Why is this happening? If you wonder why some who have been assaulted have severe PTSD, it’s the retaliation compounding the original trauma. And if you don’t report and try and soldier on, it catches up with you anyways in the form of behavioral issues and suicidal ideation. How do we stop the retaliation in the military from happening so victims of crimes feel safe to report?

Related Links:
Home Base Veteran Story: Jennifer & Lee Norris
Personal Story and Testimony of TSgt. Jennifer Norris, US Air Force Retired, Before the House Armed Services Committee in Washington DC (2013)
Military Policy and Legislation Considerations for the Investigations of Non Combat Death, Homicide, and Suicide of US Service Members
Massachusetts School of Law Interviews Veteran Jennifer Norris About Violent Crime in the Military & Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
What Happens When a Rape is Reported in the Military?

Massachusetts School of Law Interviews Veteran Jennifer Norris About Violent Crime in the Military & Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Massachusetts School of Law explored violent crime in the military with Jennifer Norris, Military Justice for All, and the impact it has on civilians too. Jennifer talked about her experiences with four different perpetrators within the first two years of her enlisted career, the reporting & adjudication process, and the retaliation that ensued and eventually ended a fifteen year career. Also discussed was the jurisdictional hurdles that arise with a transient population like the military. For example, Jennifer was not able to press charges against one perpetrator because he moved out of state after learning he was getting reported. Another perpetrator was active duty Air Force at Keesler Air Force Base, therefore a state National Guard commander did not have jurisdiction of a federal employee. And finally, although Jennifer was able to move forward with two other cases involving high ranking National Guard members with over eighteen years of service, unlike the civilian world, after the cases were adjudicated, they retired with full military retirement benefits and no public records.

Jennifer also shared that although the Department of Defense downplays violent crime in the military and sexual assault appears to be closely monitored by some female members of Congress, everything is not under control. The crime appears to be escalating. The military doesn’t just have a sexual assault issue, they have a domestic violence and homicide issue as well. They also have a pattern of ruling soldier’s deaths both stateside and overseas as suicides, training accidents, and illness despite families strongly protesting and evidence revealing otherwise. Domestic violence is more likely to lead to homicide and unfortunately the two issues have not been given the attention they deserve because until you do the research yourself and see how many families and communities have been impacted by the crimes, suspicious death, and homicide of a soldier or civilian, you wouldn’t know because Congress and the main stream media do not give it the attention it deserves. Homicide and independent investigations of all suspicious deaths should be given the highest priority not only because people have lost their lives and families deserve answers but because someone needs to be held accountable. We must prevent others from becoming victims of these crimes too.

Jennifer discussed the lasting impacts the crimes and retaliation had on her. Jennifer was empowered after doing all that she could do to protect others from getting harmed by the same people, but her squadron did not see it the same way. After the cases were adjudicated, Jennifer faced hostility from a couple of the perpetrator’s friends and her Chain of Command once she returned back to work. She eventually had to transfer to another squadron. It was the professional and personal retaliation that made her start feeling more intense feelings of anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. And unfortunately her next squadron wasn’t any more welcoming then the last. She was told shortly after arriving that ‘no female makes it in the satellite communications work center’ and that she was experiencing hostility from her new Chain of Command because the old squadron called and informed them she was a ‘troublemaker.’ The retaliation had a direct impact on her mental health and cemented an already traumatizing experience with further abuse, indifference, and judgement. By the time she got to her third squadron (almost ten years after the first attack), she learned that the Department of Veterans Affairs treated Post Traumatic Stress resulting from military sexual trauma.

After Jennifer informed her third squadron that she was getting help for the PTS at the Department of Veterans Affairs, she was immediately red flagged and asked to leave the squadron until she could produce a note from her doctor giving her permission to be at work. She did this and jumped through the other hoops asked of her in an attempt to save her career but lost confidentiality in the process. Jennifer walked away from her career in the end because she refused to release her VA records for a security clearance investigation. The entire experience not only opened her up to judgement again (simply because she asked for some counseling due to what someone else did) but she had to prove that she was ‘fit for duty’ while the perpetrators were enjoying full military retirement benefits. Jennifer chose a second chance at a civilian career when she refused to release her confidential VA records for her security clearance investigation because she wanted to ensure a future free of a tainted security clearance. It makes zero sense that someone who is a victim of crime be negatively impacted by the crimes of others in yet another way. The hypocrisy of the system is truly revealed when you look at how the perpetrators were let off the hook but the victim of crime loses their military career because they had the strength to first report and then eventually ask for help.

Update on Exemption for PTSD (MST) Counseling on Security Clearance

Office of Director of NSAActive Duty: Please be warned that the counseling for Military Sexual Trauma was only exempt from the security clearance questionnaire as interim guidance. This means that the ruling was only temporary. We need you to contact Representative Chellie Pingree and Senator Jon Tester and let them know that the National Intelligence Agency needs to make this policy permanent. There is no reason that it should not be included as an exemption with the counseling for combat PTSD, spousal counseling, and grief counseling.

September 17, 2013: Letter to DNI Clapper (10/24/13 03:29 PM PST)

Read more: http://pingree.house.gov/press-releases/tester-pingree-question-intelligence-director-over-security-clearance-reversal2/

Tester, Pingree question Intelligence Director over security clearance reversal

Office of Director of NSALawmakers vow to continue fighting to protect survivors of sexual assault

Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) are demanding that the U.S. Director of National Intelligence once again eliminate a requirement that forces survivors of sexual assault in the military to declare whether they sought counseling for sexual trauma when applying for a security clearance.

Tester and Pingree successfully overturned the policy in April after hearing from veterans and service members from Montana and Maine, but the government reversed course in the final version of the security clearance questionnaire released this summer.

Before the change, job applicants seeking a security clearance had to list whether they had received mental health counseling as a result of a sexual assault, and if so, allow an investigator full access to their health records.

Veterans and veterans’ advocacy groups told Tester and Pingree the policy discouraged qualified service members from applying for important national security positions and discouraged them from getting the counseling they need. The Defense Department estimates that there may have been as many as 26,000 instances of “unwanted sexual contact” in 2012, with the vast majority of cases reported by women.

“We strongly urge you to reconsider this matter and reinstitute the explicit exemption for survivors of sexual assault,” Tester and Pingree told Intelligence Director James Clapper. “As you recognized in April, we need to do everything we can to support survivors of sexual assault – not keep them from getting the care they need or jeopardizing their ability to provide for themselves and their families.”

“Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) is grateful to Senator Tester and Congresswoman Pingree for their dedication to ensuring military sexual assault survivors’ careers are not stunted or adversely affected because they sought counseling to cope with the assault,” said Anu Bhagwati, SWAN executive director and former Marine Corps captain. “SWAN has already heard from service members that are confused by the recently removed exemption for military sexual assault survivors and are now hesitant to seek help. We urge Director Clapper to reinstate the explicit exemption for sexual assault survivors.”

Tester and Pingree have been in contact with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and other officials about the issue over the last two years. The officials responded by altering the security clearance questionnaire to better handle sensitive information, but Tester and Pingree sought a complete policy change.

There are multiple forms of counseling that do not impede an applicant from securing a security clearance, including family counseling and counseling for combat stress.

September 17, 2013: Letter to DNI Clapper (10/24/13 03:29 PM PST)

Original: http://pingree.house.gov/press-releases/tester-pingree-question-intelligence-director-over-security-clearance-reversal2/