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Wednesday, October 12

Mayor Rivera Unmoved by Rally

by Tom Roeder, the Gazette

Facing protesters who picketed a City Council meeting Tuesday, Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera said he won’t endorse a program to give soldiers free mental-health care because its organizers have a “second agenda.”

Operation Just One, which would match Iraq war veterans with professionals willing to give free and confidential counseling, is backed by people who oppose the war and are “anti-Army,” Rivera said during a break in the meeting.

Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, which is underwriting the program, accused the mayor of pandering to military brass in Colorado Springs.

“Someone convinced him that it was better to shoot the messenger than support the program,” Robinson said in a telephone interview Tuesday evening from Maryland.

Fort Carson has said it has adequate programs for soldiers and won’t endorse the free counseling because it hasn’t been approved by the Pentagon.

The controversy over Operation Just One, which organizers say is serving a few soldiers, began last month, when Rivera announced he would sign a proclamation praising the program, then reversed course a day later, saying he was turned off by claims made by Robinson.

One of Robinson’s claims is that soldiers won’t seek mental-health help at Fort Carson because they fear it would ruin their Army careers. He also says that Fort Carson lacks adequate psychiatric care for soldiers, a claim the post disputes.

Tuesday, about a dozen protesters, including some representing Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace, briefly picketed City Hall, then opened up on the mayor in the council chambers.

Dave Therault, who called the mayor’s reversal “belittling and offensive,” told Rivera his actions would stop veterans from seeking help.

Mark Wilkerson, a veteran who served in Iraq with a unit from Fort Hood, Texas, criticized Rivera’s decision, saying soldiers won’t seek help from the Army because they fear reprisal.

Rivera said he backs programs to help soldiers, but the good intentions of Operation Just One are muddied by Robinson, and Georg-Andreas “Andrew” Pogany, a former Fort Carson soldier who was once charged with cowardice before he was medically discharged from the Army in 2004.

“It’s difficult to separate the service providers who would volunteer their time to help soldiers and the people who organize this — Steve Robinson and Andrew Pogany,” he said.

The two organizers said they aren’t anti-war or anti-Army. Both are veterans who served in Iraq, Robinson in 1991 and Pogany in 2003.

Pogany said he sees the Just One program as a tool to help soldiers get back into the fight.

“But say anything, particularly about mental-health concerns and the cost of the war, and you are associated with being anti-war and anti-Establishment,” Pogany said.

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