Harsh Treatment for Marines Caught Using Illicit Drugs

Editor's Note from Brian Ross: In the third year of a joint project with the nonprofit Carnegie Corporation, six leading graduate school journalism students were again selected to spend the summer working with the ABC News investigative unit.

This year's project involved an examination of whether, as happened in the wake of the Vietnam War, Iraqi war veterans were turning to drugs as a result of the trauma and pain of war.

The U.S. military maintains the percentage of soldiers abusing drugs is extremely small and has not increased as a result of Iraq.

The students' assignment was to get the unofficial side of the story from soldiers, young men of their own generation.

Today's report is the fifth in a series of five reports.

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Click Here for All of the Stories in This Series.

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U.S. Marines caught using illegal drugs often face harsh punishment from the military, according to counselors, veterans' advocates and military defense attorneys. Marines have been kicked out of the service with loss of benefits, or even thrown in jail despite their claim that they turned to drugs to cope with their battlefield experiences in Iraq.

While the Marine Corps does provide substance abuse and counseling, experts say rehabilitation often loses out to punishment and discipline.

"Use drugs? You're gone. There is not any great interest in rehabilitating; there's not any great interest in tending to these people," said attorney David Brahms, a former Marine general who has many Marines clients. "It is a waste of resources; it is a waste of energy. Why tend to people who we want to, and are going to, throw out?"

Tough Treatment from an Elite Corps

When he decided he wanted to help serve his country, Lance Cpl. Matt McLauchlin chose to enter the Marine Corps, an elite branch of the military renowned for its strong tradition of commitment and discipline.

"My grandfather, he was a Marine, so I figured…to join the best," said McLauchlin, was was deployed to Iraq out of Camp Pendleton, Calif.

McLauchlin was injured in Iraq when insurgents shot a rocket into the middle of his base. The blast killed one Marine, injured several others and almost killed McLauchlin, who had a severed artery in his shoulder and shrapnel in his spine.

McLauchlin spent months in the hospital, where doctors administered morphine and Demerol to treat his constant pain. During his hospital stay, McLauchlin said his marriage fell apart and he went into a dark depression. Partially disabled by his war wounds, McLauchlin said he began drinking heavily when he left the hospital and one night decided to smoke marijuana.

McLauchlin said he confessed his drug use to the Marines but was shocked at the harsh response from his regimental commander, who called the Purple Heart recipient a traitor.

"I was really angry that he said that," said McLauchlin. "I made a decision, and it was wrong, but I'm not a traitor. I will fight for this country, still, to this day."

McLauchlin was kicked out of the Marine Corps with a general discharge under honorable conditions. While he can still get some benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, he lost his G.I. bill benefits, which he was counting on to go to college.

"I'm injured, and I can't really go out and make a living like a normal person can," said McLauchlin with a chuckle.

Video: In His Own Words: Michael Bailey

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