By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Mar 14, 2008 20:23:28 EDT
Service members told Congress Friday that mental health care for post-traumatic stress disorder is good — if they can get it.
In one case, a suicidal soldier asked for help and got it. In another, a soldier deployed to Iraq asked for help, and when he didn’t get it, he killed himself.
While military surgeons general told the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee about new programs designed to provide a safety net to catch troops with mental disorders, they also talked about issues that still must be addressed — recruiting and retaining mental health providers, ensuring leaders understand suicide, and finding proper treatment for PTSD.
“I think we are grappling with this about as hard as we can,” said S. Ward Casscells, assistant defense secretary for health affairs. He said the Defense Department is working to improve screening, implementing more resiliency training — teaching troops to be mentally strong as well as physically strong — and figuring out how to define and treat PTSD.
“Treatment is a struggle,” Casscells said. “We don’t know very well what treatments work.”
But they have — or will have by May — implemented most of the recommendations of the Defense Department’s Task Force on Mental Health.
Casscells said early intervention, before symptoms develop into a full-blown disorder, could save the Defense Department 80 percent of their mental health care costs.
“We are making progress, and we do have a ways to go,” he said, a theme that re-emerged in the testimony of the service surgeons general.
Service members and family members who appeared before the subcommittee had their own recommendations.
Army Pfc. Jason Scheuerman, 20, started acting differently when he was in Iraq, his father, Chris Scheuerman Sr., said.
Jason sat slumped on his cot with his head banging into the butt of his rifle. Some saw him put the barrel in his mouth. He slept in the fetal position. He sent his family an e-mail saying he wanted to kill himself. A chaplain noticed the behavior and reported it to the brigade psychologist.
“[The chaplain] said in a sworn statement that he believed Jason to be possessed by demons and obsessed with suicide,” Chris Scheuerman said.
Soon after, Jason took his own life.
The elder Scheuerman said he had to file Freedom of Information Act requests to get copies of the Army’s investigation of the incident, and what he saw infuriated him.
“Jason’s psychologist stated that he was capable of feigning mental illness in order to manipulate his command,” Scheuerman said. “Jason’s chaplain clearly believed him to be extremely troubled and told Jason’s mother in a conversation after his death that they had been watching Jason for some time.”
After the diagnosis, Jason was counseled that he could ask for a second opinion at his own expense — a virtually useless option as long as he was in Iraq. His father asked that service members have the opportunity for a second opinion, as well as better communication between leaders who know when their troops are troubled and the mental health workers who can help them.
Army Maj. Bruce Gannaway lost his left foot Dec. 22, 2007, when a bomb exploded while he was on patrol. Upon arriving at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., he said he was immediately evaluated for mental health issues — while he was heavily medicated.
He called it a quick “Q&A” session and said it determined his mental health care for the rest of his stay. Because he’s a midlevel officer, he said he was able to work as his own advocate to get the care he needed, but he suggested providing follow-up mental health consultations for people who seem fine in the first cursory check. He also said mental health workers should make rounds the same way chaplains do.
His wife, Sarah Gannaway, is an occupational therapist. She asked that civilian mental health workers within the Tricare system be better reimbursed so they feel it is worth the effort to help service members. The system is “overwhelmed,” she said, and she never sees the same doctor twice — and neither does her husband. She also asked that some of the bureaucratic rules be looked at, such as requiring an office visit to renew prescriptions — even for prenatal vitamins.
Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Richard Gutteridge said he returned from his second tour in Iraq in February 2007 just fine and wanted to go on leave, so he quickly made his way through his redeployment sessions.
Then he began having nightmares, feeling angry and withdrawing from his family. His doctor said he had chronic PTSD and combat stress, so he began therapy in August. But when he needed to readjust one of his medications because of a bad reaction to it, he was told he couldn’t be seen for 20 days. He called the Wounded Warrior Hotline and said he needed help immediately.
“If this was how I was being treated, how would a young infantry guy be handled?” he said.
A doctor called him and worked with him on his medication, and he began feeling better. But autumn brought the anniversaries of violence he experienced in Iraq, and he started drinking alcohol and having suicidal thoughts.
“I’m not proud of this ... it’s difficult to admit,” he said. “I felt as if my condition would never change.”
He called a nurse, but said he “knew my career would be over.” The next day, he met with the nurse, but she had called his brigade commander and chaplain to have him admitted to the mental health ward at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany on New Year’s Day. Then he was sent to the mental health ward at Walter Reed. There, he heard about a special program for people with PTSD.
“I had hope for the first time,” he said.
But he had to wait. Only nine people were in the program when he went through. In the meantime, he attended group therapy with a bunch of newbie troops dealing with “adjustment issues” and complaining about why they didn’t get along with their drill sergeants, Gutteridge said.
Finally, on Feb. 4, he began the three-week intensive program, which he called “awesome.”
He requested that substance abuse programs be incorporated into PTSD therapy, not “in a distant, separate building.” He also asked that mental health workers be embedded at least at the battalion level with the troops in Iraq. Taking the time to visit the rotating team of people nobody knows that passes through occasionally is “setting yourself up to be ostracized,” he said.
And Scheuerman, Gannaway and Gutteridge all said they thought the military, as it has in the past with racial and sexual integration, could work harder to get rid of the stigma that surrounds mental health and set a standard for civilian care.
Gutteridge suggested replacing “behavioral health” with “combat stress” units.
“Everybody likes the word ‘combat,’ ” he said. “It’s manly. It’s OK. Something as simple as changing the wording could help.”
Scheuerman, who retired from the Army after a 20-year career, took the suggestion a step further. “The Army has gone through a lot of cultural change,” he said. “Stigma exists in the Army today because we allow it to exist.”
Drunk driving used to result in 14 days of extra duty, he said — until the military took on a zero-tolerance policy and offenses went down significantly. Sexual harassment and racism were addressed the same way, he added.
Gutteridge said the military could use its values-based culture to address the problem. “The Army can lead society down the correct path of taking away the stigma,” he said.
Suddenly, the hearing had become a brainstorming session with Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, the Army surgeon general and his staff leaning forward and taking notes: Maybe a PTSD support group, similar to bereavement groups? No tolerating supervisors telling a subordinate to tough it out rather than seek help?
“The only thing I want to say is, this is a problem we have to get to grips with, because as our kids come home, it’s only going to get worse,” Scheuerman said. “We have to find a way to make this better.”
Air Force Times
Saturday, March 15, 2008
By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writer
Congressman Filner on Iraq war veterans benefits
By Philip Dine
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
MARCH 13, 2008 --Brad Trower of High Ridge (center) displays the pain he suffered in his arm to Polytrauma Occupational Therapist Tracy Beardsley during a therapy session.
WASHINGTON --As the Iraq war ends its fifth year, a dominant legacy of the conflict has turned out to be the human toll on those who have fought it.
The nature and sheer extent of American casualties — officially in the tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands have sought medical help — has caught the U.S. government off guard.
From wounded soldiers who faced dilapidated conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to troops whose mental problems have been overlooked, Iraq veterans have paid the price.
"The government was not ready for the casualties to come home," says Brad Trower, 29, a Marine Corps veteran from High Ridge who was injured twice in his tour in Iraq.
When Trower returned to St. Louis in 2005, suffering from traumatic brain injury after two vehicles he was riding in were blown up within a month of his arrival, he got "zero response" initially from local Veterans Affairs officials, though he is now doing well.
Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, says the nation has failed to heed the lessons of Vietnam, a war whose veterans constitute half of the 400,000 people sleeping on America's streets tonight.
Though the number of veterans today is smaller, the percentage of veterans who become homeless, commit suicide or face other social problems, partly because of a lack of treatment, is similar to that of the Vietnam era, Filner says.
"We know how to deal with it," he says, "but we apparently don't want to deal with it."
Many of today's veterans, especially reservists, are married, complicating the situation.
"The Vietnam conflict was primarily a single soldier's conflict, but the impacts now are greater because you have entire families that are impacted by how this gets handled," says Matthew Cary, president of Veterans & Military Families for Progress.
The backlog of disability claims has jumped to 600,000 from 300,000 with the surge of Iraq injuries, Carey says. And the Army says suicides are at their highest since it began keeping figures in 1980.
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
The Pentagon's "shock and awe" doctrine featuring hi-tech precision bombs was supposed to stun the Iraqis into quick submission while limiting the toll on American soldiers. The confidence only grew after Saddam Hussein's regime fell with little resistance.
In the war's early months, President George W. Bush was so confident that American forces faced little danger that he famously dared Iraqi insurgents to "bring it on."
They did, with suicide bombings and improvised roadside explosives that killed or maimed thousands, extended the U.S. occupation and frustrated U.S. and Iraqi attempts to establish a stable replacement for Saddam.
Five years later, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, says she's seeing "particularly severe and complicated injuries" among returning soldiers. Murray spoke at a news briefing late last week featuring a handful of legislators who want to raise public awareness.
Officials have begun, if in fragmented fashion, to acknowledge the need for change. Recent steps already are helping some Iraq veterans and may mean better treatment for veterans of the next battle in the war on terrorism.
"There have been shameful lessons learned over the treatment of our military," says Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Regardless of how you feel about the war in Iraq, progress we have made in the treatment of those heroes has to be embraced as positive."
A Pentagon official adds, "As much a tragedy as Walter Reed was, it's spawned debate and action, and helped us cut the red tape for soldiers."
WHY THE PROBLEMS?
Three factors are generally viewed as having combined to produce problems in care for U.S. veterans of Iraq:
— Strategic mistakes that made the war longer and more lethal, including sending too few troops, not sealing Iraq's borders or arms depots, failing to recognize the insurgency early on and not planning how to secure the peace.
— The nature of the war. The lack of front lines made everyone vulnerable at any time, increasing the danger and stress. The insurgents' use of improvised explosive devices has produced devastating injuries. Multiple deployments and the unprecedented use of the National Guard and Reserves increased the risks, especially of stress-related problems.
— A lack of preparedness for the volume of casualties, which overwhelmed the system. Additionally, the military missed many cases of post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury by relying on soldiers to come forward. Of the 1.7 million service members with recent combat experience, some 800,000 are now veterans entitled to VA health care and benefits. Of those, 300,000 have had treatment; 40 percent were diagnosed with a mental health problem, more than half with PTSD, according to Veterans Affairs figures released as a result of a lawsuit by Veterans for Common Sense, a nonpartisan veterans advocacy group.
Paul Sullivan, the group's executive director, says the patient figure could eventually reach 700,000.
Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, a top Pentagon official overseeing care for combat troops, says that by helping reduce the stigma associated with mental problems, the military has increased the number of cases to handle. In terms of physical wounds, Kilpatrick says the military was prepared for the initial acute care but less so for the long-term rehabilitation of soldiers to return to service while dealing with family issues and spouses' lost incomes.
Thirty-one percent of the veterans have filed disability claims, waiting on the average more than six months for them to be processed. Delays are pronounced for those who returned to small towns or rural areas in the Midwest or South far from VA facilities, as happens with many reserve troops.
A recent Harvard University study says taxpayers' cost for the care of injured veterans will run up to $700 billion.
"Unfortunately, we are too often falling short in meeting our duty to our warriors here at home," says Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., who has pushed for improved treatment of mental health injuries.
The military is paying the price, a Pentagon official contends, for being "so good" in saving lives that would have been lost in previous wars. In Iraq, if a wounded soldier gets medical attention within a few minutes, the survival rate is 97 percent, he says. But he concedes that mental health care remains "in its infancy. If we're moving slowly in treatment, it's because we're just starting to have the technology to understand how to treat PTSD and especially TBI."
Critics contend that officials have compounded the situation. Among the most egregious actions, Filner asserts, has been diagnosing 22,000 veterans with "pre-existing personality disorders," as reported late last year by the Post-Dispatch.
"We mess them up, then we say, 'We didn't mess you up, it's your fault,' and we hand them a bill," Filner says.
Trower, who spent four years on active duty in the Marines before rejoining in 2004 to go to Iraq, was injured on his first day of action, when his light-armored vehicle ran over a land mine.
A month later, an explosive device hit the 14-ton vehicle he was commanding and threw it 20 feet. Trower awoke with smoke all around and men badly hurt. He was hospitalized for a week with a concussion.
He finished his tour and headed back to St. Louis. It wasn't until 18 months later, after news stories critical of the treatment given veterans, that he began to get phone calls from officials offering help, "because they realized I hadn't been seen by anyone."
Now working as an EMT for a private ambulance company and serving as a volunteer firefighter, Trower hopes to become a professional firefighter.
After what many experts describe as a chaotic few years marked by too few resources — though Walter Reed and other institutions have done remarkable work in areas such as prosthetics — the past year or so has seen some progress. Congressional legislation, pressure from veterans advocacy groups, continued efforts by veterans services groups and greater urgency by officials in the VA and Pentagon have moved things along.
Since August, military officials have encouraged soldiers who were near an explosion to get checked for traumatic brain injury, and Illinois and some other states have filled gaps for their own veterans. The transition between the Pentagon and VA is smoother, with record transfers being done electronically, and VA care has been extended for combat veterans.
A handful of key bills passed last year. They include efforts to prevent suicides, give wounded veterans cost-of-living adjustments, unify the disability rating system between the Pentagon and the VA and compel the military to examine personality-disorder discharges.
Much remains to be done to get mental health treatment to rural veterans or provide home care for disabled veterans, Cary says. More generally, what's needed is a comprehensive approach to treating veterans and families, as well as better funding mechanisms. One idea, he says, would be to sell war bonds to fund care, so the public could help.
Assessments vary as to where things stand. American Legion spokeswoman Ramona Joyce says that the unconventional nature of the war led to early problems but that officials are doing better now.
"I think you learn from your mistakes as time goes on," she says. "Yes, as far as PTSD and TBI, they didn't catch it in the first couple of years of the war, but better late than never."
Filner is less optimistic.
He cites a small program in his home district of San Diego, in which 30 wounded Marines were taught moviemaking. "They say, 'Now I have a life. I was sitting around doing nothing, thinking of committing suicide.'" But it took two years to get the program approved, he says. Now he's seeking support for a "de-boot camp" to help troops re-adjust to civilian life, but "nobody at DOD wants to talk about it."
"It doesn't seem like we've learned the lesson," Filner says.
And Cary worries that financial concerns could impede the current progress, given the mounting war costs and the looming recession.
firstname.lastname@example.org | 202-298-6880
Thursday, March 13, 2008
DR Golomb's study
By Julie Steenhuysen
CHICAGO, March 10 (Reuters) - Exposure to pesticides, nerve agents and other chemicals may explain the chronic, multi-symptom health problems experienced by up to one-third of Gulf War veterans, U.S. researchers said on Monday.
They said an analysis of a host of studies offers compelling evidence that the fatigue, muscle or joint pain, memory and sleep problems, rashes and breathing troubles experienced by these veterans are due to chemicals known as acetylcholinesterase inhibitors and organophosphates, which includes nerve gas.
"Convergent evidence now strongly links a class of chemicals -- acetylcholinesterase inhibitors -- to illness in Gulf War veterans," Dr. Beatrice Golomb of the University of California, San Diego, said in e-mailed comments.
She said some of the chemicals linked to these illnesses continue to be used in agriculture, and in homes and offices for pest control in the United States and throughout the world.
Golomb's prior research found that pills known as carbamate pyridostigmine bromide were given to service members to protect against exposure to nerve agents -- a practice that has since been discontinued.
For the latest study, Golomb combed through several studies linking Gulf War veterans' symptoms with all of the chemicals. She found that returning Gulf War veterans who had been exposed to chemicals suffered multi-symptom complaints at a higher rate than those who were not deployed, or who were deployed elsewhere.
"Evidence, taken together, provides a case for causal connection of carbamate, organophosphates and acetylcholinesterase inhibitor exposure to illness in Gulf War Veterans," Golomb wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
She also found a link between the amount of exposure to the chemicals and how common symptoms were in these veterans.
Golomb believes genetic variants make some people more susceptible to such chemicals, and when exposed, these people had a higher risk of illness.
"A lot of attention has gone to psychological factors in illness in Gulf War veterans," Golomb said. But she said the ground conflict in the Gulf War lasted only four days, unlike the current conflict.
"Psychological stressors are inadequate to account for the excess illness seen," she said.
She said this knowledge should help protect troops from such problems arising in the future. Her team is also looking at ways to mitigate symptoms in Gulf War veterans.
The study is available online here. (Editing by Maggie Fox and Jackie Frank
The biggest question is will the Veterans Administration and the Department of defense allow this study to be used to authorize compensation for the disabled veterans of the first Gulf War or will they continue to hide behind the bofus Sarin Report published by DR William Page in March 2003 which no found NO medical problems linked to the low level exposures March 20003 IOM Sarin report
Veterans' Advocate Jim Strickland provides regular columns for VA Watchdog dot Org.
If you would like to contact Jim about his columns, you can email him here...
The archive of Jim's articles is here...
by Jim Strickland
NOTE: Letters in my mailbag are reprinted just as they come to me. Spelling and grammar are left as is and only small corrections are made to improve readability, ensure anonymity or delete expletives that may offend some readers. This is not legal advice. You should always seek the advice of an attorney who is qualified in Veterans' law before you make any decisions about your own benefits.
I'm a state Veterans Service officer. Vets who become eligible for SSDI based on SCDs should apply immediately and then seek help from their local congressman. If you are applying for TDIU, SSDI should be the next step. These claims can be fast tracked. We have been following this course for over a year and routinely see SSDI awarded in 4-6 weeks. Our local Congressman has helped many vets with this issue.
You're correct. I do advise everyone to file simultaneously and with the help (usually) of a good lawyer.
While the systems are based on different principles of disability and having one is not a guarantee of eligibility for the other, it's my experience that each system will take close notice of the other's award.
I also believe and I've heard from a number of attorneys that the SSA Administrative Law Judges are likely to look more favorably at the application of a veteran who has an honorable discharge and a good record of military service. They tend to believe that the veteran is less likely to be seeking benefits because they want to avoid work and more likely to actually be disabled.
Thanks again for writing and reminding me of this important detail. Keep up your good work helping veterans!
I am a retired VA senior claims examiner. I am also a volunteer service officer working with veterans much as you do. I have been reading your articles for some months now and am impressed by your knowledge of the DVA and it's policies and procedures. One of your articles had to do with a veteran who was rated for PTSD and another disability combining to 60%. You were absolutely correct that the regs do not allow for individual unemployability unless the veteran has one disability at 60 or combined disabilities at 70 with one at 40. However, there is also the regulation which uses the policy of "common etiology" in certain cases. This would allow a veteran, who is rated 50% for PTSD (combat related) and 10% for tinnitus (due to acoustic trauma) with a combined rating of 60 to be eligible for the TDIU. Anyway, keep up the good work. Frustrations with the VBA are running high and there don't seem to be many answers. It's great to know there are people out there trying to help the veterans and not just giving them lip service.
Thanks for your kind words! You're correct and I do try to advise folks that the VA often has a fair amount of discretion in many ways. I do all I can to impress my readers that the VA isn't out to get them. I hear from many VA employees...just like you...who are dedicated to giving the veteran exactly what the law allows. If the law isn't as good as it should be, that's not the fault of the VBA, the Congress makes the law. In any case, if a veteran remains civil and sticks to facts, I'm convinced they get a lot further with any discretion that a rater may have than if they come in at full tilt attack mode. Thanks for your service as a VBA employee as well as your current volunteer work for veterans.
DO YOU HAVE TO CLAIM OTHER INCOME IF YU ARE RECEIVING A MILITARY DISABILITY BENEFIT? THE FACT OF THE QUESTION IS THIS----I KNOW A GUY WHO IS ON MILITARY DISABILTY BENEFITS --HE EARNS MORE AT OTHER JOB THRU A CONTRACT-(DELIVERING NEWSPAPERS) AND HE IS SUPPOSE TO TAKE CARE OF HIS TAXES BUT DOESNT DO TO RECIEVING MILITARY BENEFITS HE EARNS $1000 A MONTH DELIVERING NEWSPAPERS AND $920 ODD FROM MILITARY DISABILITY IS THIS LEGAL TO DO???????
In most instances, if you earn income, you pay taxes on it. A VA disability payment is not taxable itself. However, having a VA disability income has no effect on any other income a veteran may have. If a person isn't sure if they are supposed to pay taxes on any money they receive, they should speak with the IRS.
In volume 6 of your mailbag for 2008 on VAWatchdog.org, I believe you may have given incorrect or incomplete advice to the mother of the Army specialist who tested positive for marijuana use.
You stated, "In time he will be able to petition his branch of service and request that his discharge be issued as honorable. If his civilian life shows that he has overcome the mistakes he made and that he is a good American with no further criminal record, he stands a good chance of ending up with an honorable discharge."
This may leave the mother and her son with the impression that he can just accept an other than honorable discharge and in time apply for an upgrade based upon his civilian life after service. This is not so.
While a good record after service might hold sway on some members of the board, that is not enough in and of itself to obtain an upgrade. There are only two reasons the character of a discharge can be upgraded. Those two reasons are error and inequity.
The discharge must either have been issued in error or this particular soldier's discharge was inequitably executed. See http://arba.army.pentagon.mil/adrb-faq.cfm.
As the FAQ section of the Board's website describes, equity is applying the rules and regulations equally to the same set of circumstances. Error, or impropriety, is whether the Army followed its own rules and regulations in processing the discharge.
The soldier in question, once he becomes a veteran, can certainly apply for an upgrade but not based upon his civilian life. If he can prove the Army treated him differently than they have treated soldiers more liberally in the same circumstance before, during, and/or after his case then he will stand a chance of an upgrade.
If he can show in his discharge review argument that the Army did not properly follow their own rules and regulations in processing his discharge then he stands a good chance of winning an upgrade. However, the burden of proof is upon this soldier/veteran. As one who has filed applications for review and corrections, I can tell you the percentage of upgrades is small.
Thanks very much for that input. I really appreciate you taking the time to alert me. I depend on my readers to point out these things that they have experience in...I learn, pass it on and we're all better for it. I was relying on my experiences with VA. VA has a wide range of options open to them when deciding if a Veteran will or won't be granted access to disability benefits.
The good news is that mom wrote me back a couple times after that and as it happens, his command apparently decided to cut him some slack. The story seems that since he had been passing his tests and had really shaped up, there's no further reprimand for him and he'll exit with an honorable discharge and a hard life-lesson. Thanks again sir!
posted by Larry Scott
Founder and Editor
VA Watchdog dot Org
LAW STUDENTS TRY TO HELP VETERANS IN BENEFITS BATTLE
Law Students Try To Help Veterans In Benefits Battles
By KAREN BRANCH-BRIOSO of The Tampa Tribune
TAMPA - As a projectionist for the Army Air Forces in World War II, Ella Robitaille played training films for troops heading to battle.
"I showed the fellows how to take care of themselves with diseases and stuff," said Robitaille, 83, of Apollo Beach.
Wednesday, it was her turn to learn how to help herself. In a darkened room, students and a professor from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law projected slide after slide onto a wall at South Tampa's American Legion Post 5 with details on benefits available to veterans.
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The mobile law school is in town today, too, to provide free legal assistance to veterans such as Robitaille and to educate them about federal benefits. Tampa is the sixth city on the nationwide tour of Project SALUTE, which helps veterans and trains local lawyers to follow up with those with federal benefits needs.
Failing health and failing pocketbooks brought many of the veterans to the Tampa leg of the tour.
Robitaille, a six-time cancer survivor who takes 10 prescriptions, long relied on free prescriptions and no-fee doctors' visits from Veterans Affairs. Then, acting as guardian to her ailing sister-in-law Blanche Johnson, she sold Johnson's mobile home in 2004.
"When I sold her house, they reported it to the IRS as my money," Robitaille said. "Now, they're getting me to pay for income tax on $50,000 that wasn't mine. They took my VA benefits from me. In 2005, I got a $2,000 bill from the VA. I still owe more than $1,500. If I don't pay it, I'll lose some of my Social Security benefits."
Students Commit To Follow-Up
After the slideshow, Robitaille met with second-year law student Katherine Carr, who took down the details of her case — and promised to get back to her.
"As law students, we can't give them specific legal advice," Carr said. "We'll be discussing the cases with the supervisor that's on the trip with us. Hopefully, we'll be able to help them by referring them to pro bono attorneys in the area."
On Friday, the law school will hold a training session for lawyers interested in providing free help to veterans.
Carr said she and her colleagues mainly fielded requests for help from veterans whose claims had been denied by the VA.
Arthur Jones, 58, of St. Petersburg, said he's barely surviving on his $900-a-month veterans pension. He knows he would receive a much fatter disability check if he had proof his bad back came from injuries when he was in the Army from 1969 to 1970. He's tried since 1975 to get service-connected disability status, but the VA told him his military records were among those destroyed in a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.
Then last year, the VA's regional office discovered his full medical file. He plans to re-open his application for service-connected benefits. Wednesday, he came for free advice on how to do that.
"Before I re-open my case, I want to make sure everything is correct," Jones said. "I only get $900 from the government now. The VA gave me a disability pension. But it's not enough to live on."
Learning About Limits
The veterans learned about the available benefits even if their disability was unrelated to military service. Those benefits are available to disabled veterans with low income: at most, $11,181 a year if they have no dependents; $14,643 with a dependent.
Those income limits earned a Korean War veteran from Riverview a VA denial of disability benefits. But it takes two months' worth of his Social Security and pension benefits to pay for his 14 prescriptions. So he came Wednesday for advice.
The veteran, who didn't want to be identified for this report, said the law student who heard his story suggested he apply again.
Kendall Koch, 60, of St. Petersburg, also came after his claim was rejected.
He said he served in the Army during the Vietnam era as a nuclear weapons maintenance technician in Greece and Germany. After decades of suffering from infections all over his body that could never be cured, he said his private physician in Indiana suggested he might be suffering from radiation poisoning.
He filed a disability claim with the VA.
"All's I get is they denied my claim," said Koch, who said his doctor at the local VA hasn't yet offered the same diagnosis — but he seems perplexed by Koch's recurring infections. "He's never seen the likes of what's going on with me."
Undeterred, Koch sat on a bench Wednesday outside the American Legion post, determinedly filling out a questionnaire that he hopes will get him another chance at a diagnosis of a service-connected disability.
Leroy Johnson, 59, of Brandon, came with similar hopes.
Just a few years away from a full state pension, he underwent a quadruple bypass in February. He's worried he won't be able to work through full retirement age. He is an Army veteran who served in Vietnam during the time of Agent Orange exposure.
So he came to see whether his heart condition could be attributed to his military service. He fears for his financial future.
"If I cannot work anymore, I certainly would like to have some type of compensation," Johnson said.
posted by Larry Scott
Founder and Editor
VA Watchdog dot Org
There should be programs like this in every state and or large city where this nations veterans can get help with the VA is is not the non-adversarial agency the government makes it out to be, it is frustrating, agitating and stacked against the veterans, they need legal help, I know the veteran service organizations are supposed to help them but when they refuse to return calls, tell veterans to be happy with 50% awards and shut up when the veterans are totally disabled, then lawyers are needed.
50 million to speed up claims process
By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Mar 13, 2008 18:31:00 EDT
The Senate moved Thursday to add $50 million to the fiscal 2009 Department of Veterans Affairs budget specifically to speed the processing of disability claims.
By voice vote and with no opposition, the Senate revised the 2009 federal budget to include an amendment sponsored by Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., adding the money for VA claims processing.
The Senate’s budget resolution, S. Con. Res. 70, which lays out guidelines for federal spending for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, already included a $3.2 billion increase in veterans’ funding over the Bush administration request.
In total, the budget resolution would give the VA $93.6 billion in budget authority for 2009, $5.2 billion more than this year’s VA budget.
Lincoln, who sponsored similar legislation last year, said the money is needed “to help veterans receive the benefits they have earned. Veterans are not getting the benefits they need and are not getting them in a timely way.”
The $50 million increase would apply to the general administration account for the Veterans Benefits Administration, which processes benefits claims. The money is earmarked for pilot programs to find ways to cut the average waiting time for a ruling on a claim, currently six months for initial claims.
Lincoln thinks working the problem from that direction could have a bigger long-term effect than continuing to hire more people to try to whittle down the huge backlog of claims.
Earlier this week, Lincoln said she had heard complaints from veterans in Arkansas about claims taking years to get through the system. As of March 8, the VA had 666,710 claims pending for disability and survivor compensation and pensions for low-income veterans, an increase of about 40,000 compared with the same time last year.
Senate adoption of Lincoln’s amendment doesn’t mean everything is fixed; the budget resolution is just an early step in the lengthy annual congressional budget process. Once a final agreement on revenue and tax priorities is reached, the House and Senate will work on detailed agency budgets.
In the case of Lincoln’s effort, Congress would have to both authorize the additional spending and appropriate the money, and President Bush would have to approve the increases.
Throwing money at this problem is NOT the answer, it needs a new way to process the initial claims, the idea touted by DR Linda Bilmes of the Kennedy School at Harvard has the best possible solution, handle the compensation claims like the IRS does income tax returns, approve them and then audit the claims that appear to have "issues" and need a review, instead of looking at 100% of all claims 4 or 5 times ignore 90% of the good claims and focus attention on the "strange" claims or fraudulent and when you find fraudulent claims you throw the book and the entire library at the offenders, less than 2% of all veterans claims are fruadulent why punish 100% of all veterans and their families while dragging out the claims process, I don't know many families that can wait 6 months to fove years for compensation, most lose their cars, their homes and the marriages and up in divorce, is this really how we want to treat these veterans?
The Iraq War: Give us your opinions
The fifth anniversary of the Iraq War is approaching. For our coverage, we'd like reader response to these questions:
Considering costs to the U.S. against the benefits to the U.S., do you think the war in Iraq has been worth fighting or not?
Do you think the situation in Iraq is getting better, worse or is it about the same?
Are coalition forces restoring order in Iraq?
Was it the right decision to use military force against Iraq?
Regardless of your opinion about starting the war in Iraq, how will history view the war?
Should U.S. troops be kept in Iraq until the situation is stabilized, or should they be brought home as soon as possible?
Are troops getting enough time to recover between deployments?
Do you favor the war, or oppose the war?
Has your opinion changed on Operation Iraqi Freedom since the war began 5 years ago?
Is the war winnable?
Do you know someone who has fought in Iraq?
Did you lose a friend or family member in Iraq?
How has the war personally affected you and your family?
Have Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans been treated well upon their return by the VA? By other agencies?
You can register your opinion on the Story Chat forums here or by e-mailing Bruce Brown at email@example.com.
Questions about the Iraq War
Gulf War One Bonuses from Pennsylvania
Background: The Persian Gulf Conflict was fought from August 1990 until August 1991 following
the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. On April 24, 2006, Governor Ed Rendell signed House Bill 1820
into law as Act 29 of 2006. Approval of this program was endorsed by the State Veterans’ Commission,
thePennsylvania War Veterans Council, the Pennsylvania National Guard Associations and many
veterans’ organizations in the Commonwealth.
Ballot Question: On November 7, 2006, Pennsylvania voters gave overwhelming approval to a ballot
question to fund this program. The bond issue will create a fund for the payment of compensation to
members and former members of the Armed Forces who served in the Persian Gulf Conflict and were
Pennsylvania residents at the time of such service. The $20 million estimated amount is based on the
number of Pennsylvania veterans who performed active service in the Armed Forces in the Persian Gulf
Theater of Operations.
Who is Eligible: The following veterans may be eligible for benefits under this program:
• The veteran must have served on active duty in the Persian Gulf Theater of Operations
during the period from August 2, 1990 to August 31, 1991 and received the Southwest Asia
• The veteran must have been a legal resident of Pennsylvania at the time of military service.
• The veteran must have served under honorable conditions.
Amount of Compensation: Eligible Pennsylvania veterans of the Persian Gulf Conflict will receive $75
per month for each month (or major fraction) of active service in the Persian Gulf Conflict Theater up to a
maximum of $525. Five thousand dollars ($5,000) will be paid on behalf of veterans who died in active
service in the Persian Gulf Theater or as a result of service-connected wounds, diseases or injuries
sustained during active service in the Persian Gulf Theater. In addition, $5,000 will be paid to Persian Gulf
Conflict prisoners of war.
Applications: DMVA will begin to accept applications for the Persian Gulf Conflict Veterans’ Benefit
Program some time in the first quarter of 2008. The deadline for submitting applications for this benefit is
August 31, 2015.
Payments: DMVA expects to make the first “bonus” payments under this
program in early 2008.
Next Steps: The implementation of the Persian Gulf Conflict Veterans’
Benefit program will involve a number of steps:
• DMVA will prepare and publish administrative regulations to
implement the program. Draft regulations were reviewed by the
State Veterans’ Commission at their February 2007 meeting. It is
expected the regulations will be published in spring or summer 2007.
• DMVA will design the application forms and prepare publications
to summarize the new program and their requirements.
• DMVA will contract with a firm to receive and process the more
than 30,000 applications, which are expected over a period of years.
VA Research Project on NASA Space Shuttle
Peake: VA Research Will Benefit Veterans, Others
WASHINGTON (March 13, 2008) - A Department of Veterans Affairs
(VA) research project, which may lead to development of a vaccine to
prevent Salmonella poisoning, was aboard the NASA space shuttle that
launched March 11.
"This space flight is an exciting step in the development of a
Salmonella vaccine that will benefit not only our nation's veterans, but
all mankind," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake.
"This is a great example of VA working with the private and public
sectors on vital research to create a life-saving advancement."
The space shuttle Endeavour is transporting research material to
the International Space Station. The research will be used by VA
investigators and other researchers to develop a Salmonella vaccine with
the potential to save lives and billions of dollars.
The project came about through the teaming of VA researchers
with investigators from the National Space Biomedical Research
Institute, Duke University Medical Center, the University Colorado at
Boulder, Germany's Max Planck Institute; and a commercial industry
sponsor, SPACEHAB Inc.
Previous work has identified several genes that weaken
Salmonella when they are removed. One of these weakened strains may be
suitable to use in a vaccine, but the Salmonella organism quickly loses
its infectious characteristics under normal test circumstances, making
it difficult to study.
Researchers believe the environment of space can bring about key
genetic changes in cells that affect the ability of the organism to
invade human tissue and cause disease.
To induce these changes, worms will be grown from eggs on-board
the space shuttle. While in space, the worms will be fed Salmonella.
The extent of damage will be measured when the worms are returned to
earth, helping to identify which of the weakened strains is the most
effective to use in a vaccine.
"This represents a new approach to vaccine development, as it
will be the first time a living organism is infected in space to study
its immune response," said Timothy Hammond, lead VA investigator on the
project at the Durham VA Medical Center in North Carolina.
Salmonella infection is the most common form of food poisoning
in the United States, and leads to a loss of productivity estimated at
close to $100 billion annually. Worldwide, Salmonella diarrhea is one of
the top three causes of infant mortality.
Salmonella enterica is a common bacterium found world-wide. A
different strain of the same organism, for which there is now a vaccine,
causes typhoid fever, which plagued the United States in the 19th and
early 20th centuries.
they can't get a handle on all the PTSD veterans but they can co-ordinate space experiments ya just have to love the VA
Should we extend the mission?; I thought the answer was 'no' - until I heard what Jimmy Carter had to say
Posted By Arthur Milnes
Posted 3 hours ago
Like millions of Canadians, I've been an "agnostic" - to use the phrase of pollster Frank Graves of EKOS Research - when it comes to Canada's participation in the military mission to Afghanistan. I have been neither among the 30 per cent Graves says strongly support the mission, nor part of the 20 per cent who are strongly opposed. "The rest are churning back and forth from soft support to soft opposition," Graves said in a recent interview. "They're agnostic, haven't made up their mind."
My "soft" opposition to the mission - and I suspect I'm far from alone in this - increases whenever we lose another Canadian soldier. Since we joined our American friends and neighbours and NATO in the aftermath of 9/11, 80 Canadians (79 soldiers and one diplomat) have made the supreme sacrifice in Afghanistan. While this number may seem small to some south of us in the U.S., when almost 500 young Americans have been killed in Afghanistan, a look at our relative populations (33 million for Canada, 300 million for America) shows what a massive contribution our nation has made over there.
Some months ago, one of the hearses carrying a dead Canadian serviceman happened to pass by me while I was driving back to Kingston from Toronto on Highway 401. I pulled over respectfully after seeing it and its escort in my rearview mirror. I reflected on the Afghanistan mission as I sat there in silence, watching the hearse continue along in its sad mission. I thought at that moment of the many students at my wife's primary school here in Kingston whose military parents leave for six-month deployments in Afghanistan regularly. These parents leave their young children behind, and these mothers and fathers put their lives at risk for Canada in a way I - a non-soldier - will never fully comprehend.
Thinking of the kids my wife teaches, I was sure that day that I was against my country being involved in Afghanistan. No child should lose a parent in war, especially so far from home. This, combined with the overly partisan approach to the mission politicians of all parties in Ottawa have taken, moved me for a time to the 20 per cent of Canadians who are strongly opposed to our participation.
Then along came former American president Jimmy Carter.
This aging warrior for peace and human rights brought Israelis and Egyptians together at Camp David while the 39th president. He bravely crossed the demilitarized zone dividing the Koreas to negotiate face to face with the North Koreans over that nation's nuclear program. This man from rural Georgia, so far south of us, put his life in danger to prevent an invasion of Haiti in the 1990s, and, rightly or wrongly for a former U.S. commander-in-chief, spoke out against his own country in the runup to the invasion of Kuwait to remove Iraqi forces in 1990. He's also a man who has personally made interventions in the last quarter-century that have seen the release of thousands of the unjustly imprisoned around the planet. And. lastly, Carter is the man who in 2002 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, an earned medal if there ever was one in the cause of worldwide peace and justice.
Carter recently gave a little-noticed televised interview to Canadian journalist Evan Soloman of the CBC. I've thought about the interview more than once in recent days as our Parliament gets set to vote today on whether Canada should extend the Afghanistan mission to 2011. Until I heard from Jimmy Carter, I was sure I wanted MPs to vote a resounding no to extending the mission. In large part because of him, however, I no longer see things as I once did.
"If you were to give advice to the prime minister of Canada right now - we're in the middle of a mission in Afghanistan right now, very controversial with the Canadian public - what would you say [about] that mission to the Canadian prime minister?" Soloman asked the former president.
Carter then gave his answer.
"I've ordinarily been against approximately 100 adventures that have been launched by the U.S. since I've left office, many of which resulted in military action," the former nuclear submariner turned Sunday school teacher in Plains, Georgia, answered. "I think the one in Afghanistan was necessary. I think our invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11 in order to root out Al- Qaida and capture Osama Bin Laden was necessary ... So, I think now to rebuild Afghanistan and to try to persist and to bring a good life and democracy and freedom to the Afghan people is a worthy cause."
Polite as the Southerners I've met always are, Carter kept his most powerful thought unspoken, though his meaning was clear: Canada should remain in Afghanistan.
Carter recalled in his memoirs, Keeping Faith, that his last official visitor to the Oval Office before Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency was Vietnam veteran and triple amputee Max Cleland, whom Carter had appointed in 1977 to represent all American veterans as part of the Carter administration.
"[Cleland] came to tell me goodbye," Carter's diary recorded. "He brought me a plaque with a quote from Thomas Jefferson: 'I have the consolation to reflect that during the period of my administration not a drop of the blood of a single citizen was shed by the sword of war.' This is something I shall always cherish."
While I still worry about the serving parent-soldiers of the kids my wife teaches here, and pray they'll return to Canada safely, this former American president has provided me, as a Canadian, with a certain assurance about the Afghanistan mission none of my own leaders have been able to provide so far.
Jimmy Carter is a man I profoundly respect and listen to - even if I occasionally disagree. As extending Canada's military mission in Afghanistan is voted on today in Parliament, I hope our leaders will consider Carter's words as well.
If our mission is right and just by America's greatest peacemaker, Jimmy Carter, that is good enough for me.
- Former Whig-Standard reporter Arthur Milnes spent the last four-years as former prime minister Brian Mulroney's research assistant in the writing of his memoirs.
Article ID# 941592
Canada votes on staying in Afghanistan today
Senator Bayh pushes for mental health parity
March 13, 2008
It's not surprising that the approval rating for Congress is even lower than for President Bush, who could leave office as one of the least popular presidents in history.
After all, this nation is facing a multitude of problems, not the least of which is the recession that many financial experts say has a grip on the country.
Besides the economy, we have skyrocketing fuel prices, more people without health insurance and problems around the globe in addition to the war in Iraq.
And what is Congress doing? Conducting hearings about the use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs in Major League baseball.
If only Congress showed as much concern for the servicemen and women coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with a variety of injuries and ailments.
How can we forget the deplorable conditions uncovered not long ago at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Both Republicans and Democrats like to talk about supporting our troops while they are in harm's way as well as when they return home. Too often, that is simply talk.
U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., is one of three Senate sponsors of a bill to eliminate a disparity for members of the armed services who receive inpatient treatment for serious psychiatric conditions.
The Travel Assistance for Family Members of Our Troops Act of 2008 will allow family members of servicemen and women with psychiatric conditions to receive the same travel allowances as families of patients being treated for serious physical injuries.
It is legislation that should be approved. The question is, what took Congress so long to discover the disparity? Instead of studying baseball, Congress should take an in-depth look on how we are or aren't helping veterans.
The tension between the military brass reflects a broader national security dilemma.
March 13, 2008
The inside story of the battle between Adm. William J. Fallon, former head of U.S. Central Command, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, may be studied by military historians years hence. The animosity between the two top military men was personal (Petraeus reportedly thought Fallon was trying to micromanage him). It was political (Petraeus is President Bush's favorite general, while Fallon's views put him increasingly at odds with the administration). And it was strategic (Petraeus' mission is to win in Iraq, while Fallon feared an extended heavy presence there would sap U.S. strength needed to deal with other global challenges).
Predictably, the right says that Fallon, who abruptly resigned Tuesday, was insubordinate and wrong about the so-called surge.The left charges that Bush gets rid of military advisors whose counsel he dislikes. In fact, the clash of the military titans may have been less ideological than institutional. Field generals always want more troops for as long as possible, to minimize casualties and avoid giving up battlefield gains. The top brass in Washington are paid to plan the endgame and prepare for the next conflict, which is why tensions between Petraeus and the Joint Chiefs of Staff will persist after Fallon. But the clash also reflects an agonizing U.S. national security dilemma that won't be settled on Nov. 4: How long can we afford to keep fighting in Iraq, and who will be forced to take the fall for "losing Iraq" if we stop?
The timing of Fallon's resignation is provocative. In less than a month, Petraeus will testify again before Congress. The troop surge he recommended is coming to an end in July, as scheduled, because even with extended 15-month deployments, the Army has no more troops to send. The U.S. will be back to its pre-surge troop strength of 130,000, although many military analysts believe that it can sustain a deployment of only 80,000 to 90,000 without breakingthe back of the Army. Nevertheless, Petraeus is expected to ask for a "strategic pause" in further troop withdrawals in order not to jeopardize the much-improved security climate in Iraq. Petraeus will be grilled on whether the less than impressive Iraqi political progress justifies an extended U.S. troop presence.
Petraeus is a soldier, not a politician, but his ambitions and timetable coincide nicely with those of Bush and the Republican Party: Keep as many forces in Iraq as possible through early fall, but promise drawdowns before the end of the year. That might just keep the Iraq war from intruding on a presidential campaign dominated by the economy, and let the risk that "failure" in Iraq has only been postponed devolve to the next administration. If Iraq holds steady, Petraeus will be a national hero and Fallon a footnote. But if, in January, Iraq is still being held together by Band-Aids, Fallon's concerns won't be so easily be dismissed.
We are all out of "Friedman units" and In January Iraq will look the same as it does now, if not worse, there is no "end game" it's ground hog day there, every day and has been since Saddam fell the only difference is the date on the calendar, all we are doing is pissing money away.
Veterans counselor says he is being pressed to retire over caseloads; VA denies it
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10:00 PM PDT on Wednesday, March 12, 2008
By RICHARD BROOKS
A disabled combat veteran-turned-veterans counselor in San Bernardino is accusing the Department of Veterans Affairs of pressuring him to retire because he refused to drop Vietnam-era patients to make room for Iraq war returnees.
"I said I will not cut the (counseling) groups," said Phil Garcia, a former Army paratrooper whose right shoulder was shot up in Vietnam.
A VA official acknowledged that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are increasing the workload for counselors. But she denied making any attempt to slash counseling for Vietnam vets.
Story continues below
Greg Vojtko / The Press-Enterprise
Phil Garcia, 60, a counselor to veterans and a disabled combat veteran, says the Veterans Administration is trying to force him to retire because he's refused to cut the number of Vietnam-era vets under his care to make way for Iraq War returnees.
"I never implied or stated that services need to be cut for Vietnam veterans. I have no idea what reference he's making," said Joan O. Smith, the VA's associate regional manager for counseling. "We need those support groups."
Many of Garcia's patients have spent the past two weeks picketing outside the San Bernardino Vet Center on Hospitality Lane, saying that the fundamental problem is there is only one veterans center in San Bernardino County dedicated solely to counseling for post-traumatic stress and other readjustment issues.
Dozens of placard-carrying veterans from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars say they steadfastly support Garcia.
"He's the best counselor at this vets center," said former Army paratrooper Steve Dedeaux, a Vietnam vet. "Most of the counseling groups are packed, and it's because of Phil.
"It's easier for a combat veteran to open up to someone with combat experience," Dedeaux added. "Now they're taking him away from us. That doesn't make sense."
Smith insisted that no attempt is being made to force Garcia to retire.
"There is a personnel action, but I can't comment on it," Smith said.
She acknowledged that the workload in San Bernardino County may warrant additional counselors and at least one more office.
"We're looking to possibly open another there. We're doing a needs assessment," she said. "We recognize that it is a very large area."
According to Garcia's figures, the San Bernardino Vet Center had 7,844 counseling visits by about 700 veterans during the past fiscal year, up 24 percent from the 6,313 visits in fiscal year 2003.
Of those visits, he handles about half the counseling, he said.
Patient to Counselor
Garcia speaks softly. But his eyes harden as he talks about the four times he was wounded 40 years ago and how those injuries, physical and emotional, have shaped his life and career.
"I'm a poster boy for the Vets Center," Garcia says. "I had a lot of problems: anger ... sleep disorders. I still jump at sounds that resemble war."
In his private life, he has been an affectionate father, he said. Yet, there are times when his reactions -- even to children -- might seem harsh and unreasonable to anyone who has never been in a war zone.
"I was a squad leader. You think what you've learned (in combat) works: Give orders, take control, 'They will listen to me, and we will make it through alive,' " he said.
But that was then. Over the years, Garcia has slowly but steadily readjusted. As a counselor, his job is to help others readjust more quickly, confidently and effectively.
With a master's degree in rehabilitation psychology from Cal State San Bernardino, he went to work for the VA in 1993. He spent six years working with homeless vets in Los Angeles.
In 1999, he transferred to the San Bernardino Veterans Center, cutting the commute time from his home in the San Bernardino County's western end.
In his view, the Vet Center is a perfect fit for him.
"I've been there. I can get your life back in order," Garcia said he is able to tell his patients. "I make you feel normal right off the bat."
The key is explaining to patients that what other people view as war-zone quirks, or worse, are really normal reactions to the abnormal experiences of war: remaining constantly hypervigilant for the slightest sign of danger, for example.
Fundamentally, post-traumatic stress -- it was called shell shock in World War I and combat fatigue in WWII -- is nothing more than anxiety, Garcia said.
His opportunity to help veterans is a gift from God, he believes.
"I had to make sense of losing my shoulder. And whatever you view as the Creator put me there in Vietnam for a reason," Garcia said. "It allowed me to get to where I am to help all the veterans we deal with."
But the end may be in sight.
Garcia said his boss, Smith, visited from the Bay Area last July and wasn't impressed.
The upshot, said Garcia, was that the caseload of Vietnam vets would have to be reduced to make room for Gulf War vets. Smith denies that.
Garcia said she also told him that he wasn't keeping adequate records of his counseling sessions with patients.
Smith declined to discuss anything regarding patients' records, citing privacy concerns. She declined to say whether any paperwork deficiencies are the basis for the personnel action she said is pending against Garcia.
Garcia readily acknowledges that for years, he has cobbled together his patient-counseling reports using general boilerplate entries that he keeps in his computer for exactly that purpose. It allows him to cut and paste, finishing the reports more quickly, he said.
As he tells it, it's not laziness or incompetence.
Garcia's useless right shoulder and problems in his left wrist leave him unable to type, he said.
Although the VA gave him a voice-activated computer, Garcia said he was never taught how to use it efficiently.
It's unreasonable to expect him to file adequate reports, he said.
He has always passed his job evaluations and has received cash incentive awards, he said.
But now, he said, it's his word against the system, and he figures he'll lose.
"Will they force me into retirement? Probably," he added.
Reach Richard Brooks at 909-806-3057 or rbrooks@PE.com
Forced to retire? why
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
VA to Pilot Innovative Remote Benefits Delivery Program
Pilot Program Serving Rural Vets to Start in Montana
FORT HARRISON, Mont. (March 12, 2008) -- Rural Montana veterans will now
have easier access to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits
information and assistance through an innovative, first-of-its-kind,
remote benefits delivery pilot program using video-conferencing
technology and staffing support.
"Access for these rural veterans is critical to helping them receive the
benefits they have earned through their service to this nation," said
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake, who recently returned
from visiting several Montana VA facilities with Sen. Jon Tester,
This new video conferencing program, along with VA staff and Valley
Veterans Service Center (VVSC) volunteers, will provide face-to-face
assistance to veterans who don't live near the Fort Harrison VA regional
benefits office. Located in Hamilton, VVSC is a grass-roots
organization run by volunteers to assist veterans in Southwestern
"Through the use of modern technology, VA wants to minimize the distance
veterans and their families in rural areas of Montana have to travel to
access their earned benefits," added Peake.
With the help of a trained volunteer, a veteran will be able to go to
the VVSC to conduct a videoconference with Ft Harrison VA regional
office staff to address any needed items regarding their benefits and
claims. VVSC will schedule appointments with veterans on Fridays during
normal business hours.
Last year, VA spent more than $312 million on behalf of the state's
100,000 veterans and their families. Approximately 16,000 veterans and
their families received disability compensation, pension and other
related VA benefits, totaling more than $154 million annually.
For more information about VA's benefits and programs, please go to
www.va.gov or call 1-800-827-1000.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Thomas Marcetti, Staff Writer
Everyone at the Commander’s Dinner at American Legion Post 53 in Hillsdale was thinking about one thing Monday night.
The health of U.S. troops and veterans.
Dr. Joseph Painter said medical treatment for the troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan is best the military has provided, but he is concerned with the way service men and women are treated when they return home from overseas.
Painter is a colonel in the Army and is the chief of radiology at the Hillsdale Community Health Center. He has served in active and reserve capacities overseas and in the military hospitals in the U.S.
Painter said advances in medical techniques and equipment have meant thousands more troops have been saved in the current conflict.
“Thirty percent of American troops injured in World War II died,” he said. “That dropped to 24 percent in Vietnam and is now only 10 percent in Iraq.”
He said as firepower has increased, lethality has decreased.
Aside from advances in medical technology, Painter said battlefield medical units have changed the way they deal with injuries.
“It used to be like the show M.A.S.H. They would wait in a field hospital for the wounded soldiers to be flown in,” he said. “Now we fly the hospital to the wounded soldiers.”
These rapid response units are sent to the front lines to set up temporary hospitals to treat the soldiers on site.
Painter said the units include six Humvee trucks loaded with equipment and medical staff. A fully functional 900–square–foot hospital can be set up and be fully operational in less than 60 minutes.
These temporary facilities can perform 30 three–hour surgeries before having to dismantle, Painter said.
Severe injuries that require definitive treatment are stabilized and sent to hospitals in Europe or back to the U.S. for the most acute cases. Painter said during Vietnam bringing a wounded soldier to a U.S. hospital took an average of 45 days. It now takes less than four.
With so much care being taken for soldiers in the field, Painter said is a shame to think they are being neglected when they return.
“As these troops are returning from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraq Freedom we’re not sure what to expect,” he said. “Veteran Affairs is identifying symptoms among new veterans that are similar to previous veterans.”
He said more than 18 percent of veterans suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome, and that most cases are not reported.
The government is not doing enough to provide support for the emotional damage the troops have endured, Painter said and they have definitely not provided for them medically.
“It took five years for them to admit the troops in the first Gulf War were exposed to chemicals,” he said.
There still has been no research into the effects of that exposure, he said.
The newest threat to the troops are the very weapons they have been using.
Deleted uranium rounds are used against tanks and heavily armored targets because they are made of the heavy metal that results from making weapon’s grade plutonium.
The rounds cause tremendous damage and explode on impact, Painter said. The problem is the uranium is radioactive and the explosion turns the particles into dust that can be inhaled by troops, particularly clean–up crews.
“The United Kingdom and Japan have already signed pacts saying they won’t use depleted uranium weapons anymore,” he said. “Reports indicated over 40 tons of depleted uranium rounds were left on the ground after the first gulf war.”
Depleted uranium has a half–life of more than 4.5 billion years, which means not only are people still being exposed to radiation from munitions used in the early ’90s, they will continue to be exposed well beyond the span of comprehension.
“I think this is the greatest country in the world,” Painter said. “I was all about mom, baseball and apple pie, but these things make you wonder. The government knows it, but they have their head in the sand.”
Third District Commander Ernie Engles said Painter had been recommended to him by a friend and after speaking with Painter he knew the presentation would be a good one.
“I knew we would get a top–notch program because we’d have a top–notch person,” he said.
Thomas Marcetti can be reached at (517) 437–6014 or via e–mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Doc: Vets need better care
Senator Bernie Sanders
In countless speeches over the past seven years, Democrats have rightly slammed "the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy" as reckless, unnecessary, and unjust. Yet Senator Bernie Sanders has provided Senate Democrats with ample opportunity to put their money where their mouth is and his colleagues have failed to seize that opportunity.
Last year, Sanders introduced the National Priorities Act to rescind the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans and use those revenues for health care, education, childcare, veterans services, infrastructure, deficit reduction and other vital needs. The bill had no cosponsors, was never brought to the floor for a vote, and it languishes in the Senate Finance Committee.
Sanders then took a more modest approach. In a budget amendment, he targeted only the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest three-tenths of 1 percent of taxpayers – in essence, Americans who earn at least one million annually. That garnered 38 Democratic votes (including Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton). Progress, yes, but still only a whimper as compared to the sometimes fiery rhetoric of the party.
Yesterday, at a press conference on Capitol Hill, Sanders announced his latest effort to restore fiscal sanity to the tax code, hoping that the third time will be a charm. Again, his amendment would rescind the tax cuts only for the wealthiest .3 percent of taxpayers in order to increase revenues by $32.5 billion over the next three years (less than 3 months of spending in Iraq). It is currently cosponsored by Senators Clinton, Sherrod Brown, Richard Durbin, Tom Harkin, Edward Kennedy, Barbara Mikulski, and Chuck Schumer. (Disappointingly, Senator Obama hadn't indicated his intention to sign on at the time of this post.)
"At a time when the presidential candidates are running all over the country saying ‘We need change, change, change….' Sander said. "At a time when the American people are saying we are moving this country in a very wrong direction – we've gotta change our direction. This amendment gives the Senate an opportunity to cast a vote which begins the process of changing our national priorities and moving America in a very different direction."
Sanders said the amendment begins to address three major problems facing our nation: the growing economic disparity between the very rich and everyone else; the "shameful reality" that America has the highest child poverty rate of any industrialized nation at 18 percent; and record-breaking deficits and a national debt approaching $10 trillion.
The Sanders amendment calls for $10 billion to be used towards special education – the federal government hasn't fulfilled its statutory commitment in this area and as a result states have been forced to raise property taxes; $5 billion to Head Start which today serves less than half of eligible children; $4 billion to the Child Care Development Block Grant – only one in seven eligible children are able to receive federal childcare assistance due to a lack of funding; $3 billion towards school construction – schools across the nation have a $100 billion backlog in needed repairs; $4 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to help low-income families with children, fixed-income seniors, and persons with disabilities stay warm in the winter months; $3.5 billion on Food Stamps to help address growing food insecurity; and $3 billion for deficit reduction.
"This is change, this is real change," Sanders said. "At a time when the wealthiest people have not had it so good since the 1920s, almost all of the new wealth creation has gone to the people at the very, very top. We as a nation have got to decide whether we ask those people to pay a little bit more in taxes so that we address the absolute, pressing needs facing our kids in working families all over this country."
The fact that Sanders is once again giving the Democrats a chance to take a stand on this fundamental issue isn't lost on the Senator.
"I think every poll taken indicates that a huge majority of the American people believe that this country under Bush is moving us in the wrong direction," Sanders said. "I think this is one of those areas. People perceive that while the wealthiest people in this country are making huge increases in their incomes, the middle-class is shrinking and poverty is increasing…. From a public policy point of view, it would be very disappointing to me if we did not have overwhelming Democratic support. And from a political point of view, I think it would be a mistake."
Senate Democrats have had too many moments when they needed to show their mettle and they faltered. This is another one of those moments. It's time to follow Sanders' lead.
Bernie has been one of the best friends veterans have ever had in the Senate, I wish more Democrats and Republicans cared as much about veterans and their families as he does
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Mar 6, 2008
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Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Help America Remember What We Have Lost?
As the five year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq approaches, Military Spouses for Change (MSC) is inviting you to join us as we remember our fallen soldiers on Sunday, March 16th.
Fort Hood has lost the most soldiers in the nation to the war in Iraq. While the DoD considers the number to be 432, an NPR article (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7550621) about Fort Hood's Gold Star Families (written nearly a year ago) had that number at more than 600. We suspect the DoD figure may only cover fatalities from hostile fire and not suicides, friendly fire, and/or deaths NOT immediately following their injuries.
MSC is going to be place a cross in the grass next to the Trinity Lutheran Church in Copperas Cove for every soldier we believe has been lost to us here at Fort Hood. That means we are going to place 600 crosses in the grass so every person who drives by can see that the cost of war (any war) is best understood in human terms because it is being paid for with human lives--those of the soldiers and those of their families. We would also like to remind those who pass by that there is nothing routine about the war in Iraq, nothing routine about any war.
MSC is inviting members of the public as well as members of the military to read names off our list of Fort Hood fatalities. We currently have a list of 432 (from the DoD). We are going to look for additional names here at Fort Hood.
If you or anyone you know would be interested in helping put up crosses (we will start placing the crosses on the grass at 11 am), reading the names (we will start the roll call at 1 or 2 pm), speaking about someone you have lost, or otherwise helping with the event, please contact Cynthia Thomas at 254.768.8300.
Chelsea Hover from News Channel 8 Austin will be covering the event.
Military Spouses for Change
Involve. Inform. Inspire
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On the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War help the Fort Hood community honor the fallen of this war, help make the memorial a lasting tribute that will live in people's hearts and minds for years to come, these 600 men and women and their families deserve this much.
Fox Fallon to retire
By Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News Chief Pentagon Correspondent
WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon sharks are circling CENTCOM Commander Adm. William "Fox" Fallon for a magazine interview in which he appears to openly criticize President Bush on the administration's Iran policy. The very public comments raised speculation Fallon would either volunteer or be forced to resign.
The current issue of Esquire Magazine portrays Fallon as the one person in the military or Pentagon standing between the White House and war with Iran. The article credits Fallon with "brazenly challenging his commander in chief" over a possible war with Iran, which Fallon called an "ill-advised action," and implies Fallon would resign rather than go to war against Iran.
Asked on Monday whether Defense Secretary Robert Gates still has full confidence in Fallon, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell would only say that Fallon "still enjoys a working – a good working relationship with the Secretary of Defense."
Although reporters did not specifically ask about a possible Fallon resignation, Morrell freely offered, "Admiral Fallon serves at the pleasure of the president." That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but far from a political death knell.
Still, the gruff, outspoken CENTCOM commander has his detractors. "How many times can [Fallon] get away with these kinds of remarks," before he's forced out the door, asked one senior Pentagon official. The reason may be that on Iran, Gates and many senior military officials happen to agree with Fallon.
Most military leaders against military strike on Iran
Gates has said publicly and privately that under current conditions he's opposed to war with Iran. Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen is also against it. In fact, almost every senior military officer we've talked to is against launching military strikes against Iran, because as one senior official told us, "then what do you do?"
While the U.S. military does have the usual contingency plans for robust airstrikes against Iranian nuclear and military targets, it's the "aftermath, stupid." It’s the potential military response from Iran in the region and repercussions in global oil markets that are incalculable.
In addition, military officials dispute the premise of the story that the White House is pressuring the military to go to war with Iran. "Not true," said a senior military official, despite the anti-Iran drumbeat from Vice President Dick Cheney.
In fact, during a conference in Bahrain last December, Gates had to convince Gulf state Arab allies that the United States was not going soft on Iran, because from their vantage point it appeared the Bush administration was backing away from its tough stand against Iran.
But even then, Gates was pushing for a new Gulf state military alliance, along with the U.S. to establish a coordinated regional strategic defense against Iran, not attack it. As always, the U.S. would never take the "military option" off the table in case conditions should change and Iran posed a threat to the U.S. or its allies in the region.
‘Poison pen stuff’
Sources in the Pentagon said Fallon was worried the White House would perceive the magazine piece as a challenge to the president's authority, and insisted that couldn't be further from the truth. At the same time the sources said Fallon "doesn't sound like someone considering resignation."
In his own defense, Fallon told the Washington Post that the Esquire article was "poison pen stuff...disrespectful and ugly."
While any policy differences, real or perceived, between top U.S. military commanders and the civilian leadership are not necessarily unusual, it's rare when those commanders take the debate so public.
Another flag officer makes President Bush mad, and is now going off into the sunset effective on March 31, Admiral Fallon was against WAR with Iran, now one of the main opposition leaders to the neocon war effort has been replaced by the chickenhawks. The nations military leadership is going to suffer due to the Bush/Cheney administration.
VA to train more shrinks
Peake: Expansion Meets Current and Future Needs
WASHINGTON – To meet increased needs for mental health services for veterans, especially those returning from the Global War on Terror, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is expanding its training programs for psychologists.
“Not all the wounds of war are visible,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake. “VA is committed to ensuring veterans receive world-class care for mental health services. This initiative meets our short-term needs, but it will also guarantee we have a pool of well-trained psychologists in the future.”
VA, which has more than 11,000 mental health professionals to care for veterans, has hired more than 800 psychologists in the last three years. Because psychology is a key part of comprehensive health care, the Department anticipates an ongoing need to employ additional psychologists.
The best resource for VA recruitment of psychologists has been the Department’s own training programs. Seventy-three percent of psychologists hired in the past two years have had VA training.
As a result, VA has worked with its partners among professional schools and universities to increase the number of psychologists who receive training through VA programs each year, beginning with the 2008-2009 training year.
The new positions will include 61 internship and 98 post-doctoral fellowship positions, bringing the national number of training positions in psychology to 620 per year.
The recently awarded positions include four new internship training programs and 26 new post-doctoral fellowship programs. In addition, 31 existing internship programs and 17 existing postdoctoral fellowship programs have been expanded.
The new internship programs are at the following locations: Anchorage, Alaska; Asheville, N.C.; Iowa City, Iowa; and Richmond, Va.
The new post-doctoral fellowship programs are located at: Albany, N.Y.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Baltimore; Bay Pines, Fla.; Buffalo, N.Y.; Columbia, Mo.; Detroit; Durham, N.C.; Los Angeles; Hines, Ill.; Honolulu; Jackson, Miss.; Little Rock, Ark.; Loma Linda, Calif.; Long Beach, Calif.; Manhattan, N.Y.; Providence, R.I.; Salem, Va.; Salt Lake City; San Diego; St. Louis; Tampa, Fla; Washington, D.C.; West Haven, Conn.; and White River Junction, Vt.
# # #
Gulf War Illness answers
updated 5:52 p.m. ET, Mon., March. 10, 2008
WASHINGTON - Increasing evidence ties pesticides and other chemicals to some, not all, of the Gulf War illnesses that afflict thousands of veterans of the 1991 war, says an analysis published Monday.
Nearly 30 percent of troops who took part in the brief war have reported symptoms that include fatigue, memory loss, pain and difficulty sleeping. Citing the variety of symptoms, the Institute of Medicine in 2006 declared there is no single Gulf War syndrome, although troops who served in the Persian Gulf were sicker than those who didn’t.
Multiple chemical exposures have long been chief suspects. So Dr. Beatrice Golomb of the University of California, San Diego, reviewed 115 studies of neurological symptoms and veterans’ exposure to three related chemicals: the anti-nerve gas pyridostigmine bromide, or PB, given to troops at the time; pesticides used aggressively to control sand flies; and the nerve gas sarin.
Those chemicals belong to a family known as acetylcholinesterase inhibitors that work the same way in the body, she wrote Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Among the evidence Golomb cites: Veterans who are genetically less able to clear this type of chemical from their bodies had a higher chance of suffering symptoms, which mirror problems reported by pesticide-exposed agriculture workers.
© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed
By Larry Margasak - The Associated Press
Posted : Monday Mar 10, 2008 6:54:32 EDT
WASHINGTON — Dozens of U.S. troops in Iraq fell sick at bases using “unmonitored and potentially unsafe” water supplied by the military and a contractor once owned by Vice President Dick Cheney’s former company, the Pentagon’s internal watchdog says.
A report obtained by The Associated Press said soldiers experienced skin abscesses, cellulitis, skin infections, diarrhea and other illnesses after using discolored, smelly water for personal hygiene and laundry at five U.S. military sites in Iraq.
The Pentagon’s inspector general found water quality problems between March 2004 and February 2006 at three sites run by contractor KBR Inc., and between January 2004 and December 2006 at two military-operated locations.
It was impossible to link the dirty water definitively to all the illnesses, according to the report. But it said KBR’s water quality “was not maintained in accordance with field water sanitary standards” and the military-run sites “were not performing all required quality control tests.”
“Therefore, water suppliers exposed U.S. forces to unmonitored and potentially unsafe water,” the report said.
The problems did not extend to troops’ drinking water, but rather to water used for washing, bathing, shaving and cleaning. Water used for hygiene and laundry must meet minimum safety standards under military regulations because of the potential for harmful exposure through the eyes, nose, mouth, cuts and wounds.
KBR said its water treatment “has met or exceeded all applicable military and contract standards.” The company took exception to many of the inspector general’s assertions. “KBR’s commitment to the safety of all of its employees remains unwavering,” the company said in a statement to the AP.
KBR is a former subsidiary of Halliburton Co., the oil services conglomerate that Cheney once led.
Monday, March 10, 2008
AWOL soldier claims mistreatment by commanders, wants inquiry
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (AP) _ A 10th Mountain Division soldier who went AWOL claiming his commanding officers threatened to send him back to Iraq despite his listing as medically unfit for combat planned to surrender Friday to Fort Drum authorities and ask for an investigation into his treatment.
Spec. Bryan Currie, 21, of Charleston, S.C., will ask U.S. Secretary of the Army Pete Geren to convene a Court of Inquiry _ a rarely used administrative fact-finding process _ to investigate top generals at Fort Carson, Colo.; Fort Drum, N.Y.; and Fort Hood, Texas, said Tod Ensign of the New York City-based veterans' advocacy group CitizenSoldier.
The request calls for convening a panel to investigate the case of Currie and four other soldiers at Fort Carson and Fort Hood who also were set to be deployed despite medical holds.
A Court of Inquiry includes at least three high-ranking military officers and can subpoena civilians, Ensign said. Geren can refuse the request.
The court should "investigate the extent to which the (generals) have been derelict in failing to provide for the health and welfare of wounded soldiers," according to the request.
Army spokesman Paul Boyce said the secretary's office had not yet received the request, but would examine it once it arrived.
"The U.S. Army recognizes the complexities of the personal-readiness system and understands that individuals sometimes may dispute their status," Boyce said.
"Caring leaders and competent commanders make difficult decisions every day to balance soldiers' personal physical limitations with the mission requirements of national defense for America and its citizens," he said. "We would not knowingly deploy a soldier into combat who should not be deployed."
Currie, joined by his attorney and his mother, held a news conference Friday near Fort Drum in Watertown before surrendering.
He said he has been absent without leave from the Army for about a month and a half. He said he left the division's 4th Brigade Combat Team, based at Fort Polk, La., because his commanding officers threatened to send him to Iraq despite a medical profile listing him as unfit for deployment because of combat injuries.
Although he could be charged with desertion, Currie said he turned himself in for a medical evaluation to prove that he is unfit for active duty and that he should receive a medical or honorable discharge.
Currie said he was injured during his 2006 deployment to Afghanistan when the Humvee he was driving hit a roadside bomb. He spent a month in a hospital in Kandahar recovering from a broken jaw, burns, shrapnel wounds, and knee, back, and other injuries, but he managed to complete his tour. He was awarded a Purple Heart and Army Commendation Medal of Valor, he said.
When Currie returned to Fort Polk, he was given a medical evaluation by a doctor that said he could not run, use a weapon, or carry a military pack.
However, commanding officers "disregarded and ridiculed the medical finding" and told him they wanted to send him overseas, according to the request for an inquiry.
Currie said he was also recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder by a private psychiatrist. At Fort Polk, Currie said he was rebuffed in his attempts to seek help for his anxiety, depression, nightmares and insomnia. Doctors wanted to treat him only with drugs.
"Instead of prescribing one medication for PTSD, I was given a bag of medication and just told to take them all until I found one that works and just stick to that," he said.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
US Military’s Human-Testing Program Returns
Written by Heather Wokusch
Sunday, 09 March 2008
Breaking the Nuremberg Code: The US Military’s Human-Testing Program Returns
by Heather Wokusch
The Pentagon is slated to release a suspected toxicant in Crystal City, Virginia this week, ostensibly to test air sensors.
The operation is just the latest example of the Defense Department’s long history of using service members and civilians as human test subjects, often without their consent or awareness.
Gas chambers in Maryland
Wray C. Forrest learned about the US military’s human-testing program the hard way. In 1973, the Army sent then 23-year-old Forrest to its Edgewood Arsenal chemical-research center in Maryland, promising patriotic service and a four-day work week.
Instead, he became one of roughly 6,720 soldiers used as Edgewood Arsenal test subjects between 1950-1975.
Forrest was given a new identity at Edgewood: Research Subject #6692. He says, “That was the number assigned to me … similar to the numbers assigned to the Jews in the concentration/death camps in Germany during WWII.”
The US military tested heart drugs on Forrest, which he says were administered by IV and various types of injections. Forrest was also exposed to “contaminated drinking water, food, and various ground contaminates that permeate Edgewood Arsenal. BZ [a chemical incapacitating agent], napalm, mustard agents, and any number of other contaminates in the ground and drinking water there, from previous testing done there by the military.”
A total of 254 different chemicals were researched on soldiers at Edgewood, and Forrest notes, “We were never informed as to exactly what we were being given. We also did not sign any informed consent prior to the testing. This was a direct violation of the Geneva Convention rules for the use of humans in chemical and drug experiments/research.”
The Edgewood Arsenal facility played a role in WWII human subject testing as well. Roughly 4,000 US soldiers were used as human guinea pigs in chemical research which often took place in gas chambers.
US Navy member Nat Schnurman, for example, was sent to an Edgewood gas chamber six times one week in 1942. As The Detroit Free Press reported: “On his last visit, a blend of mustard gas and lewisite was piped in. Schnurman was overcome with toxins, vomited into his mask and begged for release. The request was denied. His next memory is of coming to on a snowbank outside the chamber.”
A pattern of abuse and neglect
If the sagas of Forrest and Schnurman were isolated, they would represent a disgraceful yet closed chapter of US military history. Unfortunately, the Pentagon’s human-testing program has extended far beyond Edgewood Arsenal.
Human Experimentation, a 1994 report from the congressional General Accounting Office (GAO), lays out the Defense Department’s sordid history in detail.
Between 1949 and 1969, for example, the Army sprayed bacterial tracers or simulants on unsuspecting populations in hundreds of biological warfare tests. According to the GAO: “Some of the tests involved spraying large areas, such as the cities of St. Louis and San Francisco, and others involved spraying more focused areas, such as the New York City subway system and Washington National Airport.”
No coherent attempt was made to warn those affected or to offer follow-up medical care.
Between 1952-1975, the CIA tested LSD and other psychochemical agents on “an undetermined number of people without their knowledge or consent.”
No coherent attempt was made to offer follow-up information or care.
Over 235 atmospheric nuclear tests and experiments were conducted on roughly 210,000 personnel affiliated to the US Defense Department from 1945-1962. A further 199,000 “were exposed to radiation through work.”
No coherent attempt was made to warn those affected or to offer follow-up medical care.
One of the best known examples of US military human-testing is Project 112, whereby the Pentagon used biological/chemical agents on 5,842 service members in secret trials conducted over a ten-year period (1962-73).
Project 112, and the affiliated Project SHAD, tested everything from Sarin nerve agent to an E. coli simulant aboard Navy ships and in land trials. Tests were conducted in six states (Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Utah) Canada and Britain and often without the consent or awareness of those exposed.
Only in 2003, after crucial documents slowly became declassified, did the veterans’ health complaints start to be acknowledged. By then, over 750 Project 112 veterans were already dead.
The Veterans’ Administration still had not notified more than 40% of those used in Project 112/SHAD human testing by 2004. The Defense Department was blamed for foot-dragging in identifying the potentially affected service members and civilians.
The battle to receive care
Wray Forrest knows firsthand about fighting official neglect and denial over human-testing. When his health started to deteriorate, Forrest was forbidden to get medical support: “We could not tell what we were exposed to due to the classification of the project, nor could we seek medical help due to the alleged non-disclosure papers we signed.”
Forrest was discharged from the military in 1982 for health reasons (deemed “unsuitable for service”). He was still unable to talk to anyone about Edgewood Arsenal, so kept his “agreed silence, and took what the military dished out calling me, UNSUITABLE.”
In July 2006, the Veterans’ Administration (VA) released a document on health care eligibility listing Edgewood Arsenal survivors as a Category 6 disability rating, which meant that affected veterans would be eligible for clinical evaluation and “necessary treatment of conditions related to exposure without copays.” But when Forrest called the VA to seek help, he was told that the publication was an error and in fact Edgewood Arsenal veterans have no VA health care eligibility.
“How sweet, they have killed us, buried us, and now they want us to go away,” he concluded.
Forrest is not the only veteran subjected to human-testing who has fought to receive care. Even in well-documented and recent cases, compensation is elusive.
In December 2007, for example, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by the widows of five veterans who died after being enrolled in fraudulent drug studies at the Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany, NY.
Stratton had been plagued by allegations of research violations from the early 1990s. Then in 1999, the facility hired Paul Kornak to be its Research Coordinator, despite the fact that Kornak had forged his credentials, falsified his college transcript and been arrested in Pennsylvania years earlier for related fraud. Apparently, background checks for health professionals were minimal at Stratton VA Medical Center.
From 1999-2003, Kornak falsified veterans’ medical records at Stratton, inappropriately enrolling them in studies for drug marketability. In 2001, for example, Stratton tested a powerful three-drug chemotherapy combination on Carl M. Steubing, a 78-year-old Battle of the Bulge veteran, despite his previous bout with cancer and poor kidney function.
Steubing died in early 2002. His widow still wonders if the fraudulent human-test studies at Stratton cost her husband his life.
In court, the five widows’ lawyer argued that Stratton “committed every kind of research ethics violation imaginable,” adding “when you use individuals, humans, as guinea pigs, you do them harm.”
The US government responded by saying there was no way to prove the veterans had experienced pain or died early as a result of the corrupt drug experiments.
If veterans with solid proof of having been used as test subjects cannot receive compensation, the possibilities are minuscule for service members and civilians used in trials without their consent or awareness.
Open-air testing of chemical and biological (CB) agents is one such case.
After 6,000 sheep died following the apparent release of a nerve agent at an Army facility in Utah in 1969, open-air testing was officially said to have ended in the US.
But the Defense Department’s April 2007 report to Congress on “Chemical and Biological Defense” strongly suggests an imminent resumption.
According to Francis A. Boyle, Professor of International Law at the University of Illinois College of Law and author of the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989, at least three passages of the Pentagon’s 2007 report indicate a planned continuance of open-air testing. While one section of the document, for example, mentions the use of “live-CB-agent full system test chambers,” another passage (page 67) reads:
“More than thirty years have passed since outdoor live agent chemical tests were banned in the United States, and the last outdoor test with live chemical agent was performed, so much of the infrastructure for the field testing of chemical detectors no longer exists or is seriously outdated. The currently budgeted improvements in the T&E infrastructure will greatly enhance both the developmental and operational field testing of full systems, with better simulated representation of threats and characterization of system response.”
As Dr. Boyle notes, both “test chambers” and “field testing” are mentioned in the report.
In addition, the passage says that improvements in the T&E (testing and evaluation) infrastructure and “better simulated representation of threats” are going to be carried out using “full systems” rather than simulants.
Dr. Boyle says, “It is clear they will be engaging in ‘Field Trials’ (not in test chambers) of ‘full systems,’ which means ‘live CB agents,’ not simulants.”
Another troublesome passage from the Defense Department’s April 2007 report (page 65) is:
“Current shortfalls lie in the full systems and platform test chambers and supporting instrumentation and fixtures. These test fixtures must be able to introduce and adequately control live CB agent challenges and provide a range of environmental and challenge conditions to simulate evolving threats, while performing end-to-end systems operations of CBD equipment.”
Dr. Boyle points out that the passage says “full systems” rather than “simulants,” and it makes a distinction between “test fixtures” and “test chambers.” He adds that talking about “‘a range of environmental and challenge conditions’ in a test chamber” is nonsensical. “A test chamber does not have a ‘range of environmental and challenge conditions.’”
“What they are talking about here,” Dr. Boyle concludes, “is testing live CB (chemical and biological) agents in Field Tests — open-air testing, where there will be a ‘range of environmental and challenge conditions’ to confront, test and verify.”
Gassing Crystal City
In May 2007, just one month after the Defense Department’s controversial report to Congress, the Pentagon quietly announced it would release “a dust simulating a biological attack in the Pentagon South Parking Lot.” The stated purpose was to study “the subsequent clean-up of roadways, people and equipment after the release.”
The announcement cryptically described the “dust” as containing “a harmless inert bacterium found in soil, water and air.”
Kirt P. Love, Director of the Desert Storm Battle Registry (DSBR), a Gulf War veterans’ group dealing with the exposures of the 1991 conflict, repeatedly phoned the Pentagon to clarify exactly what “dust” would be used in the imminent open-air test.
He soon found, however, that “the departments involved were not communicating with each other … only the people who handled the agent knew anything.”
Love described the situation as “disquieting” and said, “I thought this was very unfair to the Pentagon Police and other innocent bystanders who didn’t need to be kept in the dark about this. How could they conduct an open air test of a microbe and not tell people what it was up front?”
Eventually, Love’s phone calls paid off. A Pentagon representative told him the substance to be tested was Bacillus subtilis, which intriguingly, was also used during the US military’s Project SHAD human testing in the 1960s-70s.
The Pentagon’s announcement was correct in saying that Bacillus subtilis is found in soil. It failed to mention, however, that the bacterium has been linked to pulmonary disease and irreversible lung damage.
The Defense Department quietly carried out its Bacillus subtilis release in early June 2007. A Pentagon spokesperson would not confirm if the roughly 50 test subjects and numerous bystanders had been informed about the possible health risks.
And the open air tests continue.
In the next few days, the Pentagon is slated to release perfluorocarbon tracers and sulfur hexafluoride in Crystal City, Virginia.
Dubbed “Urban Shield: Crystal City Urban Transport Study,” the operation will test the effectiveness of the city’s chemical sensors, and according to The Examiner newspaper, “ the data will help the Pentagon and Arlington shape their lockdown policies for chemical and biological attacks or accidents.” Lockdown policies.
According to a Pentagon press release from late February 2008, the study “will involve releasing a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and inert tracer gas that poses no health or safety hazards to people or the environment.”
But it’s not quite that simple. Sulfur hexafluoride is a suspected respiratory toxicant; as such, exposure in certain amounts may be harmful for those with asthma, emphysema and other respiratory issues. It also is a suspected neurotoxicant, with potential untold consequences for the nervous systems of those vulnerable.
That part is left out of the Pentagon’s press release.
Crystal City is one of the “urban villages” of Arlington County, Virginia. It features upscale offices and residential areas — in other words a lot of civilians. You would think that if the Pentagon is releasing suspected toxicants into such a compressed urban area there would be more warning about potential health risks.
Yet repeated phone calls to the Pentagon yesterday yielded no results. The Force Protection Agency seemed unaware of the upcoming test and the press office was of no help either. No one could – or would – answer basic questions such as how many people could be exposed in the open-air test, if any attempt had been made to brief citizens on potential health risks or if there would be any medical follow-up provided.
The Pentagon’s laissez faire approach to these open-air tests raises questions about the possibilities for further testing on the general US population.
There is a tricky clause in Chapter 32/Title 50 of the United States Code (the aggregation of US general and permanent laws). Specifically, Section 1520a lists the following cases in which the Secretary of Defense can conduct a chemical or biological agent test or experiment on humans if informed consent has been obtained:
(1) Any peaceful purpose that is related to a medical, therapeutic, pharmaceutical, agricultural, industrial, or research activity.
(2) Any purpose that is directly related to protection against toxic chemicals or biological weapons and agents.
(3) Any law enforcement purpose, including any purpose related to riot control.
In other words, there are many circumstances under which the Secretary of Defense can test chemical or biological agents on human beings, but at least informed consent has to be obtained in advance.
Or does it? Section 1515, another part of Chapter 32, is entitled “Suspension; Presidential authorization” and says:
After November 19, 1969, the operation of this chapter, or any portion thereof, may be suspended by the President during the period of any war declared by Congress and during the period of any national emergency declared by Congress or by the President.
Essentially, if the President or Congress decides that we are at war, then the Secretary of Defense does not need anybody’s consent to test chemical or biological agents on human beings. Gives one pause during these days of a perpetual “war on terror.”
Ominously, in June 2007, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell gained White House approval to update a 1981 presidential order on how US spy agencies operate. Potentially up for review in the highly secretive overhaul, referred to as Order 12333, is the topic of human experimentation.
A surge in US WMD spending
The Bush administration has quietly channeled tens of billions of dollars into chemical and biological weapons. Bush’s 2007 budget, for example, earmarked almost $2 billion for biodefense research and development via the National Institutes of Health alone.
Research aims are often dubious. In October 2005, for example, US scientists resurrected the 1918 Spanish flu, a virus which had killed almost 50 million people. And a virologist in St. Louis has been working on a more lethal form of mousepox (related to smallpox) just to try stopping the virus once it has been created.
Since the R&D is top secret and oversight limited, the public is rarely aware of escalating dangers. As of August 2007, for example, biological weapons laboratories across the country had reported 36 lost shipments and accidents for that year, almost double the number for all of 2004.
In addition to challenging international non-proliferation agreements and risking a global arms race, the Bush administration’s surge in chemical and biological weapons spending raises questions over what deadly weapons may have been tested on populations abroad. And what may be tested domestically, with or without the public’s consent.
For Wray Forrest, the battle for government accountability continues: “On September 29, 2006, Congress passed a bill that will inform veterans exactly what they were exposed to, within the next two or three years. I can just see it now: They visit my grave site and post it on my tomb stone, in order to inform me of what I was exposed to and just what exposure caused me to die.”
Heather Wokusch is the author of The Progressives' Handbook: Get the Facts and Make a Difference Now, which went to #1 on Amazon's political activism charts in December 2007. Read other articles by Heather, or visit Heather's website.