Saturday, March 8, 2008

Staff ready to aid returning troops


TROOPS -- "It's called exhaustion backlash. When they come

home, they're euphoric. It's like being intoxicated. They

don't perceive any more danger. It's all behind them.

That takes about 30 days to wear off."

Story here...

Story below:


Staff ready to aid returning troops

By Jan A. Igoe

The first month home from combat brings such elation to returning warriors that they can be unprepared for a delayed emotional toll that could be simmering beneath the surface, experts in post-war treatment say.

As an increasing number of veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan to life in the coastal Carolinas, the region's veteran medical community is boosting its staff and outreach.

More than 31,000 service members have been wounded in action since operations in Iraq and Afghanistan began, but assessing the wars' mental toll on combat troops is just beginning. The prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, once considered a coward's alibi, has become a top priority for military health experts.

Almost half of a state's National Guard soldiers need mental health treatment after they return from fighting, Pentagon studies show.

That has S.C. officials gearing up for the springtime return of its 1,800 soldiers in Afghanistan.

"They've seen some bad things, and left untreated, that could create some problems down the road," says Lt. Col. Taube Roy, the officer in charge of a new program designed to ease the transition of the members of the 218th Brigade Combat Team from wartime wariness to hometown normality.

The Newberry-based 218th Brigade Brigade Combat Team has lost three soldiers during its Afghanistan deployment, which began last summer, according to Guard spokesman Col. Pete Brooks.

"At 90 days, more than 40 percent of reserve soldiers exhibit some form of combat operational stress issues. Not full-blown PTSD, but some type of mental health issues may need a counselor to just follow up," Roy said.

"It's called exhaustion backlash. When they come home, they're euphoric. It's like being intoxicated. They don't perceive any more danger. It's all behind them. That takes about 30 days to wear off," Roy said.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, about 30 percent of troops returning from war zones experience some level of PTSD, a psychiatric disorder more likely to become chronic and disabling without early intervention.

But even among combat veterans exhibiting symptoms of severe depression and PTSD, a Department of Defense study found the majority reluctant to seek mental health help.

"It's unfortunate that there's still a lot of stigma," said Dr. Hugh Myrick, psychiatrist and director of Mental Health Services at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston.

"Often it is difficult for patients to come out in the public eye. It pains me to think we still have that problem."

The center, which operates community-based outpatient clinics in Myrtle Beach, Beaufort, Goose Creek and Savannah, added 29.5 full-time mental health positions in 2007, said Public Affairs Officer Tonya Lobbestael. Those include psychiatrists, psychologists, nurse practitioners and social workers for inpatient and outpatient care, a post traumatic stress disorder team and a new suicide prevention coordinator.

"We handle 40,000 veterans along the coast from all age groups - from veterans in their 80s and 90s to vets barely 20 years old," Lobbestael said. "Our entire population has seen about a 5 percent increase in 2007, and we're expecting another 5 percent jump [in 2008] because South Carolina is such a popular place to move to."

Addressing the need

The S.C. National Guard has also taken a proactive stance on PTSD with frequent mental health screenings and education for families about warning signs of depression and withdrawal in their soldiers.

A certain amount of combat stress is absolutely normal for returning veterans, Myrick said. "You can't expect these people to be exposed and not to have some effects. Some will get better with time alone."

Once separated from active duty, veterans' health issues are handled by the VA. The agency has recently increased guaranteed free health care from two to five years for service-related conditions such as PTSD, which has been linked to domestic violence, chronic disease, divorce, substance abuse, major depression and suicide risk.

"Typically, guys with PTSD have trouble getting close to other people. I put that down to having lost so many people they were close to, possibly in combat," Dr. Richard Fahy, a psychiatrist who retired from the Myrtle Beach Primary Care Clinic in January.

"They'll say they can't go to Wal-Mart except in the middle of the night. They can't go to church. They don't want to be surrounded."

Fahy started a support group that became a lifeline for local combat veterans, many of whom had never confided their war experiences to anyone.

"Many World War II veterans were simply embarrassed to apply to the VA for mental problems associated with the war," said Brent Davidson, Veteran Affairs officer for the American Legion Riders of Murrells Inlet.

"Their code was 'men don't cry' and 'get over it.' It is incorrect to believe a veteran cannot suffer PTSD many years after having been involved with war-related stress," Davidson said.

"Vietnam [veterans], some of them have been through terrible things and don't have PTSD," Fahy said. "I don't think there's a way to predict who will develop this stuff. What we know is that men who appear to be the strongest can succumb to the syndrome just as well as someone who appears to be a weakling."

More combat, more PTSD At least 45,521 of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were "treated for possible PTSD at a VA hospital or vet center" through September 2006 and "tens of thousands" have been treated for alcohol abuse, according to a report issued by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Younger veterans are more vulnerable to PTSD than their seasoned comrades, but the intensity of combat and multiple deployments are risk factors.

Researchers are examining the roles that marital status, intelligence, hand dexterity, brain chemistry, genetics and previous concussions play in developing PTSD.

"There's a lot of work being done on seeing if there's any genetic influence for those who may develop mental health or substance abuse disorders," said Myrick, a researcher on substance abuse. "We're getting closer and closer to taking a drop of blood and deciding what medications to give. We could predict who will respond to what type of treatment."

In harm's wayThe November 2006 Mental Health Advisory Team IV report, assessing the mental health and well-being of soldiers and Marines in Operation Iraqi Freedom, concluded that more than 62 percent of those surveyed had lost a team member or knew someone who had been seriously injured.

Soldiers and Marines reported seeing legs blown off, being pinned down by rocket and mortar fire, watching friends burn to death and handling the bodies of bomb victims.

Adding to their sense of helplessness, troops reported being betrayed by the Rules of Engagement, which initially precluded them from responding to Iraqis "throwing gasoline-filled bottles," i.e. Molotov cocktails, and dropping "large chunks of concrete blocks from second-story buildings or overpasses" on passing troops.

The VA is urging veterans to seek help at the first sign of a problem. Veterans requiring substance abuse services must be seen within 14 days.

New therapies and delivery methods, such as telemental health, enable experts to assist veterans where they live.

Lobbestael said she'd love to get out this message: "If vets coming back from combat theater are having any issues at all, we want them to contact us to get the services they need and return to the best quality of life as soon as possible."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact JAN A. IGOE at 626-0366.


posted by Larry Scott
Founder and Editor
VA Watchdog dot Org

Don't forget to read all of
Help for South Carolina combat veterans


My only comments on this article is the part where the story says the veteran has to be service connected for the medical problems in order to be seen at the VA, is NOT accurate, after war time service veterans used to be entitled to two years of "free" medical care, last year Congress changed it to 5 years and none of the medical problems have to be service connected the veterans just need to go to the VA and the medical people will help them for 5 years, if the veterans have a service connnected problem they get taken care of for life for that problem, if they are rated over 50% all medical problems are taken care of service conencted or not for life, with no co pays. To many rules and they take awhile to figure out. Get the manual if you need to, they have it online at the

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