“I was a DA civilian in Ft. Riley for my civilian job working in a clinic setting where we were 35 percent short staffed and being told by supervisors that we needed to get these low-risk people off of our caseloads. We’re the cancer clinic of mental health, and yet Ft. Riley was a hotbed for suicides. We had 18 suicides that were captured in the fiscal year 2018 on Ft. Riley. In the weeks, months leading up to my hospital stay I was also dealing with very negligible systems in the Kansas National Guard… We had three suicides in three weeks. The worst was three in three weeks in a span of six in six months in the Kansas National Guard,” veteran and now author Tara Fields said.
The concept for her book was birthed in a hospital.
In August 2018, Fields was admitted to a hospital. The labels for her condition were suicide attempt and major depressive episode, much like the patients she worked with around Ft. Riley while working under the Kansas Army National Guard.
“I felt like I was holding the weight of all this stuff and it’s just falling on deaf ears,” Fields said.
Her hospitalization ignited Fields to action to share how the United States military has neglected and, in some cases, swept under the rug soldiers’ mental health and suicide cases.
After resigning from the Kansas Army National Guard, Fields will tell hers and other’s stories in her book, yet to be released, titled, “Tracer Patient: Game Changer to Mental Health Across the Military.”
“I’m not trying to make us look bad. We’re doing that for ourselves. Think about the enemy sitting back and saying, ‘we don’t have to do anything to America. They’re falling apart at the seams. They’re imploding on themselves.’ That’s exactly right. We’re the weakest we’ve ever f—ing been as a nation,” Fields said.
Her book will address the suicide rates and stories within the military, outline how the military operates mental health services and treatment and provides solutions on how to improve those services to decrease the, “sky-rocketing,” suicide rates, Fields said.
After her hospital incident, she decided to leave the Kansas National Guard to be an influence for change. She now works as a Licensed Specialist Clinical Social Worker, essentially a therapist and social worker, in and around Abilene.
“Ultimately, I learned that this organization (Kansas National Guard) is not good for me to continue in,” Fields said. “I would be beating my head against a wall. I can’t influence change in this uniform here.”
One of the people Fields writes about is S2 Security Analyst Zachary Schaffer, stationed with the Kansas National Guard. Fields first met Schaffer through being involved in the aftermath of his friend’s suicide.
“He was being made by leaders in the guard to push paperwork through that was inaccurate so people could get their security clearances for people who had two or three DUIs, for instance, or different things,” she said. “But that’s contributing to why that kid now is doing drugs and alcohol, knowing he’s doing the wrong thing, but being told by leaders.”
Schaffer admitted his substance abuse to Fields. Three days after his confession, Fields contact her commander for Schaffer’s home address and connect him to mental health services, ultimately to reduce his chances of suicide. The general told Fields the army did not have an address recorded for him.
“I was like, ‘how the f— do you not have an address for one of your soldiers.’ They sure as hell had an address for Shaffer six months later when they sent his parents the discharge packet when the retrospectively discharged him from the guard,” she said.
Shaffer took his own life six months after Fields was hospitalized.
Her commander’s negligence in part sparked Field’s major depressive episode, which lead to the hospital visit. Before Fields met Shaffer, she was dealing with the three suicides in three weeks and working in a 35 percent staffed clinic.
“When you realize that, by not taking care of yourself, which is how I learned what I’m doing now with therapy, yeah, your brain is going to win and your body is going to win every time. It’s going to shut you down… I was so worried and hyper focused on the mission and not losing more soldiers that I was neglecting myself. When you lose that, you’re no good to anybody else. When I’m on that gurney in the back of the ambulance, and I write about that, it was so surreal.”
For her book, Fields said she analyzed the stories and experiences of 35 other officers, using and naming eight of them as specific examples.
“What happens is, a lot of people get red flags, but nobody puts them together. (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) precludes me from getting some information from other people, especially as a therapist. But when you get all these red flags and you start putting them together, that picture gets clearer, that’s what we’re aiming to do. That’s what has to be done. All these things happen in a silo, and then you put it all together, you’re like, ‘oh s—.”
Born and raised in Junction City, Fields joined the military two years after graduating college.
After basic training, she was station in Virginia as a transportation core officer for three years. She then was transferred to Ft. Riley where, in 2011, the fort opened a social work program and she decided to pursue the program. She then trained and learned to be an army social work officer for 15 months. She earned her social work licensure in 2016. After becoming two-time non-select (which is the outcome of a whole other problem she describes in her book), she went off-duty and decided to transition to the Texas National Guard. After a year, she transferred to the Virginia National Guard, staying for two years before moving lastly to the Kansas National Guard.
Fields wishes readers in the public will become more learned in the topic, share the knowledge with others to raise awareness and support the military currently and in making better decisions with mental health. For politicians, she wants them to, first, read the book, and, second, make decisions to create solutions.
“There is a definite thing the army needs from soldiers. They you ready. They need you capable to go to war. End of the day, that’s what the army needs. We need (soldiers) to do that. I’m going to stand with you, and I’m going to teach you things, like how to stick around and do that, so you can better equipped.”
To encourage politicians to read the book, Fields plans to send her book to every U.S. senator, governor and representative. The number of books she needs to send equates to about 500. Because the cost to pay for and send a book is $25 to $30, she has set up a GoFundMe account to received donations. Her goal is to raise $23,000. To donate, search for “Tracer Patient” on GoFundMe or use this link.
“Tracer Patient: Game Changer to Mental Health Across the Military” will be released sometime in the late spring of 2023. Publishing company Simon and Schuster is publishing the book.
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