Friday, February 29, 2008
By Seth Robson, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Friday, February 29, 2008
HOHENFELS, Germany — A training scenario in which a “car bomb” blew up a bus load of Iraqi civilians was nothing new to some of the 18th Engineer Brigade soldiers involved in cleaning up the mess.
Many of the soldiers participating in the training at Hohenfels Joint Multinational Readiness Center are combat veterans who have responded to real mass casualty events in Iraq.
“I can’t count how many times I’ve seen it,” said 370th Engineer Company soldier Spc. Merit Draven, 28, of Sonora, Calif.
During this predeployment training, Draven helped treat simulated wounds that ranged from mutilating blast injuries to amputations and abdominal wounds. But, he added, he’s seen worse.
“I have seen 40 or 50 people (injured) at a time from suicide bombers and IEDs (improvised explosive devices),” he said.
Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Mann, of the 54th Engineer Battalion, said his unit took 14 casualties in a rocket attack on Camp Ramadi in March 2006.
“I was one of them. I had shrapnel wounds,” said the 40-year-old Camarillo, Calif., native, adding that soldiers who helped him and other victims did an outstanding job and everyone who got hurt in the blast survived.
Maj. Damon Knarr, 32, of Merritt Island, Fla., a JMRC observer controller training the engineers, said the car-bomb scenario was a surprise thrown into a route-clearance training mission.
“The VBIED (vehicle borne improvised explosive device) went off in front of their convoy while they were doing route clearance. There were four civilians killed and 10 wounded,” he said.
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By Terri Barns, Special to Stars and Stripes
Scene, Sunday, March 2, 2008
In Spouse Calls blogger comments, one issue comes up more often than any other: Post traumatic stress disorder. Last week’s column included some of those comments from spouses with first- hand experience on the subject.
These messages are significant, both for their individuality and their similarities. Each spouse who watches a loved one suffer through the after- effects of combat has a unique experience, but there are also common feelings and frustrations:
• “This is not the person I married.”
• “He says he doesn’t want to be married any more.”
• “There is so much anger.”
• “Why is he kind to everyone but me?”
• “Am I the only one?”
I point out these similarities not to minimize the individuality of each experience, but to offer an answer to the last question: You are not alone.
There are so many questions I cannot answer, but I can point out resources for help and encouragement.
Operation Homefront is an organization created to meet needs within the military community. Meredith Leyva, a military spouse who founded the organization in 2001, recently announced an Operation Homefront program for spouses of wounded veterans.
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New perspective: Sox shortstop Julio Lugo chats with retired Sgt. 1st Class Roland Paquette during Wednesday’s visit to Washington’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Hospital visit good for Sox’ health
FORT MYERS - Though flying to Washington to meet with President Bush on Wednesday and then heading back to Florida the same day was a grind, the trip gave the Red Sox [team stats] valuable perspective on their place in the grand scheme of things.
All it took was a visit to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and speaking with wounded veterans of the United States’ war in Iraq.
“I think the most important part of the trip - you can ask anyone who went on it - was visiting the hospital,” said Josh Beckett [stats] yesterday. “I got to hear several stories, and as terrible as those stories are, it’s something like that that you get to hear that puts everything in perspective for you and makes you realize how fortunate we are to have people like that who are willing to do stuff like that. Those are heroes.”
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Updated: Feb 29, 2008 05:40 PM EST
By Samantha Anderson
FORT CARSON - It's one of the most recognized and respected medals awarded to members of the U.S. Armed forces. It's also one, that more often than not, is given to a soldier's family and rarely gets pinned on the soldiers themselves.
27-year-old Specialist Gavin Sibayan received a Purple Heart medal Friday morning.
He was honored for his bravery in Iraq. He was deployed in 2006 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In September of 2007, the convoy he was on was hit by an explosive device. "I got hit with shrapnel, I was in the gun, got knocked out for 30 minutes, woke up covered in blood," describes Specialist Sibayan. When he awoke, he got right back up and continued fighting.
Specialist Sibayan now suffers from TBI, PTSD and hip dislocation. He returned home to his wife Stephanie and his son at the end of September and has been in recovery every since.
Specialist Sibayan is currently assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Carson.
Specialist Sibayan, showed great courage by coming out of being unconscious and continuing to fight. He was wounded and deserves the Purple Heart but he should probably receive a Silver Star along with it or at least a Bronze Star for this kind of action.
What I believe he should get is a medal for bravery speaking out on the fact he's also been diagnosed with PTSD. So many, especially the attitude reported from Fort Carson in the past, want to pass off the PTSD wounded as being anything other than brave. They fail to see the courage these men and women exhibit when they continue to fight battles while already wounded by PTSD. Imagine the kind of courage that takes to be willing to keep doing their jobs knowing what doing their jobs are doing to their minds.
They keep going although they know each day, each new traumatic event will increase the hell already waging a battle in their minds. When they are able to sleep, they know they will find no peace in their dreams when sleep only allows the enemy to awaken in the darkness of their dreams.
Most of them will never speak of the wound eating away at them until they are out of danger and not necessary for the rest of the unit. They will seek help, if they seek it at all, when they are home. Why can't the military command see the kind of courage that takes? Why can't they see that if they get these men and women into treatment as soon as possible, they will be able to retain that kind of hero? There is nothing to be ashamed of. They are nothing to be ashamed of. They are a rarity. What will it take for the commanders to figure out that when they commit suicide, they do it when they are not fighting a battle with the rest of their brothers, but fighting a private battle by themselves?
Firefighters Say Town Being Unpatriotic
Captain's Benefits Altered While Serving Overseas
POSTED: 5:47 pm EST February 29, 2008
STOUGHTON, Mass. -- More than 100 firefighters from across the state protested Friday in Stoughton on behalf of Fire Capt. Doug Campbell, who is serving in Iraq.
NewsCenter 5's Jack Harper reported that the union says the town is being cheap and unpatriotic in regard to Campbell's pay while he's away, but town officials say that couldn't be further from the truth.
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HALFMOON - More than four years of delay and red tape has finally been cut for a Halfmoon veteran facing foreclosure.
Joseph Tannenbaum has been paid more than $60,000 in back benefits.
There doesn't seem to be any question the Vietnam vet deserved the increased benefits. But for nearly five years the Veterans Administration wasn't paying them.
The health battles began for Army PFC Tannenbaum in Vietnam where he lost his left leg. Then it was 15 months recovery in Valley Forge Army Hospital.
As he aged health problems developed. A stroke in 1999 paralyzed his left side. His $1,700 monthly disability check covered less and less.
Tannenbaum was entitled to double that amount, but from 2003 until just a few weeks ago the federal government was not paying.
Tannenbaum says the problem was the bureaucracy of the VA's regional office.
Finally, after help from a newspaper reporter and Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, Tannenbaum got his back benefits.
"A lot of our veterans, both from these wars, Iraq and Afghanistan and previous wars, have been having trouble with the VA system. Because the VA system is backlogged. There's extraordinary amounts of paperwork, long waits and inefficiencies in the system," Gillibrand said.
The congresswoman believes there are other vets in the area with similar problems not receiving the benefits they're entitled to. She urges them to contact her office.
The reporter is a hero in this but they don't say who it was. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand was too.
Franklyn "Frankie" Duzant, 42, was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the slayings of his wife and son in June 2006.(RED HUBER, ORLANDO SENTINEL / February 27, 2008)
February 28, 2008
Seven Pendleton Marines to be reunited with Iraq canines
By Susan Shroder
UNION-TRIBUNE BREAKING NEWS TEAM
2:04 p.m. February 29, 2008
SAN DIEGO – Call it another case of canine crush in Iraq.
Seven mixed-breed puppies who won the hearts of Camp Pendleton Marines deployed in Iraq are headed to San Diego and will be reunited with their in-love leathernecks in mid-March.
The puppies were on a United Airlines flight that landed in Washington, D.C., at 6:40 a.m. Thursday. They're spending some time on the ground with a caregiver before being flown to Lindbergh Field, where they are expected to arrive Saturday or Sunday, said Patty Brooks, spokeswoman for the Rancho Coastal Humane Society.
The Encinitas-based humane society is assisting the Marines in bringing the 14-week-old puppies to San Diego.
But don't think about adopting one. They're already spoken for by the Marines, who are part of a team training Iraqis to protect that country's borders.
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A Helping Hand for Vets With PTSD
The Wall Street Journal
Feb 29, 2008
February 26, 2008 - Imagine you are a young soldier wounded in Iraq. Your physical injuries heal, but your mind remains tormented. You are flooded with memories of the bloody firefight you survived, you can't concentrate, and sudden noise makes you jump out of your skin. At 23 years old, you are about to be discharged from the military, afraid you'll never again be able to hold a job or fully function in society.
For the thousands of young men and women who apply for disability benefits upon return from Iraq and Afghanistan, these fears are becoming a reality.
When a veteran files a psychiatric disability claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), an examiner is assigned to determine the extent of incapacitation. As part of the assessment, the examiner requests a psychiatric evaluation to obtain the veteran's diagnosis. Once the veteran is diagnosed with a service-related mental condition (typically depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or another anxiety disorder) the claims examiner assigns a disability rating.
The most severe level for a veteran leaving service is 100%. But even a 50% rating denotes significant impairment (e.g., "difficulty in understanding complex commands"), according to the Veterans Benefits Administration.
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From Aug. 15, 2006
BRAVO LARRY SCOTT,,,,FROM VA WATCHDOGDISSING PTSD VETERANS HAS BECOME A LIFESTYLE FOR DR. SALLYSATEL -- And, she's at it again in her latest "think-tank" article --"...new compensation awards will coincide with the retirement years..." --"...how to distinguish between...those who are seeking a free ride..." --"...some veterans' advocates...remain too ready...[for the] quickreach for the disability claims form..."Dr. Sally is on a roll again!In her latest article for the American Enterprise Institute "think-tank" she uses innuendo and negative buzz words to paint veterans with PTSD as losers, liars or both.Background here...
Latest story here... http://www.aei.org/publications/filter.all,pubID.24781/pub_detail.aspfilter.all,pubID.24781/pub_detail.asp
Stressed out VetsBelieving the Worst about Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
By Sally Satel, M.D.
"Dear Dr. Satel: You are an ideologically constipated coward." So begins one of several dyspeptic communications I've received recently from Vietnam veterans and others.
What provoked their ire was a remark of mine quoted in the Washington Post on June 20.
Under the headline "Iraq War May Add Stress for Past Vets; Trauma Disorder Claims at New High," the article suggested that the current war is responsible for a surge in disability compensation among veterans' ranks.While I do agree that current news coverage may prompt anxiety, sleeplessness, and distressing memories among veterans who have led productive lives since leaving Vietnam, I told the Post I was "skeptical" that veterans who had functioned well for three decades would now be permanently incapacitated.
My sentiments are unpopular--you "right-wing, bloviating [expletive deleted] pseudo-psychiatrist," wrote another reader on his blog--but my point is actually an encouraging one. That is, even if veterans are undone by news and footage of fighting in Iraq, few are likely to endure a subsequent lifetime of chronic anguish or dysfunction of the kind that requires long-term disability entitlement............
Aug. 31, 2006
RIDE, SALLY, RIDE -- Dr. Sally Satel continues to ride PTSD veterans.From Slate.com: "Once a [veteran] receives a monthly check...hismotivation to hold a job wanes." --- "...a lingering threat areclinicians who are too quick...to reach for thepermanent disability claims form."go to VA Watchdog and read the rest of what this witch says.
For her information, as if she wants any real information when she can just keep claiming what she has in her own mind, no matter if it is based in fact or not. Let me tell you the story of a man named Jack who came home from Vietnam and went to work while his father told him to get over the clear signs of PTSD.He came home in 1971. He went to work, got married and separated more times than he can remember by the time we met. He still worked, off and on, as much as he could. Each job he applied for he looked for one thing, if he would have to spend his work time with anyone or not. He only applied when he would be able to be alone.In 1990 he was diagnosed by a private psychologist, who apparently was well informed regarding PTSD unlike Satel. The days of being unable to get off the couch because of nightmares hitting too hard followed by flashbacks were not enough to cause him to want to stop working. He wanted to work. He felt he was doing something with his life.
Finally in 1993, he agreed to go to the VA since they were the experts in PTSD. He was again diagnosed with PTSD and in the 98% range. He still wanted to work. This was followed by six years of claims and appeals. Once the VA diagnosed him with service connected PTSD, our private health insurance would no longer cover him for any mental health treatment. He was told it was the responsibility of the government.He was finally awarded disability from the VA for PTSD in 1999. Once this was finally given, he was able to file for protection from losing his job under Family and Medical Leave Act. He kept trying while his condition got worse. He still wanted to work no matter what his VA doctors told him about the added stress level to his condition. He kept trying. He ended up taking early retirement because of his disability.Jack is not unique, except to me, and like all others in the VA system, they make treatment impossible without an approved service connected disability rating. He made a lot more money working than he is on VA disability.
Now Satel can make any kind of outrageous claim she wants but we know what is reality. We know what it is when we live with it everyday of our lives. For her to claim this is an easy thing for any veteran proves she knows nothing about those who suffer with PTSD. One of the biggest things to these veterans is denial. They would rather do anything other than to admit they have PTSD. For her to slander any veteran claiming they get a free ride is beyond incompetence. She needs to have her credentials revoked. Satel should be brought before a committee to answer for the damage she has done to those with PTSD.I am sick and tired of fighting to get our veterans into treatment while Satel gets to harm them. There are too many Satels in positions supposedly seeking to help veterans and doing nothing but harm to them instead. These people need to be forced out the jobs they clearly have no business being in.
Lawyers are particularly at risk from mental health problems.
Lynnette Hoffman reports
March 01, 2008
SEAN Brown still remembers the details a decade on. From the horrific sequence of events right down to the specific type of bullets that were used; how many there were, where they went in, how long it took the victim to die.
Brown (not his real name) wasn't a witness, nor was he on the ground at the crime scene, but plenty of grisly stories have been embedded in his memory in 20-odd years as a senior crown prosecutor.
Brown has "seen a lot" over the span of his career, a career that has required him to immerse himself in the intricate circumstances of violent death and homicides, brutal rapes, war crimes, you name it. The sum total of all that, he says, is "not very healthy".
New research from Macquarie University, to be published in the international journal Traumatology, has found that criminal law work can have profoundly damaging psychological effects.
By and large, Brown has been rather fortunate in that regard. He has not suffered a debilitating depression, nor has he felt the need to seek professional assistance for mental health issues, or fallen into a pattern of abusing alcohol or drugs.
But that's not to say the work hasn't taken its toll. His dreams are sometimes affected, as are his relationships. "I tend to get moodier with my family and become more difficult to get on with at home," he says.
At 58, Brown has been married and divorced three times, and while it's difficult to blame one factor, he feels his work has played some sort of role in it all.
In the new study, researcher and senior clinical and forensic psychologist Lil Vrklevski -- herself a lawyer -- compared the mental health and wellbeing of 50 solicitors who work with traumatised clients, namely criminal defence lawyers and prosecutors, with that of 50 solicitors (conveyancers and academics) who work with non-traumatised clients.
The study found that criminal lawyers are nearly twice as likely to seek professional assistance to cope with work related distress: 36 per cent of the sample of criminal lawyers sought professional help for that reason, compared with just 20 per cent of the sample of other solicitors.
Likewise, criminal law solicitors are much more prone to developing depression, stress and vicarious trauma, where professionals who are indirectly exposed to trauma begin to take on some of the same symptoms as the person who actually experienced it, such as increased depression or anxiety.
When you read it and know what some go through without ever being involved in traumatic events, but touched by them after the fact, you may understand how PTSD can and does strike combat forces.
Peake: Applications Being Accepted from Local Providers
WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is designating $37 million to fund at least 2,250 new transitional housing beds by giving grants to local providers.
"This is the largest one-time designation of funds for the homeless program in VA's history," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake. "This is a great opportunity for community organizations to join VA in its mission of eradicating chronic homelessness among veterans."
The grants are intended to offset the operating expenses for transitional housing facilities operated by state and local governments, Indian tribal governments, and faith-based and community-based organizations that are capable of providing supported housing and supportive services for homeless veterans.
VA began its national effort to eradicate chronic homelessness 20 years ago by providing $5 million for a pilot program to support contract residential care and to create domiciliary care for homeless veterans in San Diego.
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Part 2 of a two-part series
By Carissa Marsh Special to the Acorn
For five years in the '60s Frank Mastre served his country as an active duty member of the United States military- and for the last five years Frank Mastre has been homeless.
At age 58, he wears a long gray beard, and his kind but tired face reveals a sense of both sadness and strength.
"Being homeless is terrible," said Mastre, a Vietnam combat veteran. "Not being able to afford food is ridiculous. You're like a dog. Everyone needs the basics- food, shelter, that sort of thing."
Mastre- who said he became homeless following a costly divorce- ran away from home at 15 and lied about his age to join the military.
"Times were different back then. There was a real push to join the service, to be a good American," he said. "I knew I had an obligation to my country, my neighborhood and my town."
Mastre went to Vietnam in 1965, serving in the Marines as a special operations "ground pounder." Like so many soldiers, he faced death on a daily basis, taking part in several parachute drops behind enemy lines.
And as a member of the United States Air Force, in 1969 he took part in the bloody conflict later known as "The Battle of Hamburger Hill."
Mastre is just one of dozens of homeless veterans in Ventura County and one of several in Simi Valley.
Cathy Brudnicki, executive director of the county's Homeless and Housing Coalition, said a recent survey they conducted shows that Mastre's story is not an isolated event.
"This count is representative of our community," she said.
The survey found that nearly 15 percent of the county's homeless population are veterans. Nationally, 25 percent of people living on the streets are veterans, with more than 20,000 in Los Angeles alone.
And most, like Mastre, are Vietnam veterans.
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The Oklahoman (Oklahoma)
Feb 28, 2008
February 27, 2008 - Oklahoma - Dustin Thorson was a decorated war veteran and community leader the day he killed his two children and turned the gun on himself at his home on Tinker Air Force Base.
The U.S. Army honored Thorson in 2006 with the Joint Commendation Medal for aiding coalition forces in capturing the No. 10 most wanted terrorist in Iraq, according to a Nov. 22, 2006, issue of Tinker Take Off, the base newspaper.
His military career, status in the community and a lot of other things ended Monday with him lying dead in the same bedroom as his two children, ages 9 and 4.
All had suffered gunshot wounds to their heads.
The children had also been shot in the chest and died instantly, officials said.
"Am I surprised? Absolutely,” said Thorson's attorney, Matthew Tate Wise. "His thing is, he made it over and over again that he loved his kids. He's done all kinds of amazing things for the military, so that makes it even more unbelievable.”
Identified in the newspaper as an Air Force technical sergeant, Thorson's computer skills helped find the wanted terrorist in Iraq by hacking into computers, cell phones and other electronic devices.
He was assigned to the 752nd Communications Squadron, but was sent to Iraq and was embedded with the U.S. Army's 172nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division operating out of Baghdad, the newspaper said.
He initially shipped to Iraq to fix computers and printers, but was reassigned as a communications specialist to an Army warfare group because of his ability to hack into enemy communication devices, the newspaper said.
His transition from an Air Force technical guru into an embedded assignment with the Army led to him being nicknamed "Sponge Bob,” for his ability to soak up knowledge from his new comrades in the Army, the newspaper said.
Thorson helped track the terrorist by tracing a cell phone.
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Thursday, February 28, 2008
Cpl. Michael D. Hirsch-Collins
CPL MICHAEL D. HIRSCH-COLLINS was born in Denver, Colorado on the 20th of February, 1985. He leaves behind his beloved mother, Colleen Thigpen, step-father, Maverick Thigpen, two brothers, Maverick II and Matthew. Michael was predeceased by his father. Michael loved being a soldier in the US Army. After much searching he finally found his true calling thus leaving behind a platoon of 35 soldiers who loved him like a brother. CPL Hirsch-Collins could often be found in a field with a dirt bike and his friends, in his barrack's room playing video games and debating with anyone anywhere about any topic. Michael grew up in Denton, Texas. He attended Denton High before joining the Army in August of 2006. Michael loved music. Sanitaria by Sublime was his favorite song. As a child Michael loved to read and was an avid cub-scout earning the highest award possible, the Arrow of Light. Among his favorite books were the Animorphs and Goosebumps series. Michael graduated at 23:03 on the 17th of February 2008 while riding his motorcycle at Ft. Hood, Texas, just two days before his 23rd birthday. His passing was quick and painless. Cpl Hirsch-Collins touched many lives during his short stay on earth. His jesterish swagger walk, infectious smile and perfectly delivered sarcasm will always be remembered warmly in our hearts. Cpl Hirsch-Collins was a loyal friend and a leader amongst his peers. His legacy will live on through the lives that he touched. Visitation will be held from 6:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M. Thursday, February 28, 2008 and from 11:30 A.M. to service time at 1:00 P.M. Friday, February 29, 2008 at American Heritage Funeral Home.
Published in the Houston Chronicle on 2/28/2008.
February 28, 2008
ROCKY HILL — - A federal grand jury has indicted a local man on charges he defrauded the state Department of Veterans' Affairs by claiming he was a veteran in order to receive health care coverage and benefits, U.S. State Attorney Kevin J. O'Connor announced Wednesday.
Evin Hill, also known as Edwin Hill, 47, was indicted Tuesday by a grand jury sitting in New Haven on one count of health care fraud and two counts of making false statements.
The indictment alleges that from March 1996 to July 2006 Hill schemed to defraud the state agency by submitting applications for VA medical benefits and services, which included a report of separation from active duty, commonly called a DD-214, all of which contained material that falsely represented he was a military veteran eligible to obtain medical treatment and services at VA medical facilities.
Hill also made false statements to the VA when he claimed to have received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Marine Corps. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on the health care fraud charge and the false statement charges.
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52 minutes ago
OTTAWA - The number of former soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress has more than tripled since Canada first deployed troops to Afghanistan, say new figures released by Veterans Affairs Canada.
With the country's involvement in the war set to continue until 2011, the numbers are only expected to get worse.
The rising tide of psychiatric disorders among relatively young men and women is the biggest challenge facing the system of veterans' care, which until recently had been geared toward geriatric issues, said Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson.
"It is the challenge of the future," he said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
Of the 10,252 (Veterans Affairs) clients with a psychiatric condition, 63 per cent have a (post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD) condition, said a briefing note prepared for Thompson last summer.
"Over the past five years, the number of clients with a psychiatric condition has tripled, increasing from 3,501 to 10,252; the number of clients with a PTSD condition has more than tripled, increasing from 1,802 to 6,504 as of March 31, 2007."
The statistics represent those who are no longer serving in uniform. The Defence Department keeps its own, separate tally of members suffering from stress injuries.
Figures obtained last summer by The Canadian Press show that of 1,300 Canadian Forces members who served in Afghanistan since 2005, 28 per cent had symptoms suggestive of one or more mental-health problems. The numbers are based on post-deployment screening.
Of those, just over six per cent were possibly suffering from PTSD and another five per cent showed symptoms of major depression.
Both National Defence and Veterans Affairs have faced repeated warnings during the last year about the looming mental-health crisis.
"Without an aggressive response, many veterans have the potential to harm themselves or others," Veterans Affairs staff wrote in a note to Thompson.
"The earlier the intervention, greater the chances of recovery."
The Conservatives responded in the 2007 federal budget with $9 million, allowing the veterans department to open five operational stress-injury clinics across the country. The new centres are in addition to the Defence Department's existing five stress clinics, which first began appearing in the late 1990s.
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By Kimberly Hefling - The Associated Press
Posted : Thursday Feb 28, 2008 16:48:06 EST
WASHINGTON — The Veterans Affairs Department says its undersecretary responsible for benefits is leaving.
The agency has been besieged by complaints about its backlog in claims, which have escalated partly because of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seeking assistance.
Daniel L. Cooper, a retired Navy vice admiral, departs April 1. A VA spokesman says Cooper is leaving for personal reasons.
By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Feb 28, 2008 16:17:42 EST
Government Accountability Office representatives praised the Army for some of the advances it has made over the past year but said there is still a long way to go in hiring legal representatives to help soldiers going through the disability retirement process.
Also, some treatment facilities lack as much as 40 percent of the staff they need to maintain a ratio of one legal counselor per 30 soldiers, said John Pendleton, GAO acting director of health care, on Wednesday at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform national security subcommittee.
“The Army has made progress in the five months since our September hearing,” he said, referring to a previous GAO report showing that the Army’s Transition Units were only half-staffed. But one-third of the units still have staffing shortages, he said.
And, 2,500 wounded, sick or injured soldiers waiting to go through the evaluation process remain in their units — and not in the Warrior Transition Units designed to ensure they receive the administrative help they need, as well as allowing trained professionals to keep a close eye on them for medical or mental health needs, Pendleton said.
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Thousands of veterans lose health benefits because of paperwork errors
By Lou Michel / Buffalo News
Christopher M. Simmance helped keep the peace as an American soldier in the Middle East, but when he returned home and later suffered a breakdown, he was turned away from the VA hospital because the government didn’t acknowledge his overseas duty.
Dana Cushing as a Marine served two tours of duty in Iraq and a third in east Africa, but when she returned home, she found herself labeled a “conscientious objector” and also was denied medical care by the government.
Simmance is one local veteran among roughly 2,000 across the country trying to get corrected incomplete or inadequate discharge papers. Cushing only recently got hers corrected after trying for a year. The result is that many now face a bureaucratic nightmare that prevents them from getting the health benefits they are entitled to receive.
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By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Feb 28, 2008 13:21:08 EST
A House subcommittee was urged Thursday to expand the Veterans Affairs Department’s authority to provide mental health counseling for the families of veterans, including National Guard and reserve members who have returned from combat.
Current law restricts VA to providing “limited services to immediate family members,” said Kristin Day, VA’s chief consultant for care management and social work service.
“The law provides, in general, that the immediate family members of a veteran being treated for a service-connected disability may receive counseling, education and training services,” Day told the House Veterans’ Affairs health subcommittee.
That leaves a lot of gaps for people who fall outside the military health care system, some critics say.
Todd Bowers, government affairs director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said that when he was wounded by a sniper’s bullet during his second tour in Iraq, his mother suffered.
“The incident that physically wounded me wounded my mother much worse,” said Bowers, a Marine Corps Reserve staff sergeant. “As she struggled to cope with the knowledge of my injury, my mother was more than alone. She was lost. She sought assistance through the only means she was aware of, the mental health counseling covered by her own health care.”
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Executive Intelligence Review
Feb 28, 2008
Paul Sullivan, the executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, added that there is a surge of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, "and not only are they being denied medical care but their requests for help are being delayed unnecessarily." There are cases of veterans committing suicide, turning up homeless, turning to drug and alcohol abuse (euphemistically called "self-medicating") as a result of the long delays, "and the Department of Veterans Affairs is doing little or nothing, and in some cases, violating the law." Sullivan said that the only option left to address this situation was to file a lawsuit.
February 29, 2008 - When the austerity mongers among Republicans and the "post-partisan Bloomberg crowd talk about "entitlement reform," they usually mean slashing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits. Hardly anybody talks about veterans' benefits in the same vein, saying openly that they must come under the budget axe as well.
However, veterans have been under attack, in fact, just as much as the elderly, the sick, and the poor have been. In its first budget submission after winning re-election in 2004, the Bush Administration proposed that those in the Veterans Administration (VA) health-care system should pay higher enrollment fees and prescription drug co-pays than they were already being charged, a move the Department of Veterans Affairs calculated would result in 213,000 fewer veterans in the system than otherwise would be the case.
At about the same time, Undersecretary of Defense David Chu was quoted by the Wall Street Journal complaining that veterans' benefits had grown so much, that "they are taking away from the nation's ability to defend itself."
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The other day I was hanging around the Seattle, Washington VA Hospital with a few homeless veterans. I was listening around the eligibility check in desk for information. As the homeless veterans were getting checked in, I was listening to the “in-processor” who hands out the books, and folders to including the benefits of what one MIGHT be entitled to etc. and so forth.
As I was watching the homeless veterans looking down with a hangdog expression waiting for their VA identification cards giving their addresses as “none”, and explaining that their incomes from their work, were minimal at best as most did have some form of work, I heard the following… You are eligible for medical only. You are not eligible for dental, or eye glasses unless it is a service rated disability.
One fellow piped in and said he did not need glasses until he was in the service. She said he had to prove it of course. Of course proving things to the VA is nearly impossible in the first place, without two examinations and a rectal check. For some reason, the armed forces and the VA cannot coordinate the transference of the medical records in this modern era as of yet.
As a further example, I have written the National Personnel Records Center, sent in the prescribed forms, followed up with letters to a Senator and a Congressman, for my medical records. This has taken four years and I have yet to receive them or the NPRC to find them or the VA to receive them.
On the other hand, I am wondering if the VA is counting these homeless veterans that showed up on their door step that day at their hospital. If so, why were they not automatically referred to the Homeless Veteran’s Coordinator that is supposed to be assigned to every veteran’s administration hospital? The VA has highly touted these “highly dedicated and trained individuals”. It was not a Federal Holiday again. Undoubtedly, there is a serious lack of training system wide at the VA. What else is new at the VA?
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Tinker seeks ways to help ease stress
By Augie Frost and Ken Raymond
There are unique aspects of being in the military that may lead to health issues, particularly mentally, Lt. Col. David Parr said Wednesday.
From moving frequently to being deployed overseas, there are added stresses on a service member that can lead to problems, said Parr, commander of the Operations Support Squadron.
Officials at Tinker Air Force Base held a roundtable discussion on mental health issues in the military Wednesday, two days after Tech Sgt. Dustin Thorson killed his two children and then himself.
During a separate news conference Wednesday, Air Force Brig. Gen. Lori J. Robinson said Thorson saw a mental health professional and his commander was monitoring his mental health. She did not elaborate.
At the roundtable, officials focused on services to check, balance and treat mental illnesses. Before someone is deployed he or she goes through a screening. When he or she returns, they again go through a screening and then another one 90 days later, Parr said.
Often times that stress is taken out in the home on family members, but the goal is to alleviate that. Tinker officials would not discuss particulars concerning Thorson and his family, but said they never want to be faced with that problem.
"We don't want it to get to that point,” said Jane Allen, director of the Air Wing Family Support Center.
Airmen who may be suffering from depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder have a wealth of options for treatment, Allen said.
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Wednesday, February 27, 2008 8:56 AM CST
TO THE EDITOR:
I am writing this letter to you today to ask for the support of the community to help one of their fellow citizens that are serving in the United States Army.
This soldier is my son, Sgt. Beau Clenney.When my son joined the Army in August 2004, he graduated with honors from basic training and was advanced in AIT (advanced individual training) for his prior experience as a paramedic.
He went on to be assigned to the 4th Infantry Division as a medic for a cavalry squadron. My son then deployed to Iraq in December 2005. While deployed to Iraq, my son received multiple awards for his services there, including an award for valor for pulling three wounded soldiers to safety and treating them until evacuation could arrive.
Once he returned from Iraq in December 2006, my son told his supervisors that he was having issues related to things that had happened and that he saw while in combat. He explained to them that he was having anger issues, easily startled, sleep problems, loss of motivation and family problems.
My son was then told that he was a sergeant in the Army and that he needed to "soldier on and find his motivation."
Despite numerous attempts to inform his command that something was wrong, he was told to go back to work and do his job. After going to a counselor on post and explaining to her what was going on, he was diagnosed as having post traumatic stress disorder.
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This is still going on and there is no excuse for it. You would think that the Army brass would have enough pride that they would not want to be seen as totally ignorant, but it doesn't seem to bother all of them. This soldier was basically told to suck it up and then made to suffer for going for help. Why in this day and age are there still some living in the dark ages equal to bleeding the patient to death? This Army Mom deserves credit for speaking out. If we are ever to get rid of the stigma and ignorance of the military culture promoting this twisted reaction to a combat wound, it will take more like her. I often wonder what these people would think if it happened to someone in their own family touched by trauma in daily life. Would they understand it then or would they tell them to "soldier on" and "find their motivation" instead of leading them to a place to heal the wound?
By TURNER HUTCHENS
— Turner Hutchens, 615-278-5161
A lack of care at the Tennessee State Veterans Home in Murfreesboro has led to the early death and needless suffering of veterans in the facility's care, according to a new report by U.S. Department of Justice.
The report, issued Feb. 8 to Gov. Phil Bredesen by the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, describes "unconscionably poor health care" at the state's veterans nursing homes in Murfreesboro and Humboldt in West Tennessee.
However, state officials have said the problems have been remedied at both facilities since the data for the report was collected last year.
The report describes a disturbing list of problems, citing specific instances with patients not receiving food and water, a lack of proper pain medication, psychotropic drugs given to patients for the convenience of staff, a lack of care for chronic conditions failure to address dangers of falls and failure to aid patients in rehabilitation.
"At both TSVHs (Tennessee State Veterans Homes), residents have been, and continue to be, the victims of egregious neglect from the nursing homes' failure to provide for the most basic of human needs — food and water," the report states. "As a result, residents have suffered and, sometimes, have died needless and untimely deaths."
One case found to have maggots in a patient's open pressure sore. In another, a patient whose pain was so severe he threatened suicide was given Tylenol and there was no follow up to his mental state. In yet another, a man in need of hospice care did not received it for five days while dying.
"We found that many residents spend their last days and hours often suffering needless pain," the report stated.
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by: Congressman Tom Allen
Thu Feb 28, 2008 at 11:45:14 AM EST
(This is a guest piece by Congressman Tom Allen who represents Maine's 1st Congressional District. Congressman Allen is promoting H.R. 5448, a bill that would improve veterans' treatment for combat PTSD. From the diaries - promoted by Brandon Friedman)
When my father returned from the South Pacific after World War II, he rarely talked about the terrifying nightly bombings that blasted the Navy air base where he served as a control tower operator. Nor did he often speak of the pilots he had befriended who never returned from their missions. He was a quiet and determined man, who gave enormously to his country, community and family, but I now believe that when he came home, he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and that skillful treatment might have eased his pain.
In 1945, however, the symptoms that constitute PTSD were rarely acknowledged. Even today, as Maine veterans have shown me, it remains under-diagnosed, under-treated, and misunderstood. That is why I have introduced the Full Faith in Veterans Act, H.R. 5448.
Continue reading below. . . .
Congressman Tom Allen :: Help for Veterans with PTSD
Scott Whittier, from Washington, Maine, served as an active duty Army Reserve soldier and National Guard Member during the Gulf War in 1991. U.S. forces had relentlessly bombed and strafed Iraqi military convoys fleeing Kuwait on Route 8, Iraq's "Highway of Death." As he recently recalled, "The sights were of nothing I'd ever seen before... Death littered the highway."
Later, these sights began to take their toll. Back in the States, Scott was diagnosed by Togus Veterans Administration (VA) medical personnel as suffering from PTSD, made worse when he watched 9/11 and the current War in Iraq unfold. "I almost totally shut down. I began isolating myself...started drinking even more. Lost all interest...could not remember simple tasks, names, where I was going... Memories came crashing down ...of all those bodies, smells, hands, legs, heads, blood, burnt gruesome odorsome bodies."
Although his physician was confident that his PTSD was service-connected, the VA demanded proof that he was on Route 8 during the invasion. One would think that the military itself could easily provide this evidence, but it took the Army years to do so. Only this month did Scott get word that his government would accept his doctor's diagnosis.
Terry Belanger of Biddeford was rapidly driving a troop-filled truck in Vietnam during the Tet offensive when he ran over a small girl. Ordered not to stop because of the danger lurking in the village, the accident has haunted him for decades. He is plagued by flashbacks and nightmares, anxiety, migraines and insomnia. As his loving wife wrote, "this wonderful man...left part of his soul in Vietnam."
Terry's PTSD disability claim was denied because "there was no evidence of a qualifying stressor and his evidentiary assertions regarding his post-traumatic stress disorder were found to be not credible." In other words, this soldier's medical history and the conclusions of his private and VA physicians-all of whom believe he has service-connected PTSD-are dismissed by VA bureaucrats.
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By: Kim Johnson
"I did this one time before a long time ago," said Scott Cameron as he lowered himself down into an underground tunnel in Vietnam.
On a journey half way around the world, Scott Cameron is re-discovering places that have haunted him for decades. The tunnels he’s exploring were used by enemy soldiers to hide from danger during the war.
"You could escape into here when the B-52s started hitting," he said while looking into a hand-held personal video camera.
As the veteran goes deeper into the ground, bad memories begin to surface. "To be honest, I got to get the hell out of here," Scott said. "I'm getting real paranoid and I'm getting real claustrophobic."
Soon come flashbacks that are too powerful to bear. "This is really doing a lot of triggers for this guy, this old Vietnam vet," he said.
Scott is searching down in these holes, a painful search that began thousands of miles away back in Duluth.
Five months ago Scott decided it was time to take serious steps in his life. He’d been suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder--a crippling mental illness he developed after the war four decades ago.
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This is not a picture from Vietnam. It is from Afghanistan. They are not American forces but Canadian forces. Does it look that much different from the other one above taken in Vietnam?
For some, the war is no longer the war they fought with machine gun bullets or bombs. The war is the one they have inside of them. The battles are fought on a daily basis. These battles they try to fight alone. All the haunting images come back to them. They see it all, feel it all, re-experience it all as if time did not exists. They have a TV remote control in their hands instead of a machine gun. They have a Chevy steering wheel in their hands instead of the steering wheel of a military vehicle. They drive down a country road right here in the USA instead of a road in a foreign land. It doesn't matter what they are doing when a flashback comes at that moment because they are no longer here. They are right back there again. H.G. Wells could never manage to bring that kind of imagery to life as he created his time travel machine.
The Time Machine is a novel by H. G. Wells, first published in 1895 and later directly adapted into at least two theatrical films of the same name as well as at least one television and a large number of comic book adaptations. It indirectly inspired many more works of fiction in all media. Considered by many to be one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time, this 38,000 word novella is generally credited with the popularization of the concept of time travel using a vehicle that allows an operator to travel purposefully and selectively. The term "time machine", coined by Wells, is now universally used to refer to such a vehicle.
For veterans with PTSD, H.G. Wells fiction is their life. They don't need a machine to step into to travel back in time. They purchased a ticket the day they boot on their combat boots and their reservation for this trip was confirmed as soon as trauma collided with normal life.
The return trip back to normal life is up to us to cover the cost of. Without us, too many will never really make the journey back home.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
The Associated Press
Article Launched: 02/27/2008 05:19:28 PM MST
ALBUQUERQUE—A former dispatcher for the Albuquerque Police Department is alleging she was assaulted and humiliated while working for the city, then was fired.
Santa Fe attorney Merit Bennett filed a lawsuit in state district court Wednesday on behalf of Judith Busto, 22, seeking unspecified damages.
Busto alleges deprivation of constitutional rights, discrimination on the basis of disability, false arrest and imprisonment, assault and battery, negligent retention and supervision, and conspiracy.
The lawsuit said Busto, an Army combat medic and veteran of Afghanistan, was treated for post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, when she returned home.
When she was hired by the police, the lawsuit said, the department made no attempt to accommodate Busto's medical condition. The complaint alleges that "abject disregard" led to her wrongful termination on Oct. 4, 2006.
She said she turned to Mayor Martin Chavez for help, but he ignored her.
go here to read the rest of this story and get as angry as I am right now.
I wonder what Gov. Richardson would have to say about this.
USF stress expert Michael Rank is one of the winners of AARP The Magazine’s Faces of 50+ Real People Model Search.
By CLOE CABRERA, The Tampa Tribune
Published: February 27, 2008
TAMPA - Vietnam War veteran Michael Garnet Rank witnessed firsthand the horrific psychological effects the war had on his fellow soldiers.
He saw severe depression, drug and alcohol dependency, problems with memory and cognition, and other mental health issues. And it had a profound impact on his career.
Today, as director of trauma stress studies at the University of South Florida, Rank, 60, trains and educates others and researches issues related to post-traumatic stress and trauma.
"Although I was experienced in combat, the question I had when I came back was, why didn't I suffer the emotional problems of the war the way my peers had?" said Rank, a former Army infantryman. "In the early 1970s, there was no such thing as post-traumatic stress disorder as we know it. The VA Veterans Administration wasn't paying attention to it that decade. It was a very difficult time for veterans returning home with mental illness."
Rank's story - not to mention his character, sense of style and healthy lifestyle - won him a spot in AARP The Magazine's Faces of 50+ Real People Model Search.
The Associated Press
Published: February 27, 2008
TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Oklahoma: A recently divorced airman who served with distinction in Iraq chased his ex-wife out of military housing with a pistol before killing his two young children and himself.
Tinker Air Force Base officials on Wednesday identified Tech. Sgt. Dustin Thorson, a military computer expert, as the killer in the shootings Monday.
His former wife had filed an order of protection against him last year, saying he had threatened to kill 4-year-old Dylan and 9-year-old Jourdain if she filed for divorce.
Thorson had been under the care of a mental health professional, Brig. Gen. Lori Robinson said. She would not say whether his mental problems were related to stress from his crumbling marriage or his experiences in Iraq.
Armed with a 9 mm Ruger semiautomatic pistol and a stun gun, Thorson, 35, chased his ex-wife, Michelle Thorson, out of the house before shooting his children and committing suicide, Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel said.
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Nine Million Ugandans Mentally Ill
AT LEAST 9 million out of the 29 million Ugandans are suffering from some form of mental disorder and are not fully productive, it has been revealed.
The disorders include; post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, epilepsy and schizophrenia.
The ailments disrupt peoples' thinking and emotions, relations with people, daily functioning -and this often results in an inability to cope with the ordinary demands of life.
This was revealed yesterday by Dr Fred Kigozi, the director of Butabika Mental Hospital. He was speaking at a symposium to mark the World Mental Health Day in Kampala.
The theme of the symposium was 'Mental Health in a Changing World: Mental Health and the Impact of culture'.
"The number of citizens in Uganda who are moving from normal to abnormal status is increasing. Several studies have shown that 20 - 30 per cent of the Ugandan population suffer from common mental disorders," he said.
He said mentally ill people are unable to perform their duties and because of this, they can not contribute to the GDP (Growth Domestic Product) of Uganda."
Out of these, he said, at least one per cent have severe mental disorders like major depression, schizophrenia and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
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Terror leaves 42% of children with PTSD
By Gideon Alon
Some 42 percent of Israeli children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), of which 15 percent have a moderate to severe version of the syndrome, Dr. Avital Laufer of Tel Aviv University told the Knesset Committee on the Rights of Children yesterday.
The committee was discussing the effects of the terror attacks of the past 32 months on children. Laufer's findings were based on a study of some 3,000 children aged 13 to 15, from both sides of the Green Line. Some 70 percent of the children said that the terror attacks had had a direct impact on their lives, causing them to abandon or avoid certain activities.
PTSD in Iraqis, children: The Lancet, "Mental Health of Iraqi Children", by Ali Razokhi, September 2, 2006.
40% of Iraqi professionals: Brookings Institution, "Iraq Index", page 24, January 2007.
02/27/08 IRIN: High rates of trauma, sickness among Iraqi refugees
Many of the estimated 70,000-150,000 Iraqi refugees in Egypt have developed serious psychological and stress-related illnesses, including cardiac problems, according to Ahlam Tobia, a medical doctor who works with refugees in Cairo.
Researchers say 2006 war left many children in targeted areas with emotional scars
Daily Star staff
Thursday, February 14, 2008
A new study issued on Wednesday showed that 14.4 percent of children and teenagers in South Lebanon and Beirut's southern suburbs suffered from war-related psychological symptoms after the summer 2006 war with Israel ended, adding that 15.4 percent of teenagers might suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders.
PTSD Program Breaks New Ground in Canada
Canada offers an inpatient treatment program for adults with posttraumatic stress disorder. It is based on the Sanctuary Model developed by Philadelphia psychiatrist Sandra Bloom, M.D.
A Canadian who has posttraumatic stress disorder might be wise to head to Guelph, Ontario. Canada’s only inpatient treatment program for PTSD—the "Program for Traumatic Stress Recovery"—can be found there at Homewood Health Center.
The program, which is underwritten by Canada’s universal health insurance system, runs six weeks. It has been in existence for a decade and, to date, has treated some 3,000 PTSD patients, from child-abuse survivors and motor-accident victims to peacekeepers who have witnessed atrocities.
Further, as PTSD is being increasingly recognized by health care professionals in Canada, more and more Canadian PTSD patients are being referred to the program. In fact, PTSD patients from other countries are also welcome to participate in it.
Pick any country on the planet and PTSD is a problem. Much like global changes lives across national borders and continents, PTSD knows no boundaries. It requires one thing, a human exposed to a traumatic event. It does not know age. It does not know race. It does not know wealth or poverty or social status at all. It does not know language. It knows what strikes humans in their core. It hits with a warning, the event itself. PTSD is humanities burden and as traumatic events spiral out of control from nation to nation, humanity had better step up and defeat this enemy with the only weapon known to be able to defeat it, knowledge. Once people are aware what is wrong with them, they can seek help to heal. Ignorance is more deadly than a bullet because this enemy does not just hit the target but hits the entire family.
Casey: Move to shorter tours ‘has to happen’
By Matthew Cox - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Feb 27, 2008 17:41:55 EST
The Army’s chief of staff reiterated his commitment to shortening combat tours in Iraq to 12 months to a Senate panel Wednesday, stressing that current 15-month deployments are “just not sustainable.”
Echoing comments he made Tuesday to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. George Casey told Appropriations Committee members the Army is out of balance from more than six years of war and back-to-back deployments.
Casey told lawmakers that the service hopes to begin restoring that balance in July when he expects the demand for forces to decrease.
“That has to happen,” he said Wednesday at a fiscal 2009 budget overview hearing on Capital Hill. “Soldiers and leaders need to see that over time they won’t be deploying for 15 months and home for 12.”
Casey, who was the top U.S. commander in Iraq before taking the chief of staff job last spring, told lawmakers that cutting the time soldiers spend in combat is an integral part of reducing the stress on the force.
He said he anticipates the service can cut combat tours from 15 months to 12 months this summer, as long as the president reduces the number of active-duty Army brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan to 15 units by July, as planned.
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God help the troops survive all this. The redeployments increase the risk of PTSD by 50%, yet they keep sending them back over and over again. Not enough time between deployments increases the risk and puts a bigger burden on the families. How long can this go on?
Posted : Wed, 27 Feb 2008 17:19:51 GMT
Author : U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 27 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake today said an expansion by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) of its Vet Centers, which provide readjustment counseling and outreach services to returning combat veterans, is well ahead of schedule.
In February 2007, VA announced it would open 23 new centers during the next two years. Fifteen of those centers are already operational, and five others are seeing patients in temporary facilities while finalizing their leases. The other three facilities will begin operations later this year.
"Building on our past successes, 2008 will see a permanent increase in the number of Vet Centers, as we bring the remaining facilities on line to reach a record 232 Vet Centers by the end of the year," Peake said.
"To support this expansion and augment the staff at 61 existing Vet Centers, this year we are channeling a 44 percent increase in funding to the Readjustment Counseling Service, which operates the Vet Centers -- nearly $50 million more than last year's budget," he added.
The community-based Vet Centers are a key component of VA's mental health program, providing veterans with mental health screening and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) counseling, along with help for family members dealing with bereavement and loved ones with PTSD.
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By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Feb 27, 2008 12:47:24 EST
Medical experts, advocacy groups and Veterans Affairs Department officials say VA’s disability rating schedule needs to be updated — continually — but they denied the system is so bad that it needs to be dumped completely.
A Tuesday hearing of the House Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee on disability assistance and memorial affairs also focused on studies conducted over the past year that point toward needed improvements not only in the ratings schedule, but in VA’s disability retirement system itself.
Rep. John Hall, D-N.Y., chairman of the subcommittee, said VA needs to remove “archaic” criteria from the rating schedule; update psychiatric criteria to better reflect symptoms of troops diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder; find out why so many veterans with PTSD have been rated fully disabled; and update neurological criteria to include new research on traumatic brain injuries.
“The VA needs the right tools to do the right thing,” Hall said.
VA argued that it is already doing the right thing and has been updating the rating schedule, though officials acknowledged they could do better. From 1990 through 2007, VA had updated 47 percent of the ratings schedule, but 35 percent of the codes had not been touched since 1945. However, VA said it updated the codes for TBI in January and is working on an update for PTSD.
The Veterans’ Disability Benefits Commission began looking at how service members’ and veterans’ disability cases were being handled long before February 2007, when Military Times and the Washington Post featured stories highlighting problems in the system. Retired Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn, a member of the commission, said VA has made “very limited progress” since the group’s report came out in October.
“I believe the ratings schedule needs to be clarified so it has logic from the point of view of medicine and science,” McGinn said. “It has not progressed in the last five decades.”
The group found that VA compensates veterans according to the schedule in a way that is “generally adequate to offset average impairment” and that the schedule does “reasonably well.”
But there are specific areas where VA’s system does not serve troops and veterans well, McGinn said, including those with PTSD, those severely disabled at a young age and those granted maximum benefits because a disability makes them unemployable.
Veterans with PTSD, he noted, have “much greater loss of employment and earnings” than those with physical disabilities.
McGinn recommended separate criteria on the rating schedule for PTSD, as well as a way to compensate unemployable veterans for lost quality of life, not just their inability to work.
So-called “individual unemployability” veterans may have formal VA disability ratings of less than 100 percent, but are still rated fully disabled because of their inability to work. The commission found that almost half of the 223,000 IU veterans have primary diagnoses of PTSD or other mental disorders.
The problem is that if a veteran has physical disabilities that lead to a 100 percent disability rating, he can still work and keep his full compensation. But a veteran who has a 100 percent disability for a mental disorder tries to work, he loses his compensation.
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This last part is very important. My husband is 70% disabled for PTSD and 30% unemployable. Yet it is 100% of his life that has been touched. He can't work but he fought very hard to keep his job under Family and Medical Leave Act for as long as he could. His doctor told him that he was just making his PTSD worse with the stress. Every aspect of his life and mine are adapted to deal with his wound. There are conversations we cannot have.
There are times when we cannot communicate at all except to have a brief conversation about what to have for dinner. His decision making skills are virtually gone, paranoia consumes him to the point where I get so fed up I tell him "You get worried if you don't have something to worry about." The body wounded is terrible and the scars can be seen for a lifetime. When they mind is wounded the scars on the life are forever. Depending on when they get treated and begin to heal, their wound can be mild all the way to fully consuming every aspect of their life.
A while ago a reader wanted to know why I thought PTSD was worse than losing a limb. He wanted to know how I could compare the loss of a leg to PTSD. I told him it was easy. Had my husband lost a limb, I would still have a husband with the rest of his body, his mind and his heart. I have a husband who has had his mind wounded and his soul torn.
If we go to one of the parks on our Friday play day and his face begins to twitch or he begins to make involuntary mouth movements as if he is talking to himself, he gets stared at as if people are afraid of him. What most people do not fully understand is that many who have lost limbs also have PTSD and they are dealing with double the wounding but they get a Purple Heart for a body wound while their other wound, the one that inflicts the most pain on their lives as well as their family's lives, is something considered of lesser value.
With a physical wound that is not a back injury or a brain injury, they can be retrained to do something else for work. With a back injury, they cannot. With a brain injury, depending on how serious it is, they cannot work either. With PTSD they cannot work if they have high levels of test results. PTSD and TBI wounded need to be taken seriously enough to have their wounds categorized as enveloping not just their lives but the lives of their families as well. If we do not fully appreciate the role of the families in taking care of these veterans, then we will see a lot more homeless veterans because of PTSD.
Aside from providing support groups to help hold families together and proactive outreach to them, they also need to be provided for when it comes to the quality of their own lives being involved. My husband is one of the biggest reasons why I cannot work full time any longer. Doing this work at home on a volunteer basis, I can be here when he needs me and I don't have to answer to anyone as to why I have to take him to the doctors when he's having a bad day and cannot go alone. That's why working part time was perfect for me. He can be alone a few hours a day with no problem at all. This gets forgotten about when wives and husbands are unable to do the jobs they used to do in order to take care of their wounded warrior.
This hearing today was a step in the right direction.
This could inspire a veteran to avoid seeking out vocational rehabilitation or employment, and also implies something “suspect” about claiming PTSD — which only adds to the considerable stigma behind the disease, said Dean Kilpatrick, a member of the Committee on Veterans’ Compensation for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder at the Institute of Medicine.
Avoiding employment is not the problem. Being unable to be employed is. You cannot retrain a mind to work normally.
McGinn also requested couples therapy as part of treatment for PTSD. That is important because responding to a veteran’s anger with more anger can exacerbate the problem, while learning how to work with a spouse suffering PTSD can be part of a cure, he said. Also, many family members deal with their own mental health issues while living with someone with PTSD.
Again it needs to be noticed that there has to be other factors put in when considering steps to take in improving the treatment the veterans have by including their families.
McGinn’s group and Kilpatrick had different recommendations as far as follow-up evaluations for people with PTSD. Again, other disabilities are not re-examined, so an exam puts those with mental disabilities in a separate class. But McGinn’s group sees follow-ups as a way to encourage vets to seek further treatment.
The only thing that has kept my husband in treatment with the VA is the thought of getting as bad as he was without it. The idea of retesting what is already known to be a lifetime wound only causes more stress for the veteran. If they are in treatment, then there is no need to "retest" to make sure they are still wounded.
TBI and PTSD are not wounds of lesser value and they need to be treated differently than other wounds. If a soldier has TBI from a bullet wound, that is a wound from the bullet, the TBI and in most cases PTSD as well.
The Associated Press
Posted : Wednesday Feb 27, 2008 10:13:27 EST
LITTLE ROCK — A federal appeals panel on Tuesday upheld a $6.5 million verdict against a private contractor in the death of an Arkansas soldier who was electrocuted when he leaned back against the metal exterior wall of a latrine.
Pvt. Van Ryan Marcum died June 19, 2004, following an exercise at a firing range at Fort Benning, Ga. Marcum’s estate sued The Shaw Group Inc., which was under contract to demolish several abandoned metal latrines at the Army base. Marcum, 21, was from Prescott, Ark.
A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis turned away The Shaw Group’s requests for a new trial or a ruling that the company was not responsible.
The Shaw Group, based in Baton Rouge, La., argued that it had no duty to have demolished the latrine, noting that the Army had given it an extension for the demolition work.
go here for the rest
By Maggie Mahar, Health Beat.
Posted February 27, 2008.
The military is denying crucial care to soldiers, making them vulnerable on the battlefield.
In recent months, VFA reports, it has been contacted by a number of soldiers based at Fort Drum who are concerned about their own mental health and the health of other members of their units. In response, VFA launched an investigation of conditions at Fort Drum, and what it found was shocking.
Soldiers told the VFA that "the leader of the mental health treatment clinic at Fort Drum asked soldiers not to discuss their mental health problems with people outside the base. Attempts to keep matters 'in house' foster an atmosphere of secrecy and shame," the report observed "that is not conducive to proper treatment for combat-related mental health injuries."
The investigators also discovered that "some military mental health providers have argued that a number of soldiers fake mental health injuries to increase the likelihood that they will be deemed unfit for combat and/or for further military service."
The report notes that a "conversation with a leading expert in treating combat psychological wounds" confirmed "that some military commanders at Fort Drum doubt the validity of mental health wounds in some soldiers, thereby undermining treatment prescribed by civilian psychiatrists" at the nearby Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown, NY.
"In the estimation of this expert, military commanders have undue influence in the treatment of soldiers with psychological wounds," the report noted. "Another point of general concern for VFA is that Samaritan also has a strong financial incentive to maintain business ties with Fort Drum -- a dynamic [that] deserves greater scrutiny."
Because some soldiers do not trust Samaritan, the report reveals that a number of "soldiers have sought treatment after normal base business hours at a hospital in Syracuse, more than an hour's drive from Watertown ... because they feared that Samaritan would side with base leadership, which had, in some cases, cast doubt on the legitimacy of combat-related mental health wounds.
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It is almost impossible to get these men and women to admit they need help. They were trained to take care of themselves and watch out for the backs of their brothers and sisters. I've been dealing with them and their denials for 25 years. They don't want to admit they need help. Yet still, Fort Drum, and other bases, treat those who do as if they are slackers! Disgraceful! How can it be that such very smart, able, dedicated leaders can remain so uninformed and uneducated as to the tactics of the enemy the soldiers bring home with them? PTSD is an enemy. It attacks and it kills. There is only one thing PTSD fears and that is knowledge.
Army Suicide Rates ClimbingPosted: 10:27 PM Feb 26, 2008
Last Updated: 6:24 AM Feb 27, 2008
Reporter: David Nancarrow
Email Address: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=Army
Army Suicide Rates Climbing
The Colorado Springs community is constantly reminded of the men and women in uniform who are lost in combat. The Army is now reporting a dramatic rise in the number of soldiers taking their own lives.
There is a single diamond set in a black band on the finger where Mia Sagahon expected to wear her wedding ring.
She thought her fiancee, a veteran, Walter Padilla would be by her side forever.
"You wake up and see them daily and then they're just gone," she said.
Visions of the battlefield haunted the medically discharged Padilla. He tried to hide his pain and tormenting questions from the ones he loved. Mia now knows these questions all too well.
"Am I a weak person?" she believed he wondered. "Why is this happening to me? feeling alone, why am I having these dreams?"
Walter silenced the voices in 2007, taking his life with a single shot from his own gun.
"You can't say good-bye, or anything. It's horrible," Sagahon said.
The Army expects 2007 will have been one of the worst in years in terms of suicide among active soldiers. If 32 cases still under investigation add to the 89 confirmed, 121 suicides represent a 20% spike from 2006, more than twice the number reported in 2001, pushing the Army rate closer to that seen among the civilian community.
Even more alarming, according to Department of Defense sources, attempted suicides rose to more than 2,000, up from about 1400 in 2006.
It is an issue that hits close to home for Ft. Carson commanders. Commanding Officer, Major General Mark Graham, lost a son to suicide.
"In every case where there's a suicide, people will tell you I should have seen it coming. I should have seen it," Graham said.
Army investigators say motives are different, but common reasons include stress levels from time put in to the battle.
"The secretary of the Army says our Army is tired that is no secret. I think our nation is understanding that we are a nation at war now for 7 years in Afghanistan, six years in Iraq," said COL Kelly Wolgast, Director of Ft. Carson's Evans Army Hospital.
Investigators report many are linked to strained romantic relationships, or failed marriages. There's also the issue of fearing to admit to loved ones and superiors they need help.
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How much time will they talk about doing something? How much money will they throw at this without results that prove it's working? How many different "steps" will they take before they discover what they are doing is not working? When will they hear the alarm bells going off all around the country that when it comes to them coming home, the military sucks at taking care of them?
By the information on Brownback's site, it's clear that the impression Jay Harden, the author of the following letter, had was right on the mark.
Letter: Take care of veteransPublished Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Sen. Sam Brownback met with us on the PTSD ward at Colmery-O'Neil VA Medical Center on Feb. 11. I sincerely appreciate his time and good intentions, but the ultimate purpose of the uninvited intrusion escapes me. Perhaps a photo-op?
Sen. Brownback is a public servant, a U.S. senator. That is, he serves the public, and I am one of the public. Therefore, it is important to me (and possibly him) to provide the following feedback.
In my opinion, the entire PTSD patient population here didn't appreciate the senator's performance, nor did many of the professional staff. And I am being charitable here.
Some of us bared our souls, stories and traumas to a stranger and his entourage in the hope some greater good would come of it. At least one veteran walked out on Sen. Brownback, on the verge of tears because of his disrespect to Vietnam veterans. One had the foresight to decline his direct invitation to talk about his Iraq experience.
This is what I want from Sen. Brownback. Take on the task of getting the word out to veterans about the PTSD services of the VA. And do something to standardize the quality of VA care across the nation.
I was stunned to learn how VA services vary greatly in quality from one facility to another. For example, some VA facilities don't help PTSD veterans unless the PTSD is combat-related. This is unacceptable. All are equally worthy as we still relive our service traumas without choice.
I should be able to walk into any VA facility in the U.S. and get the same quality of care for the same services offered. Just because it has never been done doesn't mean it is impossible, right?
JAY HARDEN, Topeka
This is from Brownback's site
At a time when our government is asking thousands of military members to enter harm's way in our war against terrorism, the citizens of Kansas are seeing a dramatic decrease in the standard of care that our veterans are provided to help them with the lifelong physical and mental effects of these wars. I have long been a supporter of veterans and veterans' benefits. America's veterans have put their lives on the line to defend our country and we should honor their sacrifices and fulfill our commitments to them. Keeping our nation strong and keeping our promises to veterans should be among our top national priorities.
Brownback Visits Walter Reed
"The system that provides treatment for our soldiers must be improved, but I continue to be impressed with the commitment and dedication of the staff at Walter Reed and other military facilities. I offer my heartfelt thanks and prayers for those wounded while defending this nation and I want to thank all those currently serving in our Armed Forces. Their sacrifices make this nation great and we all owe them a debt of gratitude." Read More
Brownback Introduces Bill to Protect Veteran's Memorials
This important bill would prevent judicial activist groups from using a 1970s-era civil rights law to force taxpayers to pay their attorney's fees in cases related to public displays of religious faith. Read More Bill S.415: Veterans' Memorials, Boy Scouts, Public Seals, and Other Public Expressions of Religion Protection Act of 2007