In 2017, Sgt. Javier Ortiz, a Marine artilleryman, was deployed to Syria as part of Operation Inherent Resolve to provide fire support for the mission to defeat ISIS. In an exclusive report for The Epoch Times, Ortiz recently told his story in a two-part series.
American Family News spoke to Robert Alvarez, a Marine Corps veteran and founder of Uniformed Services Justice & Advocacy Group (USJAG) – and organization whose primary mission is "to ensure injured active-duty service members are separated with benefits, honors, and dignity intact."
According to the founder, Ortiz has been neglected and unjustly treated by the Marine Corps – and USJAG hopes to right their wrong.
"Javier [Ortiz] was injured while doing his job, using a piece of equipment in the capacity that the military knew was going to injure him," Alvarez explains. "They have had ample evidence about the potential for injury in their possession, including their very own Blast Overpressure Effects report."
For Alvarez, the Corps' response is an admission that "they know they did some of these service members wrong."
According to the Fort Sill Public Affairs Office, subject matter experts at the U.S. Army Field Artillery School, which all field artillerymen attend, said "at maximum charge, when all prescribed personal protective equipment [PPE] is used, 12 rounds in 24 hours" is a safe number of rounds for human exposure.
As disclosed by Ortiz himself, the howitzer he was responsible for averaged "25 rounds per day with 12 to 17 of these rounds being charge 5 [the maximum level]."
Consequently, Ortiz experienced light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, loss of sleep, fatigue, pain, memory issues, headaches, and dizziness. Today, he still suffers from many of the same ailments, adding traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), gastrointestinal problems, and more.
Frustration, anger towards the Corps
Alvarez is convinced the Marine Corps is "well aware" of the safe limit of discharges that individuals should experience during a day on their job. "And they willfully, and neglectfully, exceeded that limit by a significant amount," he states.
Since taking on the case of Ortiz, Alvarez and USJAG have found several men – in both the Marines and the Army – who performed similar missions and are suffering serious health consequences, including acts of suicide.
"This kid," Alvarez explains, referring to Ortiz, "was kicked out of the service for a minor infraction associated with his behavior that was clearly affected by his injuries … and the Marine Corps knew it."
But rather than helping Ortiz with his behavioral issues and injuries or even considering him for medical retirement, Alvarez says the Marine Corps "simply put him out" with an other-than-honorable (OTH) discharge, where he subsequently lost the benefits he had "rightfully earned."
"Today," Alvarez adds, "Ortiz is fighting not only for his health, but also to get the benefits he needs from Veterans Affairs." In that fight, USJAG has come alongside the former Marine to advocate for his discharge to be upgraded. According to Alvarez, this would enable Ortiz to receive the benefits he deserves for serving the country with honor and integrity.
'Extremely disappointed' … no follow-up from Capitol Hill
According to the USJAG founder, his group "hasn't heard a single thing back" from members of Congress who were contacted on Ortiz' behalf, even offering to advise their offices on the appropriate response to his situation.
"The government has an opportunity to make this right with these men who were injured, starting with Ortiz," the USJAG founder contends. And making it worse, "I also don't see any action being taken by the military to correct any of this," he says.
Alvarez argues Congress is responsible for looking into matters that affect the military, but finds their silence on the Ortiz case deafening.
"We want to know how many service members were discharged adversely, medically retired, or even committed a crime to be adversely separated," he explains. "[We want to know] how many were OTH separations?"
On May 10 and May 31, American Family News contacted the congressional offices of several members of the Armed Services Committee and Committee on Veterans' Affairs in pursuit of the answers. Specifically, AFN contacted the offices of chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Mike Bost (R-IL); and Representatives Jim Banks (R-IN), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Sam Graves (R-MO), Mike Johnson (R-LA), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Nancy Mace (R-SC), Austin Scott, (R-GA), Michael Waltz (R-FL), Robb Wittman (R-VA), as well as Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). Apart from these committee members, USJAG also contacted the office of Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) on numerous occasions, to no avail.
Four weeks have passed since AFN's first inquiry. No member of Congress or congressional staffer has returned comment.