You can view a video of this story at the link below.
Story here... http://www.capital
THE DAILY BRIEFING -- AUDIO FEED FROM LARRY SCOTT
12-08-2007 -- to listen, click here...
Scientists say depleted uranium levels still exist
By: Britt Godshalk
COLONIE, N.Y. -- NL Industries left in its wake depleted uranium that cost the Army Corps of Engineers nearly $200 million in taxpayer money to clean up. But scientists said some of it remains out of reach inside the bodies of five men who worked at the plant more than 25 years ago.
"The population we have here in Albany, workers and those who live near the plant, extending quite some distance appears to be one of the most exposed populations of depleted uranium that we know of anywhere," said Dr. David Carpenter of the University of Albany.
Article continues below:
"ASK THE BUILDER" VIDEOS -- HOME IMPROVEMENT TIPS
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None of the health issues these men suffer from has been directly connected to the DU, but scientists said DU can cause mutations in the body that lead to a variety of illnesses. A low level of DU has been found in 10 of the 20 residents studied who lived in the area while the plant was open.
The scientists hope this study will lead to a much larger one, perhaps testing hundreds of people who used to work or live in this area during the plant's operation. That study, they hope, will be funded by the federal government. But the scientists say they may hold off on sending their results to the feds because of politics.
"It might be difficult to receive approval and money for such a study than possibly after the next election," said Randall Parrish of the University of Leicester in the U.K.
But for men like Tony Ciarfello, that just doesn't fly.
"I don't think we should wait. Too much has been done. We have to get something going now," said Ciarfello.
He wonders how many others are out there with health problems that may have started here decades ago.
Larry Scott --
Forget the politics find out what the DU is doing to people exposed to it, workers, soldiers, citizens in the nations these weapons are being used. They all deserve the truth
Friday, December 7, 2007
You can view a video of this story at the link below.
VA Watchdog.org has an article written by Jim Strickland about the VA Claims system
The headline blared, “VA FALLS FURTHER BEHIND IN PROCESSING CLAIMS, BUT SAYS THEY'RE DOING BETTER”Sphere: Related Content
Read the article here http://vawatchdog.org/07/nf07/nfNOV07/nf112907-1.htm
The article goes on to tell us that, “the agency lost ground for the third year in a row” and that VBA (Veterans' Benefits Administration) “has made no progress in improving its performance in more than half of what it lists as its key goals.” When she learned of this Senator Patty Murray, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, had the good sense to say, “I want to say I’m surprised. But I’m not.”
But many others seem shocked and awed that this could be happening.
After all, hasn't the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) promised reforms? In this article the reporter says that, “The VA said this week that it was aggressively tackling the issue, hiring more than 1,000 workers, boosting overtime and revamping training.”
There's nothing new here. The DVA has repeatedly made promises, spoke soothingly to a naive and confused Congress and held its fingers crossed behind its back as it promised improvements. A short history lesson proves that.
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In March 2007 there was, "VA continues to face challenges in improving service delivery to veterans, specifically speeding up the process of adjudication and appeal, and reducing the existing backlog of claims." http://www.gao.g
Another March 2007 report says, "GAO has reported and testified on this subject on numerous occasions. VA continues to face challenges in improving service delivery to veterans, specifically in speeding up the process of adjudication and appeal, reducing the existing backlog of claims, and improving the accuracy and consistency of decisions." http://www.
In December of 2005 another GAO report tells us, "For years, the claims process has been the subject of concern and attention within VA and by the Congress and veterans service organizations. Their concerns include long waits for decisions, large claims backlogs, and inaccurate decisions." http://ww
Then another in 2005 wants us to know, "VA Could Enhance Its Progress in Complying with Court Decision on Disability Criteria"
Moving back in time to 2004 GAO says, "In the past, we have reported concerns about possible inconsistencies in the disability decisions made by the 57 regional offices of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In 2002, we reported that VA did not systematically assess the consistency of decision making for any specific impairments included in veterans' disability claims."
In more innocent times before 9/11 caused us so much pain, this GAO report of August 2001 lets us learn, "Congress, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and veterans service organizations have all raised concerns about the accuracy of claims processing in the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA)."
And so it goes.
Senator Murray wasn't surprised at the lack of progress from DVA? I should hope not. The only surprise would be any positive news from that organization.
Even the DVA itself seems to wonder why they can't catch up. We're told, “The agency also said it was receiving more disability claims than it had at any time in recent history and that it had received more than it had expected in 2007.”
I've come to the conclusion that since the DVA can't figure out why there are so many claims and the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee remains as clueless as usual, it's up to me to set the record straight. I know what's happening and why. It's really pretty simple to unravel the mystery and it's easy to accurately predict that it's going to get worse, much worse.
There are only 2 factors that are affecting the tremendous increase of claims being filed.
The first piece of the problem the VBA must face is that Veterans from WWII and the Vietnam era are pissed off and they aren't going to take it any more. Then there's the Internet.
We've forgotten what life was like before the Internet. Only a decade ago, if we wanted information about almost anything, we spent hours making telephone calls (from land lines), writing letters (using stamps), seeking out brochures, maybe even going to a public library for research. To use a search engine wasn't yet something we thought of as being a simple routine. Google wasn't a company and "to Google" as in; “I Googled it up and got 521,054 hits” hadn't become a common action.
A decade ago and back beyond that, if a Veteran wanted to file a claim with the VA and receive a disability benefit, he or she rarely knew where to begin. We would often seek out a Veterans Service Officer in the Yellow Pages and make appointments and wait and fill out some papers and wait some more.
Many Veterans just couldn't be bothered with it all. They knew by the grapevine that no matter what they did they were likely to be denied. The process was adversarial and denigrating. I recall a personal hearing of my own in the early 1980's when I was humiliated by a member of the committee. He all but accused me of being a leech on society and and was very vocal that my records showed nothing I claimed. My “Service Officer” sat quietly and had nothing to say and I wasn't allowed but a few words myself before the meeting was closed. I lost, of course and didn't go back for almost 15 years.
But now it's 2007, we have high speed Internet access and knowledge, all the knowledge in the world. It's right at our fingertips. And many of us are very angry about the treatment we received from our VA those many years ago. In a way, filing and filing again brings some satisfaction for the way we were treated all these years.
So we're filing claims. Tens of thousands of claims. The burden on the VA is steadily increasing because so many of us are taking back what was rightly ours in the first place. I eventually won that claim that was denied me back then. It took me until 2006 to win it but by God, I did. The VBA could have and should have given me what I had earned and what I was owed back then. They didn't, I got smart and learned how to fight and I increased their workload and I won. I'm now filing a CUE claim that will take me back to my original date of denial in 1971.
Am I pissed off about the treatment I received back then? You bet I am. Do I want justice? Oh yeah I do.
I'm telling others to file for their legitimate claims and they're telling even more people and they're telling more people. The message is spreading like wildfire...file your claims. If you're denied, appeal. If your appeal is denied, appeal that appeal. The Veteran has nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The recent proliferation of Internet sites, particularly of those where experienced Vets give advice to less experienced Vets is a phenomenon that VBA couldn't have predicted. How could they have known that [Internet sites] would crop up and have thousands of Veterans registered, networking and sharing their VBA claims experiences with each other every day? Every morning I see a new site promising to help fellow Vets with disability claims.
(This is a good time to caution you that not all of these sites provide good info that you can trust. As with all things on the Internet, proceed with caution and don't give out personal information unless you're sure you can depend on the guy at the other end.)
What are we filing for? Everything under the sun. Not so long ago most of us would have hesitated to file for a skin condition or an arthritic joint...it just wasn't very macho. Today we proudly shout out our erectile dysfunction issues to anyone who will listen and then we file for it, macho be damned. Do you have heartburn? VBA may award you a payment for GERD. The knee that was twisted during basic training may reap you an extra couple hundred dollars each month...file for it. Is your hearing off a bit and the ringing in your ears never went away after that grenade went off near you? Hey, that sounds like 20% to me.
Does your butt hurt?
A few months ago the headline was “VA DISABILITY BENEFITS FROM HEMORRHOIDS TO SHAVING BUMPS”
Read it here http://www.vawatchdog.org/07/nf07/nfMAR07/nf032907-8.htm
The article is typical of its ilk and goes on to blame the Veterans who are filing for such minor maladies as hemorrhoids for all the tremendous backlog and extraordinary expense of running the VBA. The problems of the VA aren't the fault of a Congress that won't timely fund the system nor inept DVA Secretaries who swing through a revolving door to accomplish nothing during their tenure.
According to this article, the problems at DVA today are the fault of the Veteran with hemorrhoids.
The presumably non-Veteran reporter who wrote this pap and nonsense, sharing his derogatory opinions of our minor ailments with us, lists a long range of conditions that he doesn't see as being service connected. I'm not sure why but he focuses on our sore and bloody backsides as an example of how we're taking advantage of the system.
I'd enjoy the opportunity to chat with him some day, riding along for days on end in a convoy sitting on a stiff wooden bench in ancient deuce and a half truck loaded with ammunition and weapons. There aren't many nice, clean restrooms along your route so you hold in that urge. Eating your K Rations, C Rations or MRE's don't do much for developing regular bathroom habits either.
I'd want him to talk to a recon radioman who spends 7 days in the jungle on patrol, aware that to leave behind a remnant of his stool for the enemy to find is a good way to get killed. I still hear it today...in that jungle the VC could smell an American 100 yards off. Maybe our reporter could talk to a long range bomber pilot. He's refueled in the air 3 times already on a mission that will keep him in the cockpit, buzzed on amphetamines, for 36 straight hours. Yeah, you knew that speed was handed out like Tic Tacs back then, does that writer know that?
I can imagine that the tank crew that made their way across a frozen piece of German soil sitting for weeks on their icy metal seats would have a word about whether or not hemorrhoids are a service connected disability.
I don't recall that I had keys to an executive washroom or a supply of neat little packets of Metamucil to help those rations pass through.
Are hemorrhoids often service connected? You bet your sweet...bippy...they are.
Are we filing for those hemorrhoids and erectile dysfunction and hearing loss and frozen feet and diabetes and foot fungus's and uterine fibroids and fibromyalgia and broken toes? Oh yeah, and we're going to keep on filing for those and even more. You bet we are. We earned it and we're going to get it.
Those Vets returning from Iraq today understand more than we ever did about getting information to help themselves. The average soldier fighting in Iraq today doesn't remember life without the Internet. Trying to explain to the young soldier that we weren't able to file a claim on the Internet at the VONAPP site from a wireless laptop at Starbucks is as quaint to him as our foolish tales of having to get up and walk across the living room to change a channel on our black and white TV set.
Unlike we Vietnam era Veterans and even more different than the WWII Vet, the recent graduates of the military experience are going to demand exactly what was promised to them...and they're going to have thousands of us coaching them to get it. The VBA can expect that the great majority of recent Veterans will file claims and we're going to show them how.
Will the VBA ever get caught up? No. Not until they change their way of doing business.
Their methods of processing claims are as outdated as the ratings schedule itself. Only a government bureaucracy like the VBA would be able to look you in the eye and tell you that they're content using a disability ratings table that was first developed in 1945 and hasn't changed since. Their computer systems are antiques, their management styles are left over from another century and their smug satisfaction in their untouchability is an insult to every Veteran.
We read on in that article to see; “The VA said this week that it was aggressively tackling the issue, hiring more than 1,000 workers, boosting overtime and revamping training.”
Will 1,000 more VA workers solve anything?
I was discussing this with one of my highly respected VBA “Insider” employees not long ago.
I emailed him, “I believe we could hire and add 10,000 new bodies to VBA next week and it still wouldn't help. It's the process that needs change.”
His reply said it all. “Ironically, most experienced VA employees agree with you. They see the current massive hiring as lipstick on a pig. First, the training will take years and then you'll have an even larger number of employees invested in the 'old way' of doing things. Sigh!!”
While the newest temporarily permanent DVA Secretary and his underlings are busy prettying up that pig, the future for Veterans filing claims will only get worse. Be prepared for longer waits, more errors in your claims and more non-surprises from that most inefficient of all government agencies, your VBA.
If this is the case, then why is the federal government against Universal health care, according to these statistics they already run the best managed program in the nation, why not expand it to all Americans? I used military healthcare for 15 years before moving into the VA healthcare system, I have always received excellent healthcare, claims processing is a whole different subject. Kind of lot doctors and Medicare the doctors treat you great, and you fight with Medicare over the bills.
Medical News Today
Assessed independently with the most widely used set of performance measures in the managed care industry, a community-based healthcare plan for military families has achieved 2007 national member satisfaction ratings among the highest of all managed care organizations (MCOs) in America. The US Family Health Plan, a managed care (TRICARE Prime) option within the government's military health benefits system, was evaluated against a protocol known as the Health Plan Employer Data & Information Set (HEDIS®) through a methodology called the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS®) 4.0H Survey.Sphere: Related Content
The CAHPS Survey methodology - the most comprehensive tool for measuring consumer satisfaction with health plans - was developed jointly by the Agency for Healthcare Research (AHRQ) and The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA). Designed to produce standardized results, the CAHPS Survey measures the members' experience with health plan care and service over the preceding 12 months.
A random sample of 4,372 US Family Health Plan members, representing all six hospital and physician networks contracted with the Department of Defense (DoD) to deliver care through the Plan, rated their overall satisfaction with the Plan, its customer service and their utilization of its healthcare services. On a scale of 0 to 10 (with 10 as the best possible rating), 87.9 percent of the US Family Health Plan members rated their overall satisfaction with the Plan as an 8, 9 or 10. The national average for member satisfaction with health plans, based on the 251 plans documented by the NCQA in its Quality Compass 2007 Public Report, is 63.2 percent.
"Compared to the Quality Compass benchmark, the US Family Health Plan's national scores significantly exceed the benchmark in all rating areas for the core population, which includes survey respondents of all ages," said David Bahlinger, director of analytics and research for The Myers Group of Snellville, Ga., an NCQA-certified HEDIS survey vendor that administered the study of the US Family Health Plan members. "Additionally, the US Family Health Plan scores for members ages 18-64 are significantly higher in all four rating areas (including the Plan, its health care, its primary care doctors and specialists) and in members' reported ability to get needed care and get care quickly."
The US Family Health Plan members' satisfaction rating for claims processing also significantly surpasses the Quality Compass benchmark. Further, members continue to report strong satisfaction with the Plan's customer service.
In a Los Angeles Times article it shows how a vaccine maker used the lobbying process to keep a better product that would have been used on our nations military members out of the market. I don't think this is best practice, and I know it wasn't the best for the troops, just some stockholders and one company.
Emergent's rival, VaxGen Inc. of South San Francisco, had spent four years developing a new anthrax vaccine and had won an $877.5-million federal contract to deliver enough doses for 25 million people. The contract threatened Emergent's very existence. The old vaccine, its only moneymaker, would likely be obsolete if VaxGen succeeded.
Emergent responded by mobilizing more than 50 lobbyists, including former aides to Vice President Dick Cheney, to make the case that relying on the new vaccine was a gamble and that the nation's safety depended on buying more of Emergent's product.
The company and its allies in Congress ridiculed VaxGen and impugned the competence or motives of officials who supported the new vaccine. The lobbying effort damaged VaxGen's credibility with members of Congress and the Bush administration, a Los Angeles Times investigation found.
When VaxGen encountered a stubborn scientific problem and needed more time to deliver its vaccine, the firm found scant support, even among officials who had earlier backed its efforts. The government then imposed tougher testing requirements on the struggling company.
A senior federal scientist who oversaw the project said she sought authority to allow advance payment to VaxGen to help it work through the difficulties. Top administration officials blocked her requests, she said.
Finally, a year ago, officials canceled VaxGen's contract, all but capsizing the company.
Former aides to Dick Cheney are involved, anyone surprised at this? I am notSphere: Related Content
In a statement to employees on Thursday, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director, said that the decision to destroy the tapes was made “within the C.I.A.” and that they were destroyed to protect the safety of undercover officers and because they no longer had intelligence value.
The destruction of the tapes raises questions about whether agency officials withheld information from Congress, the courts and the Sept. 11 commission about aspects of the program.
The recordings were not provided to a federal court hearing the case of the terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui or to the Sept. 11 commission, which was appointed by President Bush and Congress, and which had made formal requests to the C.I.A. for transcripts and other documentary evidence taken from interrogations of agency prisoners.
The disclosures about the tapes are likely to reignite the debate over laws that allow the C.I.A. to use interrogation practices more severe than those allowed to other agencies. A Congressional conference committee voted late Wednesday to outlaw those interrogation practices, but the measure has yet to pass the full House and Senate and is likely to face a veto from Mr. Bush.
The New York Times informed the intelligence agency on Wednesday evening that it was preparing to publish an article about the destruction of the tapes. In his statement to employees on Thursday, General Hayden said that the agency had acted “in line with the law” and that he was informing C.I.A. employees “because the press has learned” about the matter.
It is interesting to note that Director Hayden only notified the CIA employees about the tapes and the destruction of them when confronted by the NY Times that they were going public with the story of the destruction of the evidence. Only admit what you have to when you are caught? Is this how the agency runs? Nothing has changed since the days of DR Sidney Gottlieb and the other "super-patriots" run amok in the 50s thru the 70s, it appears it is back to business as usual.Sphere: Related Content
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Homeless Vets Need Assistance
by Ralph Stone‚ Dec. 05‚ 2007
"Support our troops." How often have we heard this Bush administration mantra whenever Congress or the public demands Iraq funding accountability or an Iraq withdrawal timeline? Yet, once the troops become veterans, too often they are woefully neglected. In a 2006 survey, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that 26% of homeless people are veterans. VA further estimates that at least 195,827 veterans are homeless in the United States, a conservative estimate, 49,724 in California, and 3,000 in San Francisco, with 1,356 of these 3,000 classified as "chronically homeless." The VA defines "chronically homeless" as an individual with a disabling condition who has been continually homeless for a year or more or has had four or more episodes of homelessness over the past three years.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that 89,553 to 467,877 veterans were at risk of homelessness, meaning that they were below the poverty level and paying more than 50 percent of household income on rent.
Homelessness is rising among veterans because of high living costs, the lack of adequate funds, and many are struggling with the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, exacerbated by a lack of support systems.
The VA has been severely criticized for diagnosing wounded veterans with a personality disorder, instead of PTSD, thus denying them disability pay and medical benefits. In the past six years, more than 22,500 soldiers have been suspiciously dismissed with personality disorders, rather than PTSD. By doing so, the military is saving an estimated $8 billion in disability pay and an estimated $4.5 billion in medical care over their lifetimes. (These figures are from "How Specialist Town Lost His Benefits" by Joshua Kors, citing Harvard professor Linda Bilmes' study, in The Nation (April 9, 2007)).
How many of San Francisco's homeless veterans, discharged for personality disorders rather than PTSD, would be off the homeless roles if they had disability pay and VA medical care? While not every homeless veteran was misdiagnosed with a personality disorder rather than PTSD, it seems obvious that the VA should do more to reach its stated "goal to provide excellence in patient care, veterans' benefits and customer satisfaction."
Passage of the FY 2008 HUD appropriations bill would be a modest start. It includes $75 million for nearly 7,500 HUD-VA Supported Housing vouchers for homeless and disabled veterans. Unfortunately, President Bush has threatened to veto this bill because it exceeds his spending request. It is shameful that we can spend $473.4+ billion conducting the Iraq war, but not an additional $75 million for war casualties.
Ralph Stone is a Vietnam veteran living in San Francisco. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
I AGREESphere: Related Content
Veterans Compensation Benefits Rate Tables - Effective 12/1/07
Basic Rates - 10%-100% Combined Degree Only
Rates (No Dependents): 10% - 20%
Without Children With Children
30% - 60% 30% - 60%
70% - 100% 70% - 100%
To find out how to use these rate tables CLICK HERE
10% - 20% (No Dependents)
30% - 60% Without Children
Dependent Status 30% 40% 50% 60%
Veteran Alone $356 $512 $728 $921
Veteran with Spouse Only $398 $568 $799 $1006
Veteran with Spouse & One Parent $432 $613 $856 $1074
Veteran with Spouse and Two Parents $466 $658 $913 $1142
Veteran with One Parent $390 $557 $785 $989
Veteran with Two Parents $424 $602 $842 $1057
Additional for A/A spouse (see footnote b) $39 $52 $64 $77
70% - 100% Without Children
Dependent Status 70% 80% 90% 100%
Veteran Alone $1,161 $1,349 $1,517 $2,527
Veteran with Spouse Only $1,260 $1,462 $1,644 $2,669
Veteran with Spouse & One Parent $1,339 $1,553 $1,746 $2,783
Veteran with Spouse and Two Parents $1,418 $1,644 $1,848 $2,897
Veteran with One Parent $1,240 $1,440 $1,619 $2,641
Veteran with Two Parents $1,319 $1,531 $1,721 $2,755
Additional for A/A spouse (see footnote b) $90 $103 $116 $129
30% - 60% With Children
Dependent Status 30% 40% 50% 60%
Veteran with Spouse & Child $429 $610 $850 $1068
Veteran with Child Only $384 $550 $776 $978
Veteran with Spouse, One Parent and Child $463 $655 $907 $1136
Veteran with Spouse, Two Parents and Child $497 $700 $964 $1,204
Veteran with One Parent and Child $418 $595 $833 $1046
Veteran with Two Parents and Child $452 $640 $890 $1114
Add for Each Additional Child Under Age 18 $21 $28 $35 $42
Each Additional Schoolchild Over Age 18 (see footnote a) $68 $90 $113 $136
Additional for A/A spouse (see footnote b) $39 $52 $64 $77
70% - 100% With Children
Dependent Status 70% 80% 90% 100%
Veteran with Spouse & Child $1,332 $1,545 $1,737 $2,772
Veteran with Child Only $1,228 $1,425 $1,603 $2,623
Veteran with Spouse, One Parent and Child $1,411 $1,636 $1,839 $2,886
Veteran with Spouse, Two Parents and Child $1,490 $1,727 $1,941 $3,000
Veteran with One Parent and Child $1,307 $1,516 $1,705 $2,737
Veteran with Two Parents and Child $1,386 $1,607 $1,807 $2,851
Add for Each Additional Child Under Age 18 $49 $56 $63 $71
Each Additional Schoolchild Over Age 18 (see footnote a) $158 $181 $204 $227
Additional for A/A spouse (see footnote b) $90 $103 $116 $129
Rates for each school child are shown separately. They are not included with any other compensation rates. All other entries on this chart reflecting a rate for children show the rate payable for children under 18 or helpless. To find the amount payable to a 70% disabled veteran with a spouse and four children, one of whom is over 18 and attending school, take the 70% rate for a veteran with a spouse and 3 children, $ 1,430, and add the rate for one school child, $158. The total amount payable is $1,588.
Where the veteran has a spouse who is determined to require A/A, add the figure shown as "additional for A/A spouse" to the amount shown for the proper dependency code. For example, veteran has A/A spouse and 2 minor children and is 70% disabled. Add $90, additional for A/A spouse, to the rate for a 70% veteran with dependency code 12, $1,381. The total amount payable is $ 1,471.
To find out how to use these rate tables CLICK HERE.
For prior rate tables on this topic choose one: 12-1-2006 12-1-2005 12-1-2004 12-1-2003
12-1-2002 12-1-2001 12-1-2000 12-1-1999.
If you do not have Microsoft Word software installed, you may download free viewer and reader software to view the document cited below.
NEW VA Tables
if you don;t find your rate covered here go to the website and clcik around until you find it
All the horror stories that Dana Priest and Anne Hull wrote about in Feb 2007 had already been reported by Mark Benjamin in Salon a year before the now famous Washington Post expose which led to Congressional Hearings and 2 Presidential Panels looking into healthcare and paperwork fiasco's facing wounded soldiers and veterans.
Night Flights March 2005
Ralph Begleiter, a journalism professor at the University of Delaware and a former CNN world affairs correspondent who has filed a suit to force the Pentagon to release photographs and video of the caskets arriving at Dover, said news images of wounded American soldiers have been "extremely scarce." Wounded soldiers, like caskets, mostly show up in the news only after they arrive back in their hometowns. Begleiter said the Pentagon has tried to minimize public access to images and information that might drain Americans' tolerance for the war. "I think the Pentagon is taking steps to minimize the exposure of the costs of war," said Begleiter. "Of course they are."
A Salon investigation has found that flights carrying the wounded arrive in the United States only at night. And the military is hard-pressed to explain why. In a series of interviews, officials at the Pentagon's Air Mobility Command, which manages all the evacuations, refused to talk on the record to explain the nighttime flights, or to clarify discrepancies in their off-the-record explanations of why the flights arrive when they do. In a written statement, the command said that "operational restrictions" at a runway near the military's main hospital in Germany, where wounded from Iraq are brought first, affect the timing of flights. The command also attempted to explain the flight schedule by saying doctors in Germany need plenty of time to stabilize patients before they fly to the United States.
From Germany, the military flies the wounded into Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Troops with some of the worst injuries are delivered from there to the military's top hospitals nearby, Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. But both hospitals bar the press from seeing or photographing incoming patients, ostensibly to protect their privacy. Other patients flown from Germany are held at a medical staging facility at Andrews until they are transported to other military hospitals.
Feb 18, 2005
Editor's note: Kudos to the Washington Post's Dana Priest and Anne Hull, who exposed the mistreatment of wounded Iraq war veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center over the weekend. But exactly two years to the day before their first story appeared in the Post, Salon's Mark Benjamin wrote this searing expose of the way the hospital treated wounded vets, especially those with psychological injuries. Benjamin spent months at Walter Reed researching a series of articles uncovering the neglect of these vets and their difficulties obtaining the treatment they need. His reporting on one sad angle to the story -- that veterans treated as outpatients were being billed for their meals at the hospital -- resulted in the Army's reversing that policy.
Feb. 18, 2005 | WASHINGTON -- Before he hanged himself with his bathrobe sash in the psychiatric ward at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Spc. Alexis Soto-Ramirez complained to friends about his medical treatment. Soto-Ramirez, 43, had been flown out of Iraq five months before then because of chronic back pain that became excruciating during the war. But doctors were really worried about his mind. They thought he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving with the 544th Military Police Company, a unit of the Puerto Rico National Guard, the kind of unit that saw dirty, face-to-face combat in Iraq.
A copy of Soto-Ramirez's medical records, reviewed by Salon, show that a doctor who treated him in Puerto Rico upon his return from Iraq believed his mental problems were probably caused by the war and that his future was in the Army's hands. "Clearly, the psychiatric symptoms are combat related," a clinical psychologist at Roosevelt Roads Naval Hospital wrote on Nov. 24, 2003. The entry says, "Outcome will depend on adequacy and appropriateness of treatment." Doctors in Puerto Rico sent Soto-Ramirez to Walter Reed in Washington, D.C., to get the best care the Army had to offer. There, he was put in Ward 54, Walter Reed's "lockdown," or inpatient psychiatric ward, where the most troubled patients are supposed to have constant supervision.
But less than a month after leaving Puerto Rico, on Jan. 12, 2004, Soto-Ramirez was found dead, hanging in Ward 54. Army buddies who visited him in the days before his death said Soto-Ramirez was increasingly angry and despondent. "He was real upset with the treatment he was getting," said René Negron, a former Walter Reed psychiatric patient and a friend of Soto-Ramirez's. "He said: 'These people are giving me the runaround ... These people think I'm crazy, and I'm not crazy, Negron. I'm getting more crazy being up here.'
"Those people in Ward 54 were responsible for him. Their responsibility was to have a 24-hour watch on him," Negron said in a telephone interview from his home in Puerto Rico. While Soto-Ramirez's death was by his own hand, Negron and other soldiers say the hospital shares the blame.
In fact, repeated interviews over the course of one year with 14 soldiers who have been treated in Walter Reed's inpatient and outpatient psychiatric wards, and a review of medical records and Army documents, suggest that the Army's top hospital is failing to properly care for many soldiers traumatized by the Iraq war. As the Soto-Ramirez case suggests, inadequate suicide watch is one concern. But the problems run deeper. Psychiatric techniques employed at Walter Reed appear outmoded and ineffective compared with state-of-the-art care as described by civilian doctors. For example, Walter Reed favors group therapy over one-on-one counseling; and the group therapy is mostly administered by a rotating cast of medical students and residents, not full-fledged doctors or veterans. The troops also complain that the Army relies too much on pills; few of the soldiers took all the medication given to them by the hospital.
Perhaps most troubling, the Army seems bent on denying that the stress of war has caused the soldiers' mental trauma in the first place. (There is an economic reason for doing so: Mental problems from combat stress can require the Army to pay disability for years.) Soto-Ramirez's medical records reveal the economical mindset of an Army doctor who evaluated him. "Adequate care and treatment may prevent a claim against the government for PTSD," wrote a psychologist in Puerto Rico before sending him to Walter Reed.
"The Army does not want to get into the mental-health game in a real way to really help people," said Col. Travis Beeson, who was flown to Walter Reed for psychiatric help during a second tour with one of the Army's special operations units in Iraq. "They want to Band-Aid it. They want you out of there as fast as possible, and they don't want to pay for it." Indeed, some psychiatric patients at Walter Reed are given the option of signing a form releasing them from the hospital as long as they give up any future disability payments from the Army. One soldier from Pennsylvania, who was shot five times in the chest and saved by body armor, told me he would do anything to get out of Walter Reed, even relinquish disability pay. "I'll sign anything as soon as I can get my hands on it," he told me several days before being released from the hospital. "I loved the Army. I was obsessed with it. The Army was my life. Fuck them now."
The conditions for traumatized vets at the Army's flagship hospital are particularly disturbing because Walter Reed is supposed to be the best. But leading veterans' advocate and retired Army ranger Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, agrees that when it comes to psychiatric care, Walter Reed doesn't make the grade. "I think that Walter Reed is doing a great job of taking care of those suffering acute battlefield injuries -- the amputees, the burn victims, and those hurt by bullets and bombs," said Robinson, who has spent many hours visiting psychiatric patients at Walter Reed. "But they are failing the psychological needs of the returning veterans."
Walter Reed officials declined requests for interviews, although two spoke to me on the condition of anonymity. In written statements to Salon, Walter Reed said the mental and physical health of patients is the hospital's top priority and described its PTSD treatment regimen as being in line with modern medical standards. The hospital said patients see both "board certified" and "board eligible" psychiatrists, including medical students and residents who "participate in the clinical activities on the ward as part of their training, and as is appropriate for their level of training and needs of the soldiers."
The hospital also cited a recent survey in which 42 out of 45 psychiatric inpatients surveyed, or 94 percent, felt that their care was either outstanding or good. "We are satisfied that there is a very high level of patient satisfaction with their treatment," the statement read. The hospital gave few details about the inpatient survey, such as whether it was anonymous, or whether the patients surveyed were even soldiers who recently fought in Iraq. (Inpatients can include military dependents or soldiers who fought in wars decades ago.)
The high level of satisfaction among inpatients as reported by Walter Reed is completely opposite what I saw and heard while tracking soldiers there over the last year. The soldiers I interviewed invited me to their bedsides in the lockdown ward. They handed over their private medical records. They allowed me to call their buddies, their girlfriends, their mothers. All professed to loving the Army, though some said their trust in the institution had been irrevocably shattered. All said their symptoms either stayed the same or worsened while at Walter Reed; two said they made suicide attempts. While it's true that patients' self-reports about treatment are not always objectively based, the repeated, bitter complaints I heard over the course of more than a year, in combination with conversations with civilian experts, cast serious doubts on Walter Reed's approach to treating PTSD sufferers. It all convinced me that something is seriously amiss at the Army's top hospital.
Next page: "They asked me if I missed my wife. Well, shit yeah, I missed my wife. That is not the fucking problem here"
Mark Benjamin has not received the kudo's he deserves for the stories he has written to help wounded soldiers nor the veterans, I feel the military community owes Mr. Benjamin many thanks and SALUTES he has EARNED them.Sphere: Related Content
FEEDING OFF THE PENTAGON -- How did William Winkenwerder,
a former Pentagon health official, win an $800 million DoD
contract for his healthcare firm? That's what
government watchdogs want to know.
For more about William Winkenwerder, use the VA Watchdog search engine...click here... http://www.yourva
For more about QTC, the company owned by former VA Secretary Anthony Principi and employer of VA Secretary nominee Dr. James Peake, use the VA Watchdog search engine...click here...
For more investigative pieces by Mark Benjamin, use the VA Watchdog search engine...click here... http://www.
Today's story here... http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/12/04/va_contract/
THE DAILY BRIEFING -- AUDIO FEED FROM LARRY SCOTT
12-05-2007 -- to listen, click here...
Feeding off the Pentagon
How did a former Bush official win an $800 million Department of Defense contract for his healthcare firm? That's what government watchdogs want to know.
By Mark Benjamin
In April 2007, William Winkenwerder Jr. retired from his position as assistant secretary for health affairs at the Department of Defense, where he had been in charge of all military healthcare. On June 1, he went to work for a Wisconsin-based private contractor named Logistics Health Inc., which hired him to serve on its board of directors and "advise and counsel LHI on business development," according to a company press release. It was a hire that seems to have paid quick dividends.
On June 13, 2007, the Department of Defense began accepting bids for a contract to give soldiers medical and dental exams before they head off to war. Logistics Health was among the companies bidding on the contract, which was worth hundreds of millions of dollars over four years. Before he left the DOD, in addition to running military healthcare, Winkenwerder had also been in charge of the office that wrote the contract.
On Sept. 25, Logistics Health won the contract despite bidding $800 million, meaning it was not the low bidder. At least one other company bid $100 million less.
After objections by competing companies, the contract has now been "stayed," or put on hold, while the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, evaluates those complaints. At least one firm alleging unfair bidding practices has also asked congressional watchdog Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., to investigate. But the contract may still be awarded to Logistics Health; the GAO will issue a decision by Jan. 14. The contract, which at one time was also going to benefit a second firm with its own revolving door to the federal government, exemplifies the culture of cronyism in privatized military healthcare. Military healthcare is a lucrative wartime bazaar for private contractors that is largely free of oversight -- and of Halliburton- or Blackwater-size headlines.
You might remember William Winkenwerder from earlier this year. While still at the Pentagon and responsible for military healthcare, he expressed shock at reports in the Washington Post on neglect of outpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, even though Salon had reported the same neglect two years earlier. "This news caught me -- as it did many other people -- completely by surprise," he said at a Feb. 21 press conference.
On paper, the process of awarding the contract for soldiers' medical and dental exams was handled through the U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity, a contracting shop at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md. Winkenwerder didn't control that office when he was at the Pentagon.
But as assistant secretary of defense for healthcare, Winkenwerder was also director of a DOD office called TRICARE Management Activity. When the government contracts out for services, the details of the services it wants from a bidder are contained in a document called the "statement of work." In the case of the medical and dental exam contract, the "statement of work" was not written at Fort Detrick, where it belonged officially, but by Winkenwerder's office, TRICARE Management Activity. "We are just the contracting office," explained Christopher Sherman, a civilian official at Fort Detrick. "That contract is managed by the TRICARE Management Activity ... We have them put together the statements of work and the solicitations." Sherman said Winkenwerder's office had been preparing the contract since late 2006.
Dina Rasor, author of "Betraying Our Troops: The Destructive Results of Privatizing War," said it was likely that Winkenwerder's office configured the statement of work in such a way that a contract would be awarded to a favored company over its competitors. Though she had not reviewed the statement of work in question, Rasor said manipulating these documents is a common abuse in government contracting. "They take something unique about the company and they put that in the statement of work or [add] requirements that the other companies [can't meet]," said Rasor. "It is the kind of thing that is hard to put your finger on. These people have become very sophisticated at doing this."
The competing companies that protested the Logistics Health deal have taken note of Winkenwerder's role. "I think it is a conflict scenario," said Charles Roché, chairman of United States Military Dental Service Corp. He expressed the alleged conflict of interest in a rhetorical question. "You end up being employed by the very people that you are helping put together the deal for?"
Roché and other contractors have also seized on what they say is an additional anomaly with the contract. When Logistics Health put together its bid, it partnered with other firms, including QTC Management Inc., another contractor that is the largest private provider of government-outsourced disability examination services in the country. The company has raked in hundreds of millions through contracts with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Anthony Principi, the former secretary of the VA, is chairman of the board. And President Bush recently nominated QTC Management chief operating officer James Peake to be the next VA secretary. (Peake was also the former Army surgeon general through 2004.) His confirmation hearing is slated for Dec. 5.
The details of the proposal that Logistics Health submitted to the Defense Department are not public. It is known that QTC Management was supposed to be a partner in the deal; competitors like Roché believe QTC Management was supposed to be a significant partner, since it employs more than 600 clinical associates to perform the sort of medical exams the contract would require. This fall, investors from Logistics Health and QTC Management were even in merger talks.
But on Sept. 10, just days before the contract was awarded, QTC suddenly withdrew from the Logistics bid and pulled the plug on merger talks, both for reasons unknown.
In a telephone interview, Principi, the QTC chairman, would not say why his company suddenly cut off relations with Logistics Health mere days before the $800 million contract was awarded. "It was just a business decision that was made," Principi said. "QTC decided not to have anything to do with LHI."
But more important, other contractors say the Defense Department was aware of the falling out. And that means that right before Logistics Health won the contract, the company lost what was probably a significant partner -- a partner whose potential contribution DOD must have evaluated when considering which bidder was most qualified to get the contract.
Other contractors were flabbergasted that Logistics Health was still awarded that $800 million contract, despite QTC's exit just days earlier. "That's like saying I made a deal with you and this is what you are supposed to do, and I am going to sign this deal," explained Roché. "But ... the very people that were part of the deal are no longer present on your side of the desk. So how can you tell me you are able to make a deal when half of your business fell apart?"
Roché's protest was dismissed by the GAO on technical grounds. But another company, Comprehensive Health Services, has also objected to the award of the massive contract. The GAO will decide the merits of the protest by Jan. 14.
And Roché has also appealed to Congress for help. "At the time the contract was awarded, LHI had lost its partner in the bid," Roché recently wrote Henry Waxman, the pugnacious California Democrat who has subpoena power as chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. "The offering made to the government was substantively altered by the withdrawal of a key partner in the bid."
Waxman's staff did not return a call from Salon seeking comment. But on Nov. 8, Waxman wrote Roché saying his investigative staff would review information passed along by Roché.
In a statement to Salon, Diana Henry, the Logistics Health corporate communications manager, said, "Logistics Health Incorporated (LHI) has established a reputation as an outstanding company with a track record of superior service to its customers." She added that the company "conducts all of its business activities in a highly ethical and professional manner." She did not respond to questions about Winkenwerder.
In an Oct. 26 Los Angeles Times article, Winkenwerder was quoted as saying that he had nothing to do with the procurement process, had not talked to Logistics Health about working there until after he left the government in April, and had not lobbied the government for the contract after leaving the Pentagon. The Los Angeles Times article contained the first report that other companies had protested the contract, and that one losing bid from another firm was for $100 million less than the Logistics Health proposal.
Interestingly, prior to this award Logistics Health had already had a contract to perform medical and dental exams on guard and reserve soldiers, which ended in 2006. But that contract was administered through the Department of Health and Human Services, a major client that has paid the company more than $185 million since 2000, according to data available through the nonprofit group OMB Watch. Logistics Health's president is Tommy Thompson, the former secretary of that department, who joined the company in March 2005 two months after leaving DHHS.
In September 2006, the government announced that the responsibility for the contract would be transferred from DHHS to the Department of Defense. Winkenwerder joined Logistics Health in June 2007, two months after leaving the DOD, and in September the company won the new contract from the DOD for performing medical and dental exams.
Larry Scott --
Don't forget to read all of today's VA News Flashes (click here)
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
I don't normally poach work from other Kos posters, but this is a must read, it is well written and goes thru this soldiers life for the past 3 1/2 years
Alex a soldier
The rest of the deployment after Mosul wasn't all fun and posing. In Baghdad and Baqubah, our men lost limbs and minds. Chevy was killed in March, and Jesse (pictured above) was killed in April by a sniper. We spent days shoved into tiny rooms of the outposts we created, carrying on the friendships we had left.Sphere: Related Content
On September 12, 2007, Bravo company returned to the states without two of our own. The guys getting out by the end of November would start the process of paperwork and mandatory briefs. As always, we did this together. On November 30, we would say our final goodbyes.
I spent three years, three months and twenty five days in the Army. I saw the best and the worst of the men this country has to offer. I have seen and experienced every extreme of the human condition. I saw and did things I'm proud of, and other things I would only tell the guys I was with. Fifty years of life experience were crammed into 173 weeks.
I'm often asked if I would ever do it again with the hindsight if I have now. I would, only for the people I've met. The other parts of Army life made me leave. I'm just another vet now, full of memories and a shorter temper. However you take the contents of this blog, I'm satisfied with how my short career went down. I just miss my friends, alive and dead.
Sunday, December 2, 2007
PTSD blamed in former soldier’s suicide
The Associated Press
Posted : Sunday Dec 2, 2007 15:17:40 EST
LIVERMORE FALLS, Maine — When serving in Iraq, Tyler Curtis survived bullets and bombs. But once he got home, he couldn’t escape the emotional wounds he suffered.
Curtis, 25, took his own life on Thanksgiving morning, three months after returning to Maine following his 2006 discharge from the Army.
Curtis was unable to go on after Iraq, his sister, Gretchen Errington, said in a letter that was read to mourners who filled a funeral home last week to say goodbye.
“He served his country and ended up paying the ultimate price,” Errington wrote in the letter, which was read by a friend because she was too distraught to speak.
In the months after his return from two tours of duty, Curtis had grown inward and sad. He talked about his desire to return to Iraq and his grief for the families of those he may have killed.
Two weeks before his death, he told his former wife, Randi Sencabaugh, that it wasn’t the fact that he had to shoot people that bothered him most, the Sun Journal of Lewiston reported.
“It’s the fact they had a brother or a sister,” she remembered him saying. “I can’t imagine somebody — my sibling or my parents — dying.”
The Pentagon has not released numbers of how many war veterans have killed themselves after returning from the Middle East.
The Associated Press reported in October that at least 147 soldiers had committed suicide while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The AP said at least 283 combat veterans who left the military between the start of the war and the end of 2005 had taken their own lives, according to preliminary Veterans Affairs Department research.
Details of Curtis’ death are sketchy. Police said they found him after receiving a call from a family member early on Thanksgiving with a plea to check on him.
An investigation is continuing, but it’s clear his death was a suicide, said Capt. Ray Lafrance of the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Department.
At his funeral, Curtis was remembered as a mischievous kid who always wanted to be in the Army, which he joined in 2001 after high school.
He was honorably discharged in 2006 and trained as a diesel mechanic upon his return to the U.S., according to this obituary. Most recently, he worked as a mechanic at a company in Auburn.
His obituary said he took his own life as a result of “post-traumatic stress syndrome.”
“He knew he had it,” Sencabaugh said. “I know he did.”
Curtis was hardly alone among soldiers who have difficulties returning home.
The VA’s Center of Excellence in Canandaigua, N.Y., created a phone bank for veterans last summer that branches out of a nationwide suicide hot line. Anyone who calls the number is asked to press “1” if they’re a veteran or calling on behalf of a veteran, with those calls then diverted to workers in Canandaigua.
Kerry Knox, a psychologist who runs the VA’s Center of Excellence, said attempts to define a particularly at-risk segment of returning soldiers — young, old, male, female, married, single — have been fruitless.
“I think it’s such a wide range,” said Knox. “We are right at the beginning of understanding what we’re seeing.”
Todays article in the Washington Post deals with an Army Officers dealing with the Army and their attempt to try and court martial her for having a breakdown while on duty in Iraq, the shrinks have testified she was not mentally competent at the time she shot herself, and the Army is still pushing for a court martial, WTF?
In a nondescript conference room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside listened last week as an Army prosecutor outlined the criminal case against her in a preliminary hearing. The charges: attempting suicide and endangering the life of another soldier while serving in Iraq.
Her hands trembled as Maj. Stefan Wolfe, the prosecutor, argued that Whiteside, now a psychiatric outpatient at Walter Reed, should be court-martialed. After seven years of exemplary service, the 25-year-old Army reservist faces the possibility of life in prison if she is tried and convicted.
Military psychiatrists at Walter Reed who examined Whiteside after she recovered from her self-inflicted gunshot wound diagnosed her with a severe mental disorder, possibly triggered by the stresses of a war zone. But Whiteside's superiors considered her mental illness "an excuse" for criminal conduct, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.
At the hearing, Wolfe, who had already warned Whiteside's lawyer of the risk of using a "psychobabble" defense, pressed a senior psychiatrist at Walter Reed to justify his diagnosis.
"I'm not here to play legal games," Col. George Brandt responded angrily, according to a recording of the hearing. "I am here out of the genuine concern for a human being that's breaking and that is broken. She has a severe and significant illness. Let's treat her as a human being, for Christ's sake!"
In recent months, prodded by outrage over poor conditions at Walter Reed, the Army has made a highly publicized effort to improve treatment of Iraq veterans and change a culture that stigmatizes mental illness. The Pentagon has allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to new research and to care for soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, and on Friday it announced that it had opened a new center for psychological health in Rosslyn.
But outside the Pentagon, the military still largely deals with mental health issues in an ad hoc way, often relying on the judgment of combat-hardened commanders whose understanding of mental illness is vague or misinformed. The stigma around psychological wounds can still be seen in the smallest of Army policies. While family members of soldiers recovering at Walter Reed from physical injuries are provided free lodging and a per diem to care for their loved ones, families of psychiatric outpatients usually have to pay their own way.
"It's a disgrace," said Tom Whiteside, a former Marine and retired federal law enforcement officer who lost his free housing after his daughter's physical wounds had healed enough that she could be moved to the psychiatric ward. A charity organization, the Yellow Ribbon Fund, provides him with an apartment near Walter Reed so he can be near his daughter.
Under military law, soldiers who attempt suicide can be prosecuted under the theory that it affects the order and discipline of a unit and brings discredit to the armed forces. In reality, criminal charges are extremely rare unless there is evidence that the attempt was an effort to avoid service or that it endangered others.
At one point, Elizabeth Whiteside almost accepted the Army's offer to resign in lieu of court-martial. But it meant she would have to explain for the rest of her life why she was not given an honorable discharge. Her attorney also believed that she would have been left without the medical care and benefits she needed.
No decision has yet been made on whether Whiteside's case will proceed to court-martial. The commander of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe Jr., who has jurisdiction over the case, "must determine whether there is sufficient evidence to support the charges against Lieutenant Whiteside and recommend how to dispose of the charges," said his spokesman.
You should go to WAPO and read the entire article, the Army should be ashamed.Sphere: Related Content
Vets sound off about VA at forum with Murray
By LEAH BETH WARD
‹‹ prev 1 of 2 next ››
Photos by ANDY SAWYER/Yakima Herald-Republic
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., thanks veteran Melvin Franz for his service before a listening session with veterans Friday. Murray wanted input from veterans on conditions in the VA in Yakima.
Veteran Rich Rowland listens from the front row during a session on veterans issues held by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., in Yakima on Friday.
Brett Wachsmith of Ellensburg was nearing the end of the semester at Central Washington University in 2004 when his Army National Guard unit was activated to Iraq. His professors did not make it easy for him to finish his credits before he left, he said, and he didn't complete the courses and lost his tuition.
"Nobody was watching out for you," U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash, observed Friday after hearing the tall young soldier's story at a hearing in Yakima.
Wachsmith, 24, is back in college now, after laying ambushes and conducting raids in Iraq. But his Army unit was just alerted that it will be redeployed. Though he didn't plan to re-enlist when his contract expires in January, he may be forced to return to combat in Iraq due to the Army's "stop-loss" program to address the shortage of forces.
A number of his Army buddies are suffering symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, he said. He called the military's screening for the problem inadequate. It's limited, he said, to a perfunctory question about "needing to talk to someone" in Iraq and a questionnaire when the soldiers return home. PTSD is a common, debilitating anxiety disorder that can afflict anyone exposed to grave physical danger and prolonged fear.
Murray said she will report Wachsmith's experience and those of other Yakima Valley veterans to the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs next week, when hearings begin on the nomination of Gen. James Peake to head the troubled Veterans Administration. The previous secretary was forced to resign recently after a scandal over poor care for veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the computer theft of personal data on millions of veterans.Murray, who in 1995 became the first woman ever to serve on the Senate committee, has since been recognized as a strong voice for veterans dealing with the giant VA bureaucracy. Her father was a disabled World War II veteran, and she interned during college at a locked VA psychiatric facility that treated Vietnam veterans with PTSD.
Many of the veterans who spoke at the hearing had harsh words for the VA. Among them was Dick Cash, a veteran of the Korean War and member of the Yakama Warriors Association. Cash said a backlog of claims forced him to wait two years before getting medical attention.
His claim "got swallowed up in the Henry Jackson building," Cash said, referring to the VA's regional office in Seattle named for the late Washington senator.
A Vietnam veteran whose hearing was damaged in the Air Force told of being put through three separate hearing tests and waiting more than a year to get a hearing aid. Murray said the long waits and backlogs will be among her questions for Peake, a former Army surgeon general, now retired. Murray said she expects Peake to be confirmed.
James O'Neill, a former Marine medic in the first Gulf War and now a physician assistant at the Yakima VA clinic, told Murray that after six years of treating veterans, he's seen the system improve recently. The Yakima clinic recently hired a new psychiatrist. Veterans' demand for services at the Yakima clinic is heavy. The psychiatrist was swamped with walk-in patients on her first day.
In addition, he said out-of-town treatment for patients with cancer, neck and back injuries and gastrointestinal issues is often slow and inadequate.
For example, oncology patients must drive over Snoqualmie Pass to Seattle for chemotherapy, which often leaves them sick and exhausted on the drive back. Veterans with orthopedic injures from improvised explosive devices in Iraq also feel worse after driving the round trip.
"That is not a good standard of care," O'Neill said.
On hand to hear the veterans -- many of whom complained specifically about the big urban VA hospitals -- was Sharon Helman, director of the Walla Walla VA Medical Center. She encouraged them not to give up on the system, wherever they are being treated.
"If you have a problem with another VA facility, it's our problem," she said.
* Leah Beth Ward can be reached at 577-7626 or email@example.com.
Senator Patty Murray in Yakima on Nov 30th
I wish South Carolina had Senators that cared as much about veterans as does Wahington State and a few others like Illinois, Missouri their Senators are very active on veteran issue's, and since South Carolina is supposed to be so pro-military why are the Senators so ignoring of the veterans community?
It is not a pretty sight they have uncovered, but then again those of us who have dealt with PTSD since the Vietnam War knew it wasn't going to be. For all of the statements my the Army, DOD and politicians, nothing is any better now than it was in 1980 when the VA admitted to the new diagnosis by the APA that PTSD was a real medical problem and added it to the DSM3 then. The VA has created the National Center for PTSD and spent millions and millions of dollars on research, but in reality the military still treats soldiers with PTSD symptoms now as they did in the 1960s and 70s.
This article is one of a 5 day series by Brian Ross and his team
COUNSELORS AND THERAPISTS CHARGE THE MILITARY IS
OVERMEDICATING TROOPS -- Special report from Brian Ross
and the investigative team at ABC News.
For the previous stories in this series, click here...
Story here... http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/story?id=3936723&page=1
Military Overmedicating Troops, Counselors Charge
Counselors and Therapists Charge the Military Tries to Medicate Its Veterans' Pain Away
By MANSI MEHAN and DAVID SCHNEIDER
Instead of providing proper counseling and care for Iraq war veterans suffering from physical and psychological pain, too often the U.S. military is trying to medicate the problem away, according to drug counselors and therapists.
Andrew Pogany, who works with service members nationwide as an investigator with the veterans advocacy group Veterans for America, said overmedicating veterans is a common problem.
"Pretty much every person in my caseload is medicated, heavily medicated," said Pogany. "There's potential for them to become addicted."
According to Pogany, a reliance on prescription drugs often leads veterans to reach for other coping mechanisms -- illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and crystal meth.
Road to Addiction Can Start in Iraq
Army Spc. Adam Reuter joined the military in October 2001, shortly after 9/11. After Reuter was injured in a Humvee accident in Iraq, he said an Army doctor literally gave him a grab bag of painkillers and muscle relaxers.
"They gave them to me in a Ziploc bag with no instructions," said Reuter. Reuter said he became addicted to the medication and was able to quit his habit simply because of lack of access now that he's out of the Army.
Gamal Awad, a former major in the Marine Corps, says Marine doctors in Iraq gave him an array of antidepressants and sleep medication so he could continue to function in the field.
Awad was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after his heroic response efforts at the Pentagon on 9/11. Despite his diagnosis, he was deployed to Iraq where he said he was haunted by depression, nightmares and thoughts of suicide.
"I would go out on convoys with the purpose to die," said Awad. "I just wanted to be hit by an IED or get shot. When we'd get hit with mortar rounds or rockets, I wouldn't take cover."
Awad said he was given more than a dozen prescription drugs, including Xanax, Ambien, Prasozin, Zoloft and Paxil to treat his PTSD. Awad complained that for him these drugs are highly addictive, and he is frustrated by his reliance.
"I need to go take that pill," Awad said. "And I don't want to be dependent on something like that."
Awad has been discharged from the Marines on misconduct charges and said he now relies on medical marijuana prescribed by a civilian doctor to allow him to sleep at night.
"It's the one thing that, it's given me peace, some sort of sleep for more than three or four hours," said Awad.
Lack of Counseling Resources
Psychologists say talking through the issues is necessary to treat PTSD.
"Medication alone will not be enough," said Julie Mennon, a clinical psychologist with military patients. Mennon said patients should have treatment such as group therapy and individual psychotherapy. "There are individual tools we can use that have been very effective," said Mennon.
Another psychologist treating addictions in veterans, Donald Elverd of the Hazelden addiction treatment center, said medication is a band-aid, only to be used as a short-term rescue or in conjunction with therapy. He added that the longer a patient represses traumatic memories, the harder it is to treat PTSD.
"At some point these demons have to be met," Elverd said.
But Andrew Pogany said the reason why vets suffering from PTSD are not afforded better psychiatric care is clear -- a lack of resources on the part of the military.
"Do they have enough trained providers to provide individual care? The answer is no," he told ABC News.
And the military apparently agrees. Results from the DOD (Department of Defense) Task Force on Mental Health released in June 2007 find that "the military system does not have enough resources, funding or personnel to adequately support the psychological health of service members."
"Handing somebody a bag of medication and then seeing them once a month for a half-hour appointment, that's not adequate," said Pogany.
Daily Dose to Deal With Pain of War
Iraq veteran Michael Lemke, who was a certified addiction counselor in Colorado, said the soldiers he met were often given a bewildering array of prescription pills.
"On their desk or in their locker, it looked like a pharmacy. I saw soldiers who were prescribed 25 or 30 medications," said Lemke.
Spc. Alan Hartmann, a helicopter gunner in Iraq, was also prescribed a laundry list of antidepressants and painkillers to treat his emotional and physical pain after returning to Fort Carson.
"They put me on some medications that caused me to flip out and do some pretty crazy things," says Hartmann. "It's just, the medication just kind of took over."
Hartmann, however, says his symptoms of pain and anxiety persisted so he resorted to illicit drugs.
"I didn't want to sleep. The nightmares were killing me from being over there," he said. "Ah, the pain was so bad, I didn't want to deal with it." Hartmann says he turned to methamphetamines to avoid the nightmares that tormented him and describes staying awake for 45 days straight.
Hartmann says he was able to kick his methamphetamine habit but still takes a wide variety of medication prescribed by Army doctors.
Hartmann is certainly not the only soldier to abuse drugs. Michael Lemke thinks there are thousands of PTSD-related drug abuse cases.
"Soldiers would often attempt to self-medicate using both legal substances including abusing their own prescriptions, and they medicate using illicit, self-medicating using illicit substances," explains Lemke. "And then what happens is a soldier whose PTSD is not treated and he now has a kind of an addiction. The failure of the Army to recognize how much they contribute to the problem I think is one of their greatest failures."
Former Marine Maj. Gamal Awad said he just looks forward to a life where he doesn't need to resort to a daily dose of medication.
"They always talk about getting us to a normal life. You know, I would just&I'd like to be able to sleep. I mean, can you do that?" asks Awad. "I would like to be able to do that without having to take a pill. It's probably a little overambitious, but, 'be ideal. But, until then, this is my reality."
Larry Scott --
I appreciate Larrys friendship and his allowing me to copy and distribute materials from his site to educate the veterans I encounter.Sphere: Related Content