THE WAR AT HOME: Iraq veteran says family court using PTSD treatment against him
ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - War veterans are told to get the help they need for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but one Twin Cities man said the help he received is now being used against him in his child custody case.
David Carlson told the Fox 9 Investigators he hasn’t seen his two 10-year-old daughters - identical twins - in nearly a year.
"They're amazing. They're the light of my life and taught me how to love and be compassionate,” Carlson said. "If you can't come back and take care of your own kids after serving, what's the point of leaving your family if you’re going to lose everything in the process?"
TO IRAQ AND BACK
The Fox 9 Investigators first interviewed Carlson nearly a decade ago when he was in a support group for veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress.
A U.S. Marines corporal, he had three combat tours in Iraq and suffered three concussions.
His brief marriage did not survive the war.
Carlson went on to the University of Minnesota, earning two degrees and becoming a substitute teacher. He also ran for U.S. Senate in 2014, and his commercials featured his daughters.
But little did he know that a few years later, the help he received for PTSD would keep him from seeing his daughters.
Carlson has no criminal record beyond traffic offenses and no history of domestic violence. A Ramsey County Judge, however, believes Carlson has mental health issues, according to Carlson.
The bitter three-year custody battle is told in hundreds of pages of court documents with accusations from both sides, as well as disagreements over parenting time, schools and health care for the children.
In the process, Carlson went from joint custody of his daughters to two hour long intensely supervised visits a week.
His ex-wife accused Carlson of having a "narcissistic personality" and PTSD. He also accused a court-appointed guardian of incompetence and bias.
CASE TAKES A NEW TURN
Things escalated dramatically when Carlson accused his ex-wife's new husband of striking one of his daughters. Carlson even tape-recorded his daughters’ account without their knowledge.
"I need to know what's happening because I'm having a lot of bad feelings and they're being confirmed," he can be heard saying on the audio recording.
According to police reports, the officers didn't believe Carlson. Police thought he was manipulating his daughters to gain an advantage in the custody case, and police even considered recommending charges of filing a false police report.
50-YEAR RESTRAINING ORDER
Based on that, an Anoka County Judge slapped him with a 50-year harassment order. It would keep him from seeing his daughters until the year 2066.
It would also be used in his custody case in Ramsey County, where Judge Robyn Millenacker told Carlson if he wanted to see his kids, he had to sign a release for all his mental health records.
According to court transcripts, Millenacker told Carlson she was "concerned whether [he has] some mental issues as a result of the traumatic stress you endured."
“The easy thing is to go after with people who have been a veteran is to go after combat," he said.
Millenacker said Carlson--who was representing himself--kept interrupting her in court. She held him in contempt and he was taken into custody. He says he was held for five hours and took pictures of himself in the holding cell and posted them on social media.
JUDGE SEEKS MENTAL HEALTH RECORDS
"What I saw that day was, 'Holy cow someone is standing up to me,'" said Eric Wittenberg, Carlson’s therapist. ”She made him come out to the bench, under threat of 30 days in jail and formally apologize in front of the bench."
Judge Millenacker then directly ordered the VA to release Carlson's mental health records on March 1, 2016, but the Department of Veteran's Affairs refused to release the records or talk about Carlson's treatment.
"There's a reason there's HIPPA and our mental health records are protected by the VA," Wittenberg said. "We don't want our experience out there to pick apart our experience from ten years ago."
But under state law, courts evaluating the "best interests of the child" must also consider the physical, mental or chemical health issue of a parent.
Wittenberg said he sees nothing that should keep Carlson from seeing his daughters.
"Well-rounded citizen, give you the shirt off his back, and his daughters mean the world to him," he said.
Carlson has also been seen by Dr. James Tuorila, the Surgeon General for the VFW, who diagnosed him with an unspecified anxiety disorder. In the report Tuorila said, "his parental rights should resume immediately and he should not have to go through supervised visitation with his daughters."
Dr. Tuorila also performed a psychological exam know as an MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) on Carlson which, "indicated that he was open and honest while taking the exam but he may have been trying to create a favorable impression of himself." Dr. Tuorila concluded there was nothing "indicative of any pathological issues."
"I was a machine gunner in infantry," Carlson said. "I saw a lot of things you don't want to see in life but also not the type of things that damage you. I'm not a damaged person.”
Carlson filed a motion to remove judge Millenacker for bias, but she denied it.
Carlson filed a lawsuit in Federal court, against Ramsey and Anoka Counties, saying the judges violated his constitutional rights. A federal judge dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.
He also filed a complaint with the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards, but the board had no authority and dismissed it.
Carlson says he has no regrets about his three tours in Iraq, or serving his country, it's just coming at a price he never imagined.
"I look at pictures of my kids, I don't even recognize them," he said. "Two years is a long time for little girls and Dad is gone, growing up without me, they've essentially killed me off."
Millenacker ordered Carlson to see one of three court appointed psychologists and to have them perform an MMPI exam. But Carlson refuses that and other conditions, saying the deck has been stacked against him.
Fox 9 News contacted Judge Robyn Millenacker, but a court spokesperson said it would be unethical for her to comment because this is still a case before her.
Carlson’s ex-wife and her attorney also declined comment.