Operation Iraqi Freedom, Fallen Heroes, Iraq War 03/19/03

Michael T Mason

Eugene, Oregon

January 27, 2013

Age Military Rank Unit/Location
29 Army  

 

 Served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Decorated Warrior. PTSD Casualty.

For Memorial Service Snapshots, Click photo below:

February 9, 2013

From Springfield KVAL springfield.kval.com 01/30/13:

A brother remembered: 'Through his life, it will raise awareness'

Submitted by KVAL News
Wednesday, January 30th, 2013, 11:32am
EUGENE, Ore. - Michael Mason survived Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of his fellow soldiers did not.

The Army honored Mason for heroism and valor, awards he carried home along with the hidden scars of war.

Two weeks before Christmas 2010, the erratic behavior family members had noticed came to a head: Mason, the son of a Eugene Police officer, started firing a gun in a mall parking lot.

Eugene Police shot him, leaving him paralyzed.

The injuries took his life Sunday. Mason, 29, died of a brain hemorrhage Sunday at the VA hospital in Seattle.

'He's always been my best friend'

His sister wants to remember Mason as a brother - and a unique friend.

"He's always been my best friend, the 3 of us are connected forever," said Sara Mason as she showed a picture of her, Michael and their sister Raelynn. "The 3 of us are connected forever."

In 2005, the Michael Mason survived an IED blast in Afghanistan that killed four of his buddies. The shattering experience led to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for which he received some treatment.

The district attorney cited that PTSD when he declined to bring any criminal charges against Mason in the 2010 incident that left him paralyzed. "Prosecuting this young man would be a waste of time," Alex Gardner said at the time.

The gunshot injury he suffered to the neck in 2010 is blamed for his death this week.

"Although the last two years have been difficult, they do not define the man he was," Sara Mason said. "A heart of gold, a smile like no other, and a hug that could comfort anyone's aching soul."

'Through his life, it will raise awareness'

Despite what he went through, Sara is sure if he had it to do all over again, Michael would have enlisted in the service and gone to war.

"Michael has touched so many people not just with making the decision to serve but going through what he went through," she said.

Sara hopes through all this, that people will become more aware and understanding of the ravages of PTSD.

"I think through his life, it will raise awareness. I mean it doesn't end here and it never will," she said.

The family says funeral services for Michael Mason will be held February 9, 2013, at 2 p.m. at Springfield High School.

Contributions for a fund to help Michael's wife, Theresa, can be made at any branch of First Tech Credit Union.

From KVAL  kval.com 12/29/10:

PTSD made war hero a homefront casualty
By Kelly Koopmans KVAL News Published: Dec 29, 2010 at 9:52 PM PST

EUGENE, Ore. - The son of a retired Eugene police officer, Michael Mason returned from two tours of the Middle East a decorated war hero.

According to documents obtained by KVAL News, the Army awarded Mason with awards for valor and heroism during wartime. 

Mason “voluntarily exposed himself to direct and effective enemy fire” to protect his fellow soldiers in 2005, according to award recommendations.

"He was the kind of young man that every family in every community hopes to raise," said Alex Gardner, the Lane County district attorney.

Mason is now mostly paralyzed from the neck down, the result of being shot by Eugene police officers responding to a report of shots fired at a shopping mall.


Hero 'watched firsthand the loss of dozens of his fellow soldiers'

Four years and two tours of the Middle East took a traumatizing toll on Mason’s mental stability.

“He watched firsthand the loss of dozens of his fellow soldiers during his combat service,” said Mason’s sister Sara Mason.

Gardner said Mason witnessed the deaths of at least 26 fellow soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And two Wednesdays before Christmas 2010, Mason went shopping at Valley River Center - and snapped.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a cluster of symptoms that are often seen in trauma survivors, military doctors say.

The more severe the trauma, the more intense the symptoms: irritability, fear - even disconnection with reality. 

Lane County's chief prosecutor, Gardner said Mason received some treatment for PTSD through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) when he returned to the United States after serving overseas.

Gardner said Mason’s family noted irrational behavior in the weeks leading up to Mason firing a gun at cars in the a Valley River Center parking lot.

“He was making a lot of statements that just didn’t make sense,” said Gardner. “He would give non-coherent answers when his family would ask him questions.”

VA: 72,000 veterans diagnosed with PTSD

Mason’s family never expected PTSD would drive him to become violent.

“While we knew he suffered,” said Sara Mason, his sister, “we did not fully understand the depth of his hurt, pain or sorrow.”

The VA has diagnosed over 72,000 retired and active service members who have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan with PTSD, according to a report.

The VA also reports that veterans with PTSD are two to three times more likely to become violent. Usually those outbursts are aimed at a spouse or family member.

Law enforcement blames PTSD for dozens of homicides across the nation. Doctors say the traumatizing experience of war causes stress and mood swings that can lead to violent outbursts.

Unlike physical injuries, mental disorders like PTSD are invisible - and are very difficult for the VA to diagnose.

“Sometimes symptoms like anxiety and irritability don’t manifest themselves for several months,” said Dr. James Sardo of the Portland VA Medical Center. “It’s a really complex picture that our soldiers bring back home that we try to assess for.”

Military doctors say that any veterans who thinks they might be suffering from PTSD should contact their local VA office for a consultation.

From KVAL  kval.com 12/28/10:

DA: 'Prosecuting this young man would be a waste of time'
By KVAL.com staff Published: Dec 28, 2010 at 12:34 PM PST Last Updated: Dec 28, 2010 at 7:07 PM PST

EUGENE, Ore. - A man shot by police after firing shots at cars in a mall parking lot will not face criminal charges because he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder at the time of the incident, according to the district attorney.

Michael Thomas Mason, 27, was in the midst of a PTSD-related meltdown when he fired a gun at cars in the Valley River Center mall parking lot, District Attorney Alex Gardner said Tuesday.

"There's no reason to believe that he was even directly threatening other people," Gardner said.

Bullets hit one and possibly two cars, Gardner said. Mason or his family will pay to repair the damages, he said.

"Obviously firing a gun inside city limits puts people at risk," he added. "Obviously there has to be immediate law enforcement response to that. Obviously law enforcement has to prevent him from that.

"When he had this meltdown, it was just that," Gardner said. "It's a meltdown, and he's not recognizing family members, he's not responsive to their conversations."

Mason served in Iraq and witnessed the deaths of dozens of his fellow soldiers, his family said in a prepared statement.

"We hear a lot about post-traumatic stress, and a lot of people make claims about it and in some cases where it doesn't seem to be merited," Gardner said. "There is no question but that this was a real episode."

As a result, the DA won't pursue any criminal charges against Mason.

"In my opinion, given the circumstances, prosecuting this young man would be a waste of time even if it was possible to prove that there was some criminal intent, which frankly I believe there clearly wasn't any criminal intent," Gardner said. "He was not mentally present during this episode, and so in my opinion based on the evidence, he's not criminally liable, and putting the system through the expense to establish that beyond a reasonable doubt would be absurd." 

Mason has remained hospitalized since the Dec. 15 incident.

"At this point I understand he's parapalegic," Gardner said. "I understand his medical condition to be touch and go. There's hope that he will regain greater use of his arms. He has some movement in his arms."

Gardner also said the officers involved in the shooting, Sgt. Bill Solesbee and Officer Marcus Pope, were justified in using deadly force against Mason.

"It's clear based on the circumstances that the decision the officers made were consistent with the requirements of Oregon law," he said.

The police officers shot Mason at a location off River Road, but the incident started earlier in the parking lot of Valley River Center with a report of a man firing shots at cars.
No one was injured, but police have said the shooter hit two cars.

Police got a cell phone number for the suspect Mason from a relative, Police Chief Pete Kerns said after the shooting.

That enabled crisis negotiators to talk to Mason as police tracked him down.

Less than an hour later, police caught up with him on Zane Lane off River Road. Chief Kerns said that when Mason stopped driving, he showed some threatening behavior.

"The suspect's hands and body were constantly in motion," Kerns said. "Throughout the front portion interior of the vehicle, his behavior was unpredictable and did not comply with officers clear instructions."

Kerns said that's when Solesbee and Pope shot the suspect.

"I heard police coming this way, sirens very quickly," said witness Darrell Bassett. "I heard the sirens stop right down here and right after that I believe I heard three shots."

Police gave first aid to the suspect until medics arrived and took him to the hospital.

From The Register Guard registerguard.com 12/30/10:

EDITORIALS

War’s invisible wounds
Mason is one of many veterans suffering from PTSD

Appeared in print: Thursday, Dec. 30, 2010, page A6

Every month, Americans return from military duty in Iraq and Afghanistan having seen intense combat. Researchers estimate that nearly 20 percent of the 1.6 million veterans of these wars suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

That’s a cold statistic. Each of those more than 300,000 veterans has a face and a name. One of them is Michael Thomas Mason. He’s the 27-year-old Springfield man who was shot and wounded by two Eugene police officers Dec. 15 after Mason fired shots in the Valley River Center parking lot.

Mason remains in intensive care, recovering from wounds that left him mostly paralyzed from the neck down. His medical condition is tenuous — Lane County District Attorney Alex Gardner described it as “touch and go.”

Gardner called a news conference Tuesday to announce his finding that the two officers who shot Mason were justified in doing so. It was a reasonable decision, even though it is certain to be criticized by some in the community who believe the city’s police officers are too quick to resort to lethal force.

After randomly firing multiple gunshots that injured no one and struck a car in the parking lot, Mason left the mall and drove to the Santa Clara area. Police confronted Mason as he sat in his stopped sport utility vehicle, ordering him to put both hands out the window. Mason dropped a handgun out the window but reached back into his vehicle several times, not responding to officers’ commands and leading them to believe he might be reaching for a second gun.

The officers fired three times. Two bullets hit Mason, one striking his spinal column.

In addition to announcing that the police shooting was justified, Gardner said he would not prosecute Mason for the mall shootings, saying the veteran was in the throes of a PTSD episode at the time of the incident.

Given the severity of Mason’s actions and the threat posed to shoppers and mall employees, Gardner’s decision may take some by surprise. It’s one thing to recognize PTSD as a mitigating factor that results in reduced charges or leniency in sentencing. It’s another to say that prosecutors will respond by saying, in effect, “Never mind.”

But Gardner offered a convincing explanation for his decision, and Mason’s personal history provides an even more compelling one.

Gardner cited Mason’s extensive combat record: He arrived in Iraq as a member of the 173rd Airborne Light Infantry Brigade shortly after the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. Mason saw repeated and intense combat during his yearlong tour in Iraq, and he was cited by superiors for bravery under intense and prolonged fire and his efforts to protect fellow soldiers. Mason, who also served as a combat medic, later was for a year sent to Afghanistan, where he also saw heavy fighting.

After his Army discharge in spring 2006, Mason struggled with symptoms of PTSD — a condition that was confirmed by a diagnosis by mental health professionals at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Mason is just one of thousands of veterans — in Oregon and across the country — who have come home from war with profound psychic wounds and hidden traumas.

While struggling to recover, many of these veterans endure divorces, become homeless or fall into drug and alcohol abuse. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that veterans make up about 20 percent of the more than 30,000 suicides in the United States each year.

Some veterans suffering from PTSD commit crimes — a problem that a growing number of states and at least two Oregon counties have recognized by creating special veterans’ courts. Oregon should consider establishing statewide system of these courts, which operate in a similar fashion to drug courts and give vets with PTSD a compassionate path toward recovery without forcing them to enter the penal system.

Mason’s sister, Sara, attended Tuesday’s news conference and issued a plea that goes to the heart of her brother’s tragedy. She said her family wants to focus attention on the “need to better care for and address the soldiers wounded” physically and mentally during their service to the country.

“Our community, the VA and every citizen owes them that much,” she added.

That much. And more.

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