Back from Iraq with Plenty of Problems

The patient came to Brentwood Hospital in handcuffs, escorted by Nacogdoches police. Paul Miles, 22. Something about making bombs and threatening to kill kids. He tested negative for drugs at Nacogdoches Memorial, and his parents had asked if he could be brought here to Brentwood in Shreveport.

During intake, he told the staff, "I have not had thoughts of hurting kids in years."

When he was passed on to Dr. Greg Seal, the treating psychiatrist, Miles was rambling, illogical.

"I don't want the cops to die," he told Seal. "I needed new boots."

Seal got some of the patient's basic background: Five years in the Texas Army National Guard. Spent 2005 in Iraq. No history of physical, sexual or emotional abuse. No psychiatric history reported. Currently a student at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches. Miles and a roommate lived in an off-campus apartment where, about eight hours earlier on this morning of November 20, 2006, police found gunpowder and PVC pipes. Federal agents were combing the place now. Neighbors were evacuated.

Fire fascinated him, he told Seal. He wanted to be recognized as artistic. He said he hadn't been sleeping or eating much. He understood the accusations against him, yet he was giddy, even euphoric during the interview.

Seal's impression was that Miles had bipolar disorder, type one, without psychotic features. Prognosis: "Guarded." He admitted Miles to the Enhanced Adult Psychiatric Unit, where he'd be monitored for signs of overt psychosis. He prescribed an antipsychotic called Abilify.

Over the next week, Miles talked about the need to build an arsenal "because the war is coming to America." You had to be ready for the coming doom, he would say.

Seal amended his initial diagnosis to bipolar with psychotic features. Still, he believed Miles had improved and would continue to improve with regular outpatient treatment. Seal set a discharge date of December 5, when he'd be released to his parents.

But Seal was beat to it. On December 4, Caddo Parish sheriff's deputies entered the hospital lobby with a search warrant and told nurses they would go from room to room until they found Miles.

Seal quickly wrote a letter "to whom it may concern" and gave it to the deputies, along with 30-day supplies of Abilify and a mood stabilizer called Depakote ER.

"I am writing this letter in support of Mr. Miles not being jailed," the letter stated, "as I believe any criminal activity he may have committed was the result of a very severe mental illness."

Saving the deputies the trouble of a search and seizure, Miles came down to the lobby on his own. The deputies took him to Caddo Correctional Center, where jail officials refused to dispense his meds. He stayed there for four days until he was extradited to Nacogdoches County Jail. It was December 8, 2006.

It would take a year and a federal court order before he was allowed to see a psychiatrist for treatment again.

During that time, Miles pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm — pipe bombs — and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. Prosecutors believe they brought a dangerous criminal to justice. But his family says the Paul Miles who came back from Iraq was not the Paul Miles they raised. Something must have shifted in the overhead compartment, and he came back damaged. And now, they say, the government he fought for has simply and coldly locked him away.

In October 2005, ten months into his second hitch in Iraq, Sergeant Paul Miles came up with a trick to surviving patrol. He thought of it a few days after someone tried to blow up his truck.

On patrol in the Sunni Triangle west of Baghdad, trying not to choke on sand, Miles pretended he was heading from his parents' home in Hallsville to the SFA campus in Nacogdoches. But then, just as soon as he hit North Street, he'd realize he forgot his pencil, so he'd have to whip back to Hallsville and then head to campus again. These security patrols were just like that, he wrote on his blog, "only there are no trees and the roads are more ­dangerous."

That trick was for mental survival, something beyond armor and artillery. There had been a lot of death in his head lately. It came from every angle, not just combat. First week of the month, a sergeant accidentally shot and killed himself while on base. Didn't think his 9-­millimeter was loaded. Miles didn't get the guy's name.

When he was the Humvee's gunner, up behind the 240 machine gun, Miles was food for snipers. A six-foot-five sitting duck. But then, the entire truck was a target. You never knew when that dead donkey on the side of the road was going to explode. Insurgents stuck improvised explosive devices anywhere they could. On October 19, one was buried behind a brick. They were going from Talil Air Base to Anaconda. The driver swerved to miss the brick, and boom, Miles heard an explosion and saw a flash to his left. Blew the 240 straight off the turret. Amazing thing: No one was hurt and the truck still ran.

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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
Contact: Craig Malisow