One terrible day –– May 15, 2005 –– broke the mundane routine that Kristofer Goldsmith, a Bellmore native and a former U.S. Army sergeant, had settled into while on duty in Iraq.
His platoon was asked to escort a vehicle that sucked up sewage from the streets near Sadr City and dumped it into outlying fields. At the end of the eight-hour mission, the platoon received a call to investigate a mass grave that was discovered in the trash dumps. More than a dozen bodies of tortured, mutilated and executed Iraqi civilians were exhumed by policemen and locals, Goldsmith said.
Hundreds of flies landed on the mangled corpses as they were pulled from the dirt and trash before darting to the faces of the living, seeking moisture. As an intelligence reporter, Goldsmith was charged with taking close-up photographs of the victims’ faces for identification purposes.
“One of these faces … was little more than a bloody skull,” he recalled. “It was an experience that no amount of training could have prepared me for. That’s one of the things that haunted me when I came home.”
Goldsmith, who is now 28 and lives in Long Beach, has been in treatment since he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder by a U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs hospital more than seven years ago. But two months before that diagnosis, he received a less-than-honorable discharge from the Army, which prevented him from receiving G.I. Bill benefits.
Through his research into how and why he and other soldiers were discharged, Goldsmith said, he found that the problem he faced — receiving a less-than-honorable classification because he was previously misdiagnosed with pre-existing mental health issues — was systemic.
That’s why he became an advocate for new legislation, sponsored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and Jon Tester (D-Montana), that would require panels that review military discharges to have at least one mental health professional.
Gillibrand announced her sponsorship of the legislation, which officials said should be part of the National Defense Authorization Act in 2015, at a news conference on April 16 at Nassau Community College. Goldsmith is president of the Student Veterans group and an honor student at NCC. Gillibrand said that he brought the issue to her attention and has been instrumental in the lawmaking process.