Local vet who killed 16-year-old while driving drunk profiled in the New York Times

The New York Times published a story about local veteran Tony Klecker this month as part of its series on PTSD, alcoholism, and the domestic causalities of war. Lizette Alvarez writes:

Most nights when Anthony Klecker, a former marine, finally slept, he found himself back on the battlefields of Iraq. He would awake in a panic, and struggle futilely to return to sleep.

Days were scarcely better. Car alarms shattered his nerves. Flashbacks came unexpectedly, at the whiff of certain cleaning chemicals. Bar fights seemed unavoidable; he nearly attacked a man for not washing his hands in the bathroom.

Desperate for sleep and relief, Mr. Klecker, 30, drank heavily. One morning, his parents found him in the driveway slumped over the wheel of his car, the door wide open, wipers scraping back and forth. Another time, they found him curled in a fetal position in his closet.

Yet only after his drunken driving caused the death of a 16-year-old cheerleader did Mr. Klecker acknowledge the depth of his problem: His eight months at war had profoundly damaged his psyche.

"I was trying to be the tough marine I was trained to be — not to talk about problems, not to cry," said Mr. Klecker, who has since been diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. "I imprisoned myself in my own mind."

In October 2006 Klecker was drunk behind the wheel when he caused a multi-car collision on Highway 494 in South St. Paul and killed 16-year-old Deanna Casey.

Tony Klecher was originally spared jail time on the condition that he undergo treatment at the St. Cloud VA Center. While there, during the anniversary of the tragic accident, Klecker got into a fight with another patient and was removed from the hospital, violating his probation.

VA staffers testified at the probation hearing that part of Klecker's aggression problems could be attributed to his current status at the VA. Having completed alcohol counseling, Klecker was on the waiting list for a 10-bed PTSD treatment program. Because he was not enrolled in a specific program, it was possible he had too much spare time to think about the incident causing him to be agitated, they said.

Despite the influx of veterans from two new wars, the number of beds dedicated to treating combat PTSD at the St. Cloud VA had not been increased since 1995, according to a inspector general report.

The VA and the U.S. Military have been heavily criticized for being unprepared for the widespread psychological effects the wars of terror have had on service men and women, despite lessons that should have been learned from Vietnam.

Klecker's lawyer, Brockton Hunter, with the help of local activist Guy Gambill, have used this case and others to advocate for vets suffering from PTSD and reform within the VA system. This year Minnesota became the second state in the nation to pass a sentence mitigation bill for veterans facing criminal offenses that can be tied to combated related mental illness

For more information on PTSD see our feature story on Soldier Suicides and our comprehensive coverage of this issue online.

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