YAMASA, Dominican Republic – The gunpowder in Iraq drove him crazy, according to fellow soldiers of Corporal Rivas, one of the 604 Dominican troops who served in the war in the Arab country between 2003-2004, and who now, like all his comrades, has spent 15 years waiting for the promised paycheck that never arrived.
Several months after returning from Iraq, where he served in the Plus Ultra Brigade, Ruben Rivas was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and was later discharged from the army after disappearing without explanation from the psychiatric hospital where he had been treated for eight months.
“He was irregularly discharged... what really makes me angry is to see how my country has mistreated my buddies, and me too,” said a comrade of Rivas, ex-Sergeant Mariano Polanco, in a statement to EFE.
Polanco is one of the comrades-in-arms that regularly get together for a trip to La Gina, a village in the rural area of Yamasa municipality, 1½ hours north of Santo Domingo, to deliver food, clothes and medicines to Rivas, who after his departure through the army’s back door received no pension at all.
His parents, who are ill, put him up in a shack near their house after he had a number of violent episodes due to his mental state.
Corporal Rivas is undoubtedly the most dramatic case of the abandonment these soldiers are going through, and who up to now have not been paid for fighting in the Iraq war.
The veterans say they are owed allowances of $200 a day that, according to them, the United States government paid the Dominican army, plus the 500-euros monthly pay from the Multinational Plus Ultra Brigade, led by Spain, which they have not collected either.
That money, they said, would have been deposited in an account to which they never had access, Polanco said.
Furthermore, each soldier was promised a home upon their return from Iraq, homes that were built and apparently assigned to other people, they said.
Nor were their 20 years of service acknowledged when it came time to receive their pensions.
Some have remained in the armed forces, others were discharged on grounds they were “crazy.”
Many feel offended by the fact that President Danilo Medina in 2016 decorated 296 soldiers deployed in Iraq, less than half the number of Dominican troops.
Once ostracized by the military, they have tried to make a living however they could, always under the burden of their rejection by the institution they so honorably served.
What hurts 2nd Lieut. Manuel Thomas the most is having the government turn its back on them.
“They shove you out of the army and it’s like you no longer exist for them... now that they’ve taken what they wanted from you...We went there to fight under orders of a government that made us promises. We went, we did our duty, and when we returned, what happened? You don’t care about me? You don’t need me?” he complained in a statement to EFE.
Up to now, every time they have demanded what had been agreed upon, the Defense Ministry has answered with what they call “delaying tactics,” so they will just go away and forget about demanding what they are owed.
When EFE tried to check on whether anything was being done to resolve the situation, all the ministry spokespersons would say was that the matter “is on the agenda.”
In early November, Defense Minister Ruben Dario Paulino Sem said “there is a commission working with them in that regard,” after some of the soldiers marched in a demonstration to the National Palace to demand their pay.