Retired Two-Star Opens Up About Mental Health Crisis That Ended His Career
In 2014, Army Maj. Gen. Gregg Martin was at the top of his game until an undiagnosed bipolar disorder suddenly cost him his 36-year career and plunged the Iraq War veteran into the battle of his life.
In mid-July of that year, Martin was serving as president of the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C., when his boss, Gen. Martin Dempsey, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, summoned him for a meeting.
When Martin arrived, Dempsey greeted him with a hug, saying, “Gregg, I love you like a brother … but your time at NDU is done. You have until 1700 today to submit your letter of resignation to me or I will fire you. Is that clear?” the retired NDU president recalls in a new opinion piece co-authored for Task & Purpose with his son, Phillip, a former staff sergeant and combat veteran who served with Army Special Forces.
“A lot of people think you have serious mental health problems. I’m ordering you to get a command-directed psychiatric health exam at Walter Reed. You need to go this week,” Dempsey told him.
In the article, Martin describes the chairman as a friend of 20 years who made the right decision.
“He was taking good care of my own health and welfare, as well as his university’s welfare and mission success. Had I been in his shoes, I would have made the exact same decision,” Martin writes.
In November 2014, Martin was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type I. He believes the condition was triggered in 2003 while he served as an engineer brigade commander during the invasion of Iraq. It grew progressively worse over the next decade until his forced resignation sent him spiraling into a “hopeless, terrifying depression and psychosis” from late 2014 through 2016, he writes in the op-ed.
Formerly known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is a general term that, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, comprises a cluster of related disorders that are characterized by extreme mood shifts ranging from mania to depression, the op-ed states.
Martin’s doctors suspected that his genetic predisposition for bipolar disorder was activated by the intense stress of the war.
“I suddenly went from having latent bipolar potential to actual, activated bipolar disorder,” Martin says in the article. “This Iraq War ‘triggering event’ is the confirmed opinion of the Army Medical Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs in their medical analysis and assessments of my condition.”
Martin describes being terrified by the delusion that “I had committed financial fraud against the U.S. government” and living in fear of being “arrested, convicted, tortured, and murdered in prison,” according to the article.
“Or I would imagine being stripped of my achievements and retirement, retroactively demoted, and lose my pension and medical benefits, leaving my wife in poverty, and me homeless and dying on the streets,” he writes. “I believed that my closest colleagues were conspiring against me.”
Martin credits the support of his wife; their three sons; and the VA hospital in White River Junction, Vermont, where he spent two weeks as an inpatient and four more as an outpatient, for saving his life, according to the article.
“I am absolutely not ashamed or embarrassed to be a bipolar survivor,” writes Martin, who has authored an upcoming book, “Battling Bipolar Disorder — A General’s Invisible War.”
“In fact, I am thankful and proud to have survived this toughest of wars — with the support of my wife, family, friends, the VA … and to be thriving once again, with the unexpected gift of a great new life,” he writes in the op-ed. “I ask you to help me abolish the stigma associated with bipolar disorder and other brain maladies, by admitting you or another needs help, and then by getting it.”
— Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.
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