Friday, February 15, 2008

Congressman to visit Drum, discuss PTSD treatment

Murtha to 10th Mountain Division

WASHINGTON — The chairman of a House defense spending panel will visit Fort Drum next Friday to discuss the treatment of soldiers for disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rep. John R. Murtha, D-Pa., who heads the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, said he will meet with base commanders and Department of Veterans Affairs representatives as well as with soldiers and their families.

Mr. Murtha's plans follow reports of long waits for soldiers seeking psychological help at Fort Drum, which came on the heels of revelations that VA counselors stopped helping wounded soldiers navigate the bureaucracy in applying for disability benefits.

As a result, the Army and the VA signed an agreement this week spelling out each agency's responsibilities — a development Mr. Murtha acknowledged Thursday as progress toward addressing the issue identified in reports from National Public Radio.

Mr. Murtha said he wants to know more about how PTSD is being handled at Fort Drum, where the 10th Mountain Division is one of the most heavily deployed units to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Pennsylvania congressman is one of the most influential lawmakers on defense issues and said the Drum visit is part of his career-long interest in post-traumatic stress disorder.

Asked if he had discussed the visit with Rep. John M. McHugh, R-Pierrepont Manor, Mr. Murtha said, "Sure, we'll invite him."

Mr. McHugh said he expects to be unavailable that day, however, because of a family conflict. But he praised Mr. Murtha for making the visit and noted his influence directing money to military installations. And he said that personally, Mr. Murtha is a friend.

"Jack Murtha is always a good person to come calling," said Mr. McHugh, who added that he has accompanied Mr. Murtha at Fort Drum in the past.

A spokesman for Mr. Murtha said he would be accompanied by committee staffers but not by other lawmakers, unless Mr. McHugh is able to attend.

Defense officials have made the rounds in congressional hearings during the past week, noting efforts to improve care for wounded warriors and to smooth the transition from Army care to VA care. Among other measures, they have hired 300 additional mental health professionals and plan to hire more, officials said.

And more than 800,000 soldiers have been trained in recognizing signs of PTSD, they said, as the Defense Department tries to reduce the stigma of seeking help for mental illness.

The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, of which Mr. McHugh is the ranking Republican and former chairman, was scheduled to address wounded service member services at a hearing today

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