Against the Odds, Injured Soldier Returning to Duty
All Things Considered, June 24, 2008 · Army Spc. Freddy Meyers wants to return to active duty. The 21-year-old has been living in the outpatient barracks at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., since this May. And he's about to go to a meeting that will determine his future in the Army.
Generally, it isn't even remotely possible for someone who suffered a penetrating head injury to stay on active duty. Last year, while on patrol in Iraq, Freddy Meyers was shot in the head.
He pulls out the PDA he keeps in a pocket on the pant leg of his uniform. Meyers still has problems with his short-term memory. To compensate, he has had to learn to be very organized and write down the things he needs to remember — like questions for the doctor. He reads them from his Palm Pilot: "I'm going to ask him about my physical limitations, protective profile, my jump status, my deployability, what the effect of multiple concussions will be, Ranger school, duty restrictions, Zyrtec and my Red Cross volunteer letter."
On May 3, 2007, Meyers was manning the machine gun in a Humvee when a sniper's bullet ripped across the top of his head, pushing fragments of his skull into his brain. When he awoke from a drug-induced coma, Meyers could not talk to his wife and parents at his bedside. He could not walk.
Now, when he takes off his black beret, a scar is visible in the shape of a horseshoe from the back of his head to his forehead. The scar marks where doctors removed a large piece of his skull to relieve the pressure on his swollen brain.
A New Role
Meyers figures he cannot go back into combat. He's at high risk if he suffers another head injury or a concussion that's common from being near an exploding IED.
But he would like to get retrained — possibly to work stateside at an Army hospital like this one.
"I'm hoping to get into physical therapy and help out other people who've been injured, not just brain injuries, but combat injuries is what I'm looking into and helping out," Meyers says.
He thinks he can be a role model for other soldiers with brain injuries.
"I believe my story's pretty inspiring, and I'm hoping that it will show people how far you can come," he says. "Because they thought I was a goner, you know."
Army Maj. David Rozelle knows what it means to be a role model. His foot was amputated after a land mine explosion in Iraq in 2003. Rozelle was the first soldier in this war to return to combat with a prosthesis. He says there's a lot of pressure on people who are first to make people accept them.
"What Freddy's going to have to deal with when he goes back and is around his fellow soldiers — and he's having to use the PDA or whatever trigger he's going to use to make him remember stuff — he's going to have to look at his buddies in the eye and say, 'Hey guys, I'm going to be OK. This is just how I do this now,'" says Rozelle. "It's adaptation. It's tough."
A Better Outcome than Most
Up to 20 percent of soldiers who have been to Iraq say they sustained a brain injury, according to a recent study by the RAND Corporation, a think tank. Traumatic brain injuries are some of the trickiest injuries to treat, and healing is unpredictable. The Army does not keep track of how many have returned to duty, but at least one soldier, Master Sgt. Colin Rich, went back into combat after a penetrating head injury.
More common, though, are the injured soldiers who want to go back to duty but cannot.
"In some cases, a person's desire may not be enough," says Louis French, a neuropsychologist who runs brain injury programs at Walter Reed. "And that's a very difficult thing to tell someone: that they are not able to do what they want to do. But we are constantly, I think, trying to balance the reality of the issues related to their injury with their desire."
Meyers says he knows he has had a better outcome than most. He still has trouble with short-term memory, has had seizures and has not yet been cleared to drive a car. But this spring while at Laurel Highlands Neuro-Rehabilitation Center, a military and veterans facility in Johnstown, Pa., he put on his uniform and worked five days a week at a National Guard armory. The job wasn't glamorous; he did clerical work. Nonetheless, it was the sort of work in a military environment he had to prove he could do in order to get approval to go back to duty.
After the doctor's appointment, Meyers got that go ahead. He's scheduled to leave Walter Reed on Wednesday. Once back with the 25th Infantry Division, based at Schofield Barracks in Honolulu, he expects to do office support work. He says it's not the type of "boots on the ground" work that made him join the Army, but at least for now, it's a way he can continue to support the other soldiers in his division.
Q&A: Returning to Combat
In June 2003, Army Maj. David Rozelle was leading a convoy west of Baghdad when his vehicle hit a land mine. His right foot had to be amputated. Two years later, with a prosthetic foot, he returned to Iraq as a cavalry troop commander — the first amputee in this war to return to combat. In this excerpted conversation, Rozelle tells NPR health correspondent Joe Shapiro about going back to the battlefield and how he dealt with being "the first."
Q: Why do people want to go back to the front?
Major David Rozelle: It used to be back in WWII and the Vietnam War, when someone got injured, they called it the golden ticket — the [injury] that sent you home. And those were largely conscripted armies, draftees. In that environment, it was understandable that someone injured would just go home. With this all-volunteer Army, these volunteers want to continue to fight. Some of the moms and dads think, 'My son and daughter got injured. Now they want to go back?' But it's what we signed up to do. When I see other amputees that are in law enforcement, or a trash man, or teachers or whatever they do for a living when they get injured, I ask, 'Did you change your career?' [They say,] 'Well, no. I'm still a teacher, or in law enforcement or a trash man. Why would a disability slow me down ?'"
What did it mean to you to be the first amputee to return to combat?
It was a lot of pressure. Our president had come out in December of 2003 and said there's a place in this Department of Defense for any severely injured soldier. We'll find a way to keep you on active duty if you want. And I heard that and I kind of put it together and I thought, 'Well, I should figure out how I can do this.' My superiors supported it, from the president on down the chain of command. But for me as a leader, the hardest people to convince that I was fit for duty ... were my soldiers. And that's something that I'm proudest of — that I was able to go to work every day and convince those young, 18-year-old men that I could do what they were doing. I was not going to slow them down in combat. I could do every task that they could do.
Did everyone know you'd lost this body part? When you're in uniform it isn't obvious.
Although I wear shorts when I'm off duty most of the time, when I'm in uniform I very much hide the fact that I'm an amputee. I don't bring it up in conversation unless someone notices or gives me a hard time and says, 'Hey, did you twist an ankle or something?' And I'll say, 'Well, no, I actually got injured in the war.' Then of course they'll stop in their tracks because people don't notice — I don't want people when I'm in uniform to look at me and see that and think that I'm weaker than them. It's part of the brotherhood, you know. You're always matching yourself up against your opponents, even when they're on your own team, and I'm very careful about it. I know I can outrun most of my peers, even with a leg missing. But they'll look at me and think, 'You know, is that a guy I want to be on the battlefield with?' And I'm very sensitive about that. It's not a chip on my shoulder, but I spend a lot of my spare time staying in shape.
Related NPR Stories
May 2, 2008
Injured GI's Care Reflects Army's Uneven ProgressApril 1, 2008
Divisions Arise in Wounded Iraq Veteran's FamilyFeb. 28, 2008
Army Improves Care for Injured, Study SaysNov. 12, 2007
Attitudes, PTSD Complicate Iraq Vet's Job Search
Friday, June 27, 2008
Against the Odds, Injured Soldier Returning to Duty
U.S. Troops To Get Cognitive Screening
By LISA CHEDEKEL | Courant Staff Writer
June 25, 2008
The military will begin giving cognitive tests this summer to troops heading to war, in an effort to get a baseline measure of their reaction time, memory, concentration and other brain functions, which could be referenced in case they are injured.
The introduction of the neuropsychological screening comes in response to pressure from Congress and veterans' advocates. They have been pushing the military to assess the cognitive functioning of all deploying troops so symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury, dubbed the "signature injury" of the Iraq war, can be detected more easily during and after combat.
Assistant Defense Secretary S. Ward Casscells recently directed military leaders to begin pre-deployment screening of troops by late-July, using a computer-based test known as the Automated Neuropsychological Assessment Metrics, or ANAM, a Department of Defense spokeswoman confirmed in written responses to The Courant.
The testing, which takes about 15 to 20 minutes, will "allow for greater levels of accuracy when making assessments following injury," said the spokeswoman, Cynthia Smith.
Some veterans' advocates have complained that the military has moved too slowly in identifying and addressing mild traumatic brain injury, or TBI, a common injury among troops in Iraq and Afghanistan who are exposed to blasts of improvised explosive devices. While shrapnel from the devices can penetrate the skull, the blasts also can cause neurological injuries that are hard to detect.
A study this year by the RAND Corporation estimated that close to one in five deployed service members — or about 320,000 — may have experienced a traumatic brain injury. In Connecticut, TBI is emerging as a problem among returning troops, with the preliminary findings of a survey sent to 1,000 veterans indicating that about 19 percent met criteria indicating they are at risk of TBI.
Smith said the new testing is not intended as a diagnostic tool for mild traumatic brain injury, but instead would enable clinicians "to compare a person to their own 'norms' or baseline scores" in the event of an injury.
She also said troops who fail the screening, or who test positive for cognitive problems, would not be automatically excluded from deploying.
"If a person screens positive for [mild TBI] before deploying AND has symptoms, they will be referred to a provider for further evaluation," she said in her written response. Similar referrals will occur if a service member scores low on the testing, she said.
The military has no policy barring service members with mild TBI from going to war or staying in combat.
In fact, in a report released earlier this year, a military task force on traumatic brain injury found disparities in how TBI is detected and treated within the combat zone, and noted that troops who sustain a brain injury may be "returned to [the combat] theater unless co-morbidities exist that preclude return to duty."
The task force recommended instituting baseline testing of a soldier's mental functions using the ANAM. Congress also has passed legislation requiring the defense department to develop systems for screening troops for both cognitive function and TBI, before and after they are deployed.
The military already has expanded its screening for troops returning home to include questions about possible TBI symptoms, such as memory lapses, dizziness and headaches.
Soldiers' advocates have been pushing the military for years to improve its pre-deployment health screening of troops, which now is based largely on a self-reported questionnaire.
Congress in 1997 passed legislation requiring the military to conduct medical examinations, including an assessment of mental health, on all service members heading to combat, in an effort to ensure that their medical conditions are accurately recorded before they deploy. That mandate grew out of the first Gulf War, when returning troops reported mysterious illnesses that military officials insisted were unrelated to combat.
Some veterans' advocates said the new cognitive testing is a step in the right direction, but does not go far enough.
"We still stand by our very firm belief that every service member needs to be fully physically and mentally examined, before and after deployment," said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense. "Here we are, seven years into a war, and the military is still doing everything possible to avoid putting a service member in front of a doctor."
Sullivan said screening for TBI symptoms was long overdue, given that brain injuries had emerged as a major concern early in the war.
"It's like designing a lock for the barn door after 90 percent of the horses have fled," he said.
Garry Augustine, deputy national service director of Disabled American Veterans, said he had questions about how the new testing would be used.
"On one level, it's great to see they are acknowledging [TBI] and trying to determine the severity of it," he said. "But what we don't know is how things like this are going to be utilized. With pre-emptive testing, you want to make sure it doesn't come back and haunt the veteran later," when he or she seeks compensation for a disability.
The ANAM was developed by the Army and already has been used to assess the cognitive functioning of about 50,000 soldiers, according to a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.
Smith said preliminary data show that most soldiers screened using the ANAM perform well on the tests, with very few testing positive for TBI or other cognitive difficulties.
Contact Lisa Chedekel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
VA hears Vermonters' concerns
Monday June 23, 2008
Tapes & Transcripts
(Host) Military veterans from throughout Vermont got a chance today to bring their concerns directly to the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
VA Secretary James Peake attended two meetings organized by Senator Bernie Sanders. Peake says his department is working through a backlog of claims. And he said the VA has hired more mental health counselors to help those returning from combat.
VPR's John Dillon reports.
(Dillon) The veterans took their turn at the microphone. They asked their questions and told their stories. Except for Connie Quintin. The Richmond woman told her husband's story.
He was a veteran with 23 years of service who suffered from bi-polar disorder. He was a known risk for suicide. But on the last weekend of his life, Connie Quintin said her husband - despite his condition -- was not hospitalized at the VA hospital in White River Junction. That Monday, he killed himself.
(Quinton) I just want to say, the health system tried to recover after, but it was too late for him. And I want families to not go through what I went through. I want the health care system to be there for these soldiers and families prior to.
(Dillon) Quintin said the VA hospital was full the weekend that her husband needed treatment. The family only found out later that he could have been cared for at a private hospital.
VA Secretary Peake expressed his sympathy for Connie Quintin's loss. He said any suicide is one too many, and that his agency is working hard to address the mental health needs of veterans.
(Peake) We have invested significantly overall in the mental health and substance area, have expanded by about 3,800 the number of mental health folks, professionals that we have in our system. And even with that we are pushing to do more, to understand it better.
(Dillon) But other veterans told Peake that there is still a stigma attached to mental health issues in the military.
Marine Corps vet Nick Palmier said he sought help for symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder after a tour in Iraq. But he says that some veterans are leery of reporting problems.
(Palmier) They wouldn't let me leave without checking every day with the sergeant that was back at the base at Camp Lejeune. And so a lot of guys don't even want to say anything because I shouldn't have to call back and check in with some sergeant when I'm spending time with my family because I simply asked for help.
(Dillon) In Vermont, the VA and the National Guard have launched an outreach effort to contact veterans.
The program has offices in six Vermont towns. James MacIntyre is the team leader. He says the guard has tried to remove the stigma for vets who seek help for combat stress.
(MacIntyre) We have leadership in the Vermont National Guard who are all, or some at least, are receiving help because they've been deployed. They know that it is important. They've encouraged their soldiers.
(Dillon) The outreach program was started with the help of Sanders' office. MacIntyre said the goal is to contact every vet who's returned from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For VPR News, I'm John Dillon.
State VA leads the world as PTSD info resource
By BOB AUDETTE, Reformer Staff
Wednesday, June 25
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION -- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder doesn't just affect soldiers and the victims of war. It also strikes the survivors of natural disasters, childhood abuse, rape, assault and genocide.
And in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, it also hurts the families and friends of those suffering from PTSD.
"Living with someone with PTSD affects families in major ways," said Matthew J. Friedman, the executive director of the National Center for PTSD at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction.
Many family members feel they are walking on eggs around loved ones, afraid of sparking an emotional or mental breakdown, rage, depression or even suicidal ideation. Often, it's those wives, husbands and grandparents who turn to organizations such as the VA for help when sufferers fail or refuse to recognize the despair they are subjecting themselves and their families to.
Over the years, PTSD has been called by many names including nostalgia, shell shock and battle fatigue. Those suffering from the disorder were often labeled as cowards or weaklings.
The symptoms of PTSD have been recorded as far back as the 1800s, said Friedman, especially in relation to the Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War in Europe. In the late 1970s, researchers of what was then three different fields of study -- the trauma of Nazi atrocities, rape and serving in Vietnam -- realized they were all studying
the same syndrome.
"People began to realize the survivors of different kinds of stress had common symptoms," said Friedman. "(But) we didn't have treatments in those days."
In the early 1970s, Friedman was treating substance abuse in military veterans when he realized for many service members it was a symptom of a deeper problem. Working with his wife, Gayle Smith, who had served as a nurse in Vietnam, Friedman moved away from substance abuse and began to focus on the trauma inflicted on service men and women as a result of serving in a battle zone.
In 1988, a national request for proposals to establish a center focusing on the disorder was announced by Congress. The center would serve as a resource for those researching PTSD and health care professionals treating the sufferers of the affliction. It would also be responsible for training care workers for the Department of Veterans Affairs and other federal and nonfederal service providers.
A year later, the National Center for PTSD was established in White River Junction. The executive division at the VA medical center located there is the center of a "hub-and-spoke" organization that researches and develops educational materials to help health care professionals recognize and treat the various manifestations of PTSD. With the "hub" in White River Junction, "spokes" are located in Boston, West Haven, Conn., Palo Alto, Calif., and Honolulu.
"Our major product is knowledge," said Friedman.
The center is responsible for creating some of the most widely used diagnostic tools in the field of PTSD, including a clinician-administered PTSD scale, the Mississippi Scale for Combat-Related PTSD and a primary care PTSD screening test. It has also conducted the two largest PTSD studies to date.
The center and its affiliates have produced 2,100 articles, chapters or books and 3,600 scientific or educational presentations in the past 19 years. Administrators in White River Junction have cataloged more than 33,000 publications in the Published International Literature on Traumatic Stress database, the go-to guide for health care professionals and those affected by PTSD. The center also issues publications such as the Clinician's Trauma Update and the PTSD Research Quarterly.
In addition to reviewing and assembling the worldwide research on PTSD, the center and its affiliates also conduct their own research and provide educational materials, training, consultation, program evaluation and tools for care providers.
Research conducted at facilities such as the National Center on PTSD has led to new ways to treat the survivors of trauma, including medication and cognitive and group therapy. Central to much of the treatment is the need to discuss the traumatic event and its consequences.
Friedman, the author of books such as "After the War Zone," which he wrote with Laurie Slone, the center's associate director for research and education, and "Treating Psychological Trauma and PTSD," said the stigma of mental illness still gets in the way of treating its victims.
"American society will talk about its medical needs but not its mental health," he said, a condition that has been magnified in the military because of the perception that admitting to having a mental illness could limit a soldier's career.
"Despite the stigma, people are more sophisticated about understanding mental illness. People have recognized that they're not going to get better by themselves."
Nearly 40 percent of the 1.6 million men and women who have served or are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are seeking some sort of treatment from the VA, said Friedman. Of those, about 8 percent are receiving treatment for PTSD, he said, almost 80,000 soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen.
"The emphasis these days is on having the courage to seek help," he said. "It's a different kind of courage."
There has also been a change in the way the military establishment views those suffering from PTSD, said Friedman. For many service members, seeking help for PTSD is the first step in getting their careers back on track and military supervisors are trained to recognize the symptoms and make referrals.
As with most human experience, people react differently to similar stressful situations. But researchers have learned that those suffering from the syndrome exhibit alterations in body chemistry and brain functions.
"While some people exposed to traumatic events do not develop PTSD, others go on to develop the full-blown syndrome," wrote Friedman, in a fact sheet detailing the history of PTSD. "Such observations have prompted the recognition that trauma, like pain, is not an external phenomenon that can be completely objectified."
To learn more about the center or PTSD, log on to ncptsd.va.gov.
Bob Audette can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.
JULY 4, 2008
To: Letter to the Editor
FROM: Susie Stephens
Savannah, GA 31419
TOPIC: July 4th
DATE: June 27, 2008
INDEPENDENCE DAY 2008
Some came at the head of armies; others in the chains of slavery. Some fled the tyranny of despots, the terror of war or the pangs of famine. Some fought for a new way of life while others fought to preserve their native culture. Yet, immigrants or native, poor or powerful, they forged a nation, and earned the right to call themselves Americans. From their labor and sacrifice came this great nation, a land where freedom is far more than just a word.
They struggled for their survival against enemies from afar, at places burned forever in our national memory, Valley Forge, Belleau Woods, the bloody beaches of Normandy, the frozen reservoir at Chosin, the jungles of Vietnam, the deserts of Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq. Sometimes there were struggles within, as well, in the fields of Gettysburg, the snow at Wounded Knee, and the streets of Birmingham they strove with one another. Yet from the crucible of conflict, emerged a national conscience that will neither tolerate tyranny, nor abide injustice. The one great legacy of all their struggles is that we are all Americans, endowed with the blessing of liberty and the opportunity to participate in our own government.
There is a cost to this, and sometimes its price is severe. Understand this;. FREEDOM IS NOT FREE. Neither is it ever paid for in full. It is ours for the present, purchased at a terrible price by the tears of countless mothers, the sweat of countless laborers and the rich red blood of countless patriots. Through it is our heritage, we do not own it; but hold it ever in trust for those who will follow.
This 4th of July, as you celebrate our nation’s birthday, please take a moment with your family to openly reflect your gratitude on the many special gifts with which we are blessed, and most of all remember those who are serving in harms way. They are willing to give their last mile so all of us together can live in this free and beautiful land called America. We are unique among the nations of the earth. We may argue among ourselves at times, we may struggle on our path to find the right, but as God gives us the strength and wisdom, we will always find the way. Never forget, we are Americans, and in the end we will all stand together, strong and proud and free.
DYING FOR FREEDOM ISN’T THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN…BEING FORGOTTEN IS !
MIA USA SF 67 VN
This American woman is the sister of a Special Forces Army soldier who went MIS in 1967 and has never been heard from since, no dog tags nothing for tha past 41 years, one can only assume the man is dead, this is the epitome of Patriotism
Thursday, June 26, 2008
CHAIRMAN BOB FILNER
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS
For Immediate Release: June 24, 2008
Beyond the Yellow Ribbon: When the National Guard and Reserves Come Home
Eight of the Eleven States with Upcoming Guard Deployments Do Not Have Reintegration Programs
Washington, D.C. – On Tuesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, led by Chairman Harry Mitchell (D-AZ), conducted a hearing to evaluate the progress of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) in improving the reintegration process for members of the National Guard and Reserves.
As was pointed out by witness Joseph C. Sharpe of The American Legion, DOD’s reliance on the National Guard and Reserve in the current conflicts is “unprecedented.” Mr. Sharpe, a reservist himself, testified that “[r]eservists in Iraq and Afghanistan reflect a significant portion of the total deployed force in any given month, and DOD reports that continued reliance on the 1.8 million Reserve and National Guard troops will continue well into the foreseeable future.”
“Members of Guard and Reserves units tend to disperse much more widely upon their return than those in active duty units and it is more difficult to ensure that they receive the services and benefits that they need and have earned,” said Chairman Mitchell. “The need for DOD and VA to work together to assist returning Guard and Reserves members, and their families as well, is especially acute in today’s environment, where the Guard and Reserves are serving at the same operational tempo as active duty units. Fully half of OIF and OEF veterans are members of the Guard or Reserves.”
Mr. Sharpe and Patrick Campbell of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a Guardsman from Louisiana, both testified that, in the words of Mr. Sharpe, “a majority of transitioning service members, of the Reserves and National Guard, especially those returning from Operations Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Iraqi Freedom (OIF) are not being adequately advised of the benefits and service available to them from VA and other Federal and state agencies.”
“Congress recognized the needs of returning service members in the most recent National Defense Authorization Act,” said Chairman Mitchell. “The NDAA mandates the 30, 60, and 90 day reintegration program and outreach. The NDAA also requires DOD to create an Office of Reintegration Programs within the Office of the Secretary of Defense and a Center of Excellence in Reintegration within that office.” Despite this directive, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) has not created the office nor has it issued guidance to the Guard and Reserves components on how to proceed. Witnesses from the National Guard Bureau and the Office of the Chief of Army Reserve both testified that OSD has provided no guidance nor any indication of how the required reintegration programs will be funded.
The Office of the Secretary of Defense refused an invitation to send a representative to provide testimony on this issue. Instead, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defense for Reserve Affairs provided a statement for the record that claimed that OSD is “in the final staffing of the Directive-Type Memorandum that will implement the Department’s deployment support and reintegration program.”
The National Guard Bureau is already prepared to implement a comprehensive national reintegration program. On January 29, 2008, LTG H. Steven Blum, Chief of the National Guard Bureau sent a memorandum to the Under Secretary for Defense for Personnel and Readiness pointing out that the National Guard Bureau had already created a template for a national program based on existing successful state programs, and offering “full resources of the National Guard Bureau to immediately implement a national home station transition support program for all Service Members and their families, but particularly those from the Reserve Components.” OSD did not reply to the memo. On June 2, 2008, General Blum sent a memorandum stating that “pending receipt of OSD/RA’s Yellow Ribbon implementation guidance, I have concurrence to publish interim Yellow Ribbon Service specific implementation guidance for the National Guard.” Attached to the memo was a detailed template for creation of reintegration programs designed to fulfill the requirements of the NDAA that General Blum directed be implemented.
Witnesses for the Guard, Army Reserves, and the VA testified that successful reintegration programs require cooperation and participation from DoD, VA, and the states. The witnesses testified that several states currently have successful programs in which, at least at the local level, the necessary cooperation and participation occur. However, Sergeant Major Janet Salotti (Ret.) of the National Guard Bureau testified that of the eleven states with Guard units scheduled to be deployed in the next year and a half, eight do not have reintegration programs.
“Although Congress required DOD to develop a single national program for providing support services to returning Guard and Reserve members, too many veterans are on their own when they complete a tour of duty,” said Bob Filner (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “I applaud the states that have worked without implementation guidance from DOD to provide very effective programs, like workshops to reconnect with children, counseling for spouses and family members, marriage enrichment classes, and counseling on legal and financial matters. Every single returning veteran deserves to have access to comprehensive readjustment services for themselves and their families. We know there is a need. We know there are successful pre-existing models of support programs. Today we learned that we are falling far short of where we need to be to serve our troops and veterans. The NDAA is not a recommendation – it is the law.”
· Patrick Campbell, Legislative Director, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
· Joseph C. Sharpe, Deputy Director, National Economic Commission, The American Legion
· Colonel Corinne Ritter, Director, Army Reserve Surgeon Forward, United States Army Reserve
· Sergeant Major Janet Salotti, USA (Ret.), Chief of Reintegration, Office of Joint Manpower and Personnel, National Guard Bureau
· Major General Marianne Mathewson-Chapman, USA (Ret.), Ph.D., ARNP, National Guard and Reserve Coordinator, Office of Outreach to Guard and Reserve Families, Veterans Health Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
o Edward C. Huycke, M.D., Chief Department of Defense Coordination Officer, Veterans Health Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
o Alfonso Batres, Ph.D., MSSW, Chief Readjustment Counseling Officer, Veterans Health Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
o Karen Malebranche, Executive Director of OEF/OIF, Veterans Health Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
o Bradley Mayes, Director, Compensation and Pension Service, Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Prepared testimony and a link to the webcast of the hearing are available on the internet at this link: http://veterans.house.gov/hearings/hearing.aspx?newsid=260.
VA Launches Expansion in Veterans Health Facilities
Peake: 44 New Clinics Bring Care Closer to Home
WASHINGTON (June 26, 2008) - Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B.
Peake today announced plans to create 44 new community-based outpatient
clinics to bring the world-class health care of the Department of
Veterans Affairs (VA) closer to home for veterans in 21 states.
"VA continues to make access to care easier through an expanding
outpatient system focused not only on primary treatment but also
prevention of disease, early detection, and health promotion," Peake
The new clinics, scheduled to be activated over the next 15 months, will
increase VA's network of independent and community-based clinics to 782,
an increase of more than 100 in five years.
This growth in community clinics has helped VA meet veterans'
expectations for prompt, quality service, with 98 percent of veterans
seen within 30 days in all types of VA primary care facilities
throughout the country.
In addition to on-site primary care staff, today's modern outpatient
clinics frequently feature state-of-the-art telehealth systems
permitting veterans to maintain regular contact with doctors in
specialties from cardiac care to mental health at regional VA hospitals
linked for video consultations, coupled with telemetry of health data or
A highly acclaimed national health records system allows practitioners
at even remote clinics to review patient records stored at VA facilities
anywhere in the country.
VA's 21 regional networks develop applications for new clinics in
consideration of reducing the distance veterans travel to their nearest
VA hospital or clinic, as well as local demand, existing hospital,
clinic workload and other factors.
A listing of the newly approved clinics is attached.
VA's Planned Sites for New Outpatient Clinics
Alabama (2) -- Marshall County, Wiregrass
Alaska -- Matanuska-Susitna Borough area
Arkansas (2) -- Ozark, White County
California -- East Bay-Alameda County area
Florida -- Summerfield
Georgia (4) -- Baldwin County, Coweta County, Glynn County, Liberty
Indiana (2) -- Miami County, Morgan County
Iowa -- Wapello County
Louisiana (5) -- Lake Charles, Leesville, Natchitoches, St. Mary Parish,
Maine -- Lewiston-Auburn area
Minnesota (2) -- Douglas County, Northwest Metro
Missouri -- Franklin County
New Mexico -- Rio Rancho
North Carolina (2) -- Robeson County, Rutherford County
North Dakota -- Grand Forks County
Ohio -- Gallia County
Oklahoma (4) -- Altus, Craig County, Enid, Jay
Tennessee (3) -- Giles County, Maury County, McMinn County
Texas (5) -- Katy, Lake Jackson, Richmond, Tomball, El Paso County
Virginia (3) -- Augusta County, Emporia, Wytheville
West Virginia -- Greenbrier County
JUDGE RULES THAT VETS IN PTSD CASE SHOULD SEEK
RELIEF FROM CONGRESS — VETS RESOLVE TO APPEAL
WHAT: Decision After Trial—VCS, et al. v. Peake, et al.
JUDGE Senior Judge Samuel Conti, United States District Court, Northern District
PRESS CONFERENCE: 2:30 p.m. PST, June 25, 2008, Morrison & Foerster LLP, 425
Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94105, 11th Floor, check in with building
security first and go to the 11th Floor; or dial in to listen to the conference:
Senior Federal District Court Judge Samuel Conti has issued his decision in the landmark case brought on
behalf of veterans suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injury in July of 2007. The trial was conducted
from April 21-30, 2008, and included a week of testimony in early March. The trial focused on the
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care and adjudication systems for disabled veterans. The trial
included testimony from the heads of national veterans’ organizations, top VA officials and some of the
leading experts in the country on the widespread failings of the VA system.
VETERANS UNITED FOR TRUTH, INC. IS A NATIONAL, NON-PROFIT, PUBLIC SERVICE CORPORATION, INCORPORATED IN THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA [#C2766290].
DONATIONS TO VUFT ARE TAX-DEDUCTIBLE TO THE DONOR PER IRC SECTION 501(C)(3), AND FOR CALIFORNIA RESIDENTS UNDER CA RTC 23701W.
In his decision, Judge Conti held that it is “clear to the Court” that “the VA may not be meeting all of the
needs of the nation’s veterans.” He agreed with, and explicitly adopted, many of the factual assertions made by the veterans. Those include the following:
• “The suicide rate among veterans is significantly higher than that of the general population,” and there is “a strong connection between PTSD and suicide.”
• “One out of every three soldiers returning from Iraq was seen in the VA for a mental health visit within a year of their return” with PTSD being a “leading diagnosis.”
• “The high rates of PTSD among Iraq veterans are the result of various factors, including multiple deployments, the inability to identify the enemy, the lack of real safe zones, and the inadvertent killing of innocent civilians, ” as top VA officials admitted.
• “Initiatives such as screening veterans at risk, a suicide prevention database, emerging best practices for treatment, and education programs were all still at the ‘Pilot Stage’ three years” after VA’s Mental Health Strategic Plan was adopted.
• “It is beyond doubt that disability benefits are critical to many veterans and any delay in receiving these benefits can result in substantial and severe adverse consequences.”
• The VA’s track record with respect to delays in processing veterans’ appeals “is troubling.” It is taking veterans on average 4.4 years to adjudicate a benefits claim at the first two levels in the VA benefits system.
Nonetheless, Judge Conti concluded that the power to remedy this crisis lies with the other branches of government, including Congress and the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, holding VA’s failures to meet veterans’ needs are “beyond the power of this Court” and would “call for a complete overhaul of the VA system.” Judge Conti’s opinion states that Congress, and not the courts, needs to
resolve the crisis facing our nation’s veterans. This underscores the importance of the ongoing congressional hearings that seek to find the truth, and to address the problems faced by our veterans. Now, more than ever, it is critical that Congress act. Plaintiffs very much appreciate Judge Conti's consideration, but disagree with his legal conclusions. Accordingly, Plaintiffs plan to appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit so that these important legal questions can be addressed by a higher court.
The full text of the decision can be found at www.veteransptsdclassaction.org.
Paul Sullivan, Director of Veterans for Common Sense, commented that “This ruling will only cause us to redouble our efforts and our pursuit of justice for our nation’s veterans. We will not rest until our job is finished.” Bob Handy, the Director for Veterans United for Truth, added: “Every time we feel discouraged
or need to find our way, we always return to the VA’s motto, ‘To Care for Him Who Hath Borne the Battle, and His Widow and His Orphan,’ and that tells us what we need do.”
“The decision, if upheld on appeal, would suggest that veterans have no enforceable rights in America, and the Constitution does not apply to veterans. For all Americans, the implications of this decision are profoundly disturbing,” remarked the lead counsel for Plaintiffs, Gordon Erspamer. “Our fight on behalf of our veterans will continue.” Sid Wolinsky added, “I know that we will not rest until victory has been achieved and the suffering of our veterans ceases.”
VETERANS UNITED FOR TRUTH, INC. IS A NATIONAL, NON-PROFIT, PUBLIC SERVICE CORPORATION, INCORPORATED IN THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA [#C2766290].
DONATIONS TO VUFT ARE TAX-DEDUCTIBLE TO THE DONOR PER IRC SECTION 501(C)(3), AND FOR CALIFORNIA RESIDENTS UNDER CA RTC 23701W.
Tragically, the VA has been neglecting wounded veterans returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan who are in desperate need of ongoing care and support, including medical treatment and disability payments for living expenses. Among those suffering the most are returning veterans with mental disabilities such as
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Veteran suicides have reached an epidemic level, with over 120 veterans taking their own lives every week, and 1,000 suicide attempts per month amongst veterans under VA care. This lawsuit was unprecedented in directly challenging the VA’s 600,000 case backlog in handling claims, appellate delays of five to ten years, the waiting lists that veterans face before receiving health care, and the inadequacy of VA care for PTSD.
The trial brought to light many critical facts that the VA had tried to conceal or downplay. An internal email from the VA’s head of mental health, Dr. Ira Katz, surfaced during the trial. At a time when the VA was reporting only 790 veteran suicide attempts in all of 2007, Katz wrote, “Shh!...Our suicide prevention
coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month…Is this something we should(carefully) address...before someone stumbles on it?” At trial it was also disclosed that the suicide rate of veterans is at least three times the national suicide rate and in 2005, the suicide rate for veterans 18-24 years
old was three to four times higher than non-veterans.
We are grateful to Judge Conti for hearing our case and for allowing a public display of VA’s enormous
Paul Sullivan, Veterans for Common Sense
Robert M. Handy, Veterans United for Truth
Gordon P. Erspamer, Arturo J. González, Heather A. Moser
Morrison & Foerster LLP, Lead Counsel
Sid M. Wolinsky, Ron Elsberry, Kasey Corbit,
Disability Rights Advocates
UPDATE: VETERANS' GROUPS LOSE LAWSUIT AGAINST VA
Judge did not find systemic problems of poor mental health
care and says suit was "misdirected," telling vets they
should ask Congress and VA to improve system.
For complete background on this lawsuit (with backlinks), go here...
The official web site for this lawsuit is here...
This is the initial story about the Jude's decision. More details to follow as they are available.
Story here... http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5
Federal judge refuses to order overhaul of VA
By PAUL ELIAS
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday refused to order an overhaul of the Department of Veterans Affairs' health care system, saying veterans groups who had sued for the changes should take their case elsewhere.
In a ruling issued following a two-week trial in San Francisco last month, U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Conti ruled that the lawsuit was "misdirected" and that the plaintiffs should instead ask Congress, the head of the Veterans Administration and the federal court in Washington, D.C., to improve the system.
Veterans groups had sued the VA, alleging that its mental health care and benefits award system were flawed.
The groups wanted Conti to order the agency to dramatically improve how fast it processes applications and how it delivers mental health care, especially for preventing suicides and treating post-traumatic stress disorder.
Conti said he didn't find any of the poor mental health care and other deep-rooted problems that the veterans alleged in their lawsuit.
posted by Larry Scott
Founder and Editor
VA Watchdog dot Org
UPDATE: VETERANS WILL APPEAL LOSS IN SUIT AGAINST
VA -- Vets' attorney: "The judge essentially said that there's
nobody to oversee the VA. The VA isn't doing its job."
For complete background on this lawsuit (with backlinks), go here...
The official web site for this lawsuit is here...
This is the second story today about this Court decision and details the plans to appeal.
Story here... http://ap.google.com/article/ALeq
Federal judge refuses to order overhaul of VA
By PAUL ELIAS
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday refused to order an overhaul of the Department of Veterans Affairs' health care system, saying veterans groups who had sued for the changes should take their case elsewhere.
U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti ruled that the lawsuit was "misdirected" and that the retired warriors should instead ask Congress, the head of Veterans Affairs and the federal court in Washington, D.C., to improve the system.
Veterans groups had sued the VA, alleging that its mental health care and benefits award systems were flawed. The groups wanted Conti to order the agency to dramatically improve how fast it processes applications and how it delivers mental health care, especially for preventing suicides and treating post-traumatic stress disorder.
Conti, a World War II veteran, said the groups "did not prove a systemic denial or unreasonable delay in mental health care" in their lawsuit.
"Although the evidence clearly did not prove that every veteran always gets immediate mental health care, it by no means follows that there is a systemwide crisis in which health care is not being provided within a reasonable time," Conti wrote in his 82-page ruling.
Conti did say that the "VA may not be meeting all of the needs of the nation's veterans" and said veterans "have faced significant delays in receiving disability benefits and medical care from the VA." But he concluded that he was powerless to order changes where he did find problems and said that such decisions are left exclusively to the agency's chief.
VA spokesman Phil Budahn said the agency was pleased.
Gordon Erspamer, a lawyer for the veterans groups, said he would appeal.
"The judge essentially said that there's nobody to oversee the VA," Erspamer said. "The VA isn't doing its job."
Conti's ruling came after a two-week trial without a jury that ended April 30.
During that trial, lawyers for the groups showed the judge e-mails between high-ranking VA officials confirming high rates of suicides among veterans and a desire to keep quiet the number of vets under its care who attempt suicide.
"Shhh!" began a Feb. 13 e-mail from Dr. Ira Katz, a VA deputy chief. "Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see in our medical facilities. Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?"
Katz wrote in another e-mail that 18 veterans kill themselves daily on average.
After the trial another e-mail surfaced that was written by VA psychologist Norma Perez suggesting that counselors in Texas make a point to diagnose fewer post-traumatic stress disorder cases. The veterans' lawyers argued that e-mail showed the VA's unwillingness to properly treat mental health issues.
Conti said the e-mail was "troubling" but not proof of a systemwide policy, and that Perez was not a high-ranking official.
posted by Larry Scott
Founder and Editor
VA Watchdog dot Org
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
After four suicides by Guardsmen, risk taken very seriously
Some soldiers and airmen find it difficult to return to regular life after service
By Tom Lawrence
The Weekly News
A soldier’s biggest battle sometimes occurs after he or she returns home.
As American service members continue to fight and die in Iraq and Afghanistan, many men and women in uniform come home profoundly changed. Some discover they suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Others struggle with depression, anger and/or substance abuse and find it difficult to readjust to civilian life.
A few can’t deal with the pain they feel. They commit suicide.
There have been four suicides among South Dakota National Guard members in the past four years. Two
Guard members killed themselves last year in the state but had never
been deployment overseas. Another took his life during a deployment to Iraq in 2004. A fourth killed himself in early 2006, more than 11 months after returning from a deployment to Iraq.
The two combat veterans who took their own lives were members of a South Dakota Army National Guard unit that served in Iraq from February 2004 to February 2005. It is unknown if they witnessed the previous death of a fellow soldier who was killed by an improvised explosive device in April of 2004, according to Maj. Orson Ward, a Rapid City-based spokesman for the state Guard.
Ward, who has had to deal with his own PTSD-related issues, said the Guard is very aware of the mental health concerns that soldiers and airmen face in and out of combat.
Maj. Gen. Steven R. Doohen, who commands the South Dakota Air and Army National Guard, said he has learned that the “big tough men” and the women he commands can be very vulnerable.
When soldiers and airmen come off the plane as they complete an overseas deployment, the general greets them with a handshake — and a card advising them of counseling available to them. “I strongly encourage them to go,” Doohen said.
He said going to counseling with a family member can be useful. A soldier may not be aware, at least consciously, of changes he or she has undergone. But a loved one can often spot the pain they are feeling.
Taking suicide, depression and PTSD seriously is a priority for the state Guard, Doohen said.
“I’ve had it hit pretty close to home,” he said. “There is nothing more devastating than suicide.”
He said the idea that a person is so lost that they saw no other option — “it’s the only out they see,” Doohen said — is agonizing to contemplate. It gnaws away at survivors, Doohen said.
The Guard has decided to “do everything we can” and to “take the stigma away.”
Part of the problem is that for many Guard members, talking about their pain or weaknesses is difficult. They’re tough, Midwestern guys and gals who often lock their emotions inside. “I think men have an issue with that, definitely,” Doohen said.
They feel they can overcome the pain, confusion and mental anguish, he said. They repress it, ignore it, and hope it will go away.
But through counseling efforts and with the general leading the way, positive steps are being made, Doohen said. “I think it’s changing and it’s changing for the better,” he said. “(We) get them to seek help early.”
People suffering from PTSD pull back, the general said. They isolate themselves from family, friends and co-workers. “That’s what makes it really hard to reach them,” he said.
South Dakota’s vast size and many small towns add to the problem. Some Guardsmen and women return home to a community with no health-care options.
But the Guard will send counselors to soldiers’ homes, he said. “If they want help, we can give them help,” Doohen said.
‘We’re not paid to be weak’
Capt. Kenn Kerfont of Rapid City has witnessed soldiers he has commanded struggle with PTSD, depression and other anxieties.
Kerfont serves on the Pierre-based 152nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion and has been in the Guard for 20 years. He has had three deployments in Iraq: during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and twice during Operation Iraqi Freedom, in 2003 and 2004.
He first learned of PTSD and other emotional struggles soldiers endure when he was in college and volunteered at a veteran center. “I had a good heads-up,” Kerfont said. “I was prepared for it.”
He has commanded soldiers in war zones and said it’s important to be aware of their mental state. “Everybody goes over there pretty strong mentally and, hopefully, physically,” Kerfont said.
But he said seeing people killed or suffering a wound, as well as the overall stress of being in combat can push some people over the edge and they begin to suffer from depression and PTSD. Some turn to alcohol, Kerfont said.
Soldiers who may feel stressed or are experiencing mental problems are often loathe to admit it, he said. But a commander has to let them know it’s important to be upfront, Kerfont said.
“I have to know: Is your head in the game?” he said. “It’s a mental thing — how do you cope?”
If anonymity is assured, soldiers will usually be open about their problems, he’s learned.
“Soldiers say, ‘Will it affect the military job? I don’t want to be labeled that I have mental issues.’”
But he said he constantly tells soldiers to let him, a buddy or a chaplain know if they are in trouble. “If someone needs help, we have lots of resources,” Kerfont said.
A program called ACE: Ask your buddy, Care for your buddy and Escort your buddy, has helped soldiers deal with the pain, he said. It emphasizes the need for soldiers to spend time with their comrades and make sure they aren’t at risk of hurting themselves. It also stresses the need to share information with officers, chaplains or health-care providers.
The program advises soldiers to “Have the courage to ask the question but stay calm. Ask the question directly: ‘Are you thinking of killing yourself?’”
Maj. Jeff Norris, also of Rapid City, said getting soldiers to come forward is difficult.
“I think it is with soldiers in general,” said Norris, 41. “We’re not paid to be weak. But it’s OK to reach out to accept that help.”
He said the workload soldiers experience when they’re deployed is also a factor. It’s called “OP Tempo” and Norris, who served in Desert Storm in 1991 and did an extended tour in Iraq in 2003-2004, has lived it, at times working from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m. during a deployment.
He watches for soldiers who are angry and aggressive or are “using alcohol as a crutch.”
Combat stress teams made up of professionals in mental health fields evaluate soldiers as they return from battle, Norris and Kerfont said. They understand the pain and shock many feel.
“It’s not natural to see people killed,” Kerfont said. “It’s not natural to see a buddy killed.”
Soldiers who experience such trauma are closely watched, he said. But some people fall prey to PTSD because of the overall experience and the stress of being away from home and in a dangerous setting.
“Every soldier is unique,” Norris said. “Every soldier has his own threshold.”
1st Lt. Ken Honken, a chaplain candidate, said personal issues are often just as dangerous. He said a recent study indicated that more than 70% of soldiers who had attempted suicide did so because of a broken relationship.
Honken, 27, said a Strong Bonds program has been established to help soldiers and airmen learn how to handle a marriage or a relationship. The Guard offers assistance before, during and after a relationship. A marriage enrichment program is designed to assist soldiers and airmen and their spouses or significant others.
Norris joked that some single soldiers are taught how to build successful relations through a program called PICK, or Premarital Interpersonal Choices and Knowledge, which used the book “How To Avoid Marrying a Jerk” to help convey the message.
Another area that leads to stress and can trigger PTSD is readjusting to family life. A soldier may be gone for a year or more and come home to find his or her spouse has taken control of the home and family.
“Life goes on back home,” Norris said. “That transition is tough. We tell them to go in slow.”
He said Honken has “been up and down I-29” working with Guardsmen who have returned home. ‘Our chaplain is very pro-active,” he said.
‘Ask the Pentagon’
While the South Dakota National Guard and other branches of the armed forces are clearly doing a great many things to help men and women in uniform deal with stress, sometimes the efforts fail.
According to Pentagon figures, 108 soldier, sailors and airmen committed suicide in 2007. Suicides have been on the increase for some time, with 102 reported in 2006 and 85 in 2005.
The same report states that PTSD was up 50% in 2007 as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan raged on. About 40,000 soldiers have been diagnosed with it since 2003 and officials are sure that many more are struggling with it privately, fearing career consequences or simply unwilling to admit they’re in pain.
Multiple deployments are often pointed to as a factor and South Dakota Guard officers admit that’s a major issue. But they said they must do what they are commanded to do, and that means sending their men and women back to combat time and time again.
“We follow the orders that have been given to you,” Norris said, when asked why suicides and PTSD reports are skyrocketing at the same time the armed forces are offering so many programs to deal with them.
“Those are good, hard questions,” he said. “You should ask those questions to the Pentagon.”
But Norris and Kerfont said the men and women who enlist in the all-volunteer armed forces “know what they’re getting into.” South Dakota has been at or near the top in recruitment and retention of its Guard members, they pointed out, and the patriotic soldiers and airmen are eager and willing to serve.
Lt. Col. Andy Gerlach, 41, of Pierre, is the commander of the 152nd. He said the Guard is doing all it can. Gerlach said it’s important to note that people who suffer from PTSD can recover.
Some lose portions of their memory, he said, but eventually regain it. Early intervention and proper care during and after a person’s service can reduce the problem. Kerfont said he has annual physicals done and encourages other soldiers to be pro-active with their physical and mental health.
“I think we’re well on our way,” Gerlach said. “I don’t know if we’re ever going to do everything for people
All the South Dakota National Guard can do is reach out, offer assistance and care for each other, Norris said.
“We’re … a close-knot family,” he said. “We can keep an eye on our soldiers and their families as well.”
They said the South Dakota Guard suicides were tragedies that have not gone unnoticed. “One’s too many,” Kerfont said.
An eternal issue
General Doohen serves on Gov. Mike Round’s cabinet as the secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs and Gerlach is his second in command. He said soldiers, airmen and sailors have undoubtedly experiences the same emotions for eons.
“I don’t think it’s any different,” Doohen said. “I think it’s been going on as long as we’ve had war — there has been the issue.”
Doohen, 60, joined the South Dakota National Guard in his hometown of Sioux Falls in January 1971. He was trained be a pilot and flew airplanes for 35 years, including some missions over Panama where he was the target of small-arms fire.
That didn’t cause him to suffer from PTSD. Doohen said, but he has undergone counseling in his life. He said while discussing his own life isn’t something he does easily, he realizes he may help other soldiers understand that it’s OK to get expert assistance in times of mental anguish.
Soldiers don’t even have to have experienced combat to be stricken with PTSD and depression, Doohen said. If they were stationed at a base that was under mortar fire at times, the knowledge that their tent could be struck by enemy fire could cause PTSD.
“They’re always kinda on edge,” Doohen said.
Not all soldiers suffer from PTSD and some can live through the same incident as others and not have it bother them greatly. “Everyone is different,” Doohen said.
But he said it’s clear that “very traumatic incidents” can cause people to suffer from PTSD. Everyone may define such an incident differently, he said.
He said research is indicating that PTSD may never go away. But people who suffer from it can be taught how to control it and reduce its impact on them, he said. Techniques taught to them can help them relax and that can be a major help, he said.
Veterans often ‘hyper-vigilant’
Ward said he realized after coming back from Iraq he had changed. At first, he wasn’t aware of the impact his overseas service had on him.
But in talking with counseling professionals while doing research for a story he was writing for the Guard, he realized he was more cautious while driving, and had become “hyper-vigilant.”
When he drove from his home in Lead to Camp Rapid, he was “scanning the sector” as if there were imminent dangers on the highway, he said.
Frank Marohn, one of two Pennington County veteran services officers, understands the pain these soldiers, airmen and veterans feel.
The 61-year-old Air Force veteran did two tours in Vietnam. The first was almost pleasant; he performed aircraft maintenance while stationed near a beach. But when he returned, it was a different story.
“The second time I went back, it was hell,” Marohn said.
Rocket attacks roared to remind him a war was going on. Snipers fired away, creating a sense of unease.
Marohn said he came home with disturbing memories. They linger today, more than three decades after the war ended.
He sees a counselor every other week and said it helps to talk to people. That’s what he tells veterans he speaks with. “The big thing is to talk to somebody,” Marohn said. “Don’t just put it away.
“I tell guys, ‘Hey, it doesn’t get any better,” he said. “Talk it out.”
Perhaps one of the disturbing parts of PTSD is the fact that it often lingers. “As you get older, it gets tougher,” Marohn said. “You don’t have the energy to keep it in.”
The good news is that soldiers, airmen and sailors who return home today are greeted far more warmly than Vietnam veterans were, he said. The Black Hills is especially supportive, Marohn said, with veterans welcoming home their fellow service members and people who didn’t serve also showing support.
Pennington County is home to 12,000 veterans, more than any other county in the state, Marohn said, many like him who were stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base. It’s the only county in South Dakota with two veteran service officers.
When he ended his 26 years in the Air Force, he settled in Rapid City. During his years as a veteran service officer, he’s witnessed the pain veterans suffer.
Two local Vietnam veterans he knew committed suicide, unable to deal with the dreams and memories. Marohn said he doesn’t know of any local veterans of the current wars who have committed suicide.
He thinks veterans who served in Iraq are coming home in worse shape than those who were in Afghanistan, but he sympathizes with all of them — and offers a helping hand.
The longer activations and repeated tours of duty cause a lot of the pain and strain, Marohn said. In recent months, a serviceman came to his Rapid City office and sought help.
“He sat here and cried and said, ‘I don’t think I can do it,’” Marohn said.
Norris said he had a similar experience during the 1991 Gulf War. Sometimes soldiers simply can’t go on, he said.
Veterans centers offer a place where people can talk and hear about a fellow veteran’s experiences. “I think it gives me an advantage by being a Vietnam veteran,” Marohn said.
Doohen said he’s willing to talk to people about his own struggles and his personal connections to suicide and depression to persuade the men and women who serve under him to combat the issues.
“The leadership has to lead,” Doohen said. “Maybe I can help take away the stigma.”
Veterans counseling and assistance resources
Veterans, military offices
Pennington County Veterans Service Office, Public Service Building, 725 North LaCrosse Street Rapid City, SD 57701 (605)394-2266
S.D. Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (877) 579-0015, available 8-5, M-F
S.D. Family Readiness Center at (800) 658-3930 available 24/7
South Dakota Department of Military and Veterans Affairs – (877) 579-0015 or (605) 773-4981
South Dakota National Guard Family Readiness Center – (800) 658-3930 or (605) 737-6728
South Dakota National Guard State Benefits Advisor – (605) 737-6669
Veterans Administration offices:
Fort Meade at (800) 743-1070 or (605) 347-2511
Hot Springs at (800)-764-5370 (605) 745-2000
Sioux Falls (800) 316-8387 or (605) 336-3230
Vet Center – Rapid City (605) 348-0077, Sioux Falls (605) 330-4552, or Martin Outstation (605) 685-1300
County or tribal veterans service officers are listed in phone books under county government.
VA Suicide Prevention Hotline (800) 273-TALK (8255), available 24/7
Military One Source (800) 342-9647, available 24/7
VA Suicide Prevention Hotline – (800) 273-TALK (8255)
Military One Source (800)-342-9647, available 24/7
Veterans Administration Home Page www.va.gov
South Dakota Department of Military and Veterans Affairs http://www.state.sd.us/applications/MV91MVAInternetRewrite/default.asp
Military OneSource http://www.militaryonesource.com
Mental Health Self-Assessment Program at www.militarymentalhealth.org
South Dakota National Guard http://sdguard.ngb.army.mil/Default.asp
SDNG Family Readiness Center http://sdguard.ngb.army.mil/sdnginternet/mainFamilyProgram
This is going on in every state in the nation that has deployed national guard and reserve troops, Naval or Air Force detachments or Marines and sent back to small towns across the nation.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Mental Health Web Site Addresses Differences in Diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder and PTSD in Veterans Mental Health
June 24, 2008 -- On March 20th Dr. Norma Perez, mental health specialist and coordinator of her hospital's Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) clinical team, sent a startling email to her staff.
"Given that we are having more and more compensation seeking veterans," she wrote. "I'd like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out. Consider a diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder."
We're happy to fund the actions that break our troops, but not to fund the actions that help to put them back together again.
Dr. Perez has since argued that her email was meant to better support veterans who sometimes struggle to get a correct diagnosis. Critics say that her email is a sign that the VA is cutting back on appropriate care for soldiers by using a lesser diagnosis that is not eligible for the same services as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
An April 2008 private study found that at least 300,000 American military personnel are suffering from PTSD but according to Pentagon findings only 40,000 veterans have been officially diagnosed.
Mark Dombeck, PhD, Director of MentalHelp.net, says that PTSD can be challenging to identify. He adds that this may be the reasoning behind Dr. Perez's controversial email.
PTSD is a reaction to violent, dangerous trauma that causes intense stress and fear. The intensity of his or her experience causes the trauma to be written into the victim's memory. Veterans suffering from PTSD are unable to turn off obsessive thoughts about their experiences and so are forced to re-live their fear and horror over and over again.
People suffering with PTSD often present with the following symptoms:
Intrusive trauma memories at inconvenient times
Intense clarify of recall
Nightmares or hallucinations
Reclusive behavior and avoidance
Jumpiness, heightened startle response
Guilt over surviving trauma
Treatments for PTSD include medications and psychotherapy.
Accurately diagnosing PTSD can be a time-consuming process and patients need support while they wait for their official diagnosis. Adjustment Disorder can be used as a temporary label for a veteran whose testing is not yet complete but who needs services.
"Adjustment Disorder is a stress disorder in its own right," says Dr. Dombeck. "When it's used to address the need for further testing then it's an appropriate diagnosis. But if it's used for political purposes - like to save the VA from having to pay out money to a disabled veteran - then that amounts to malpractice."
Dr. Dombeck says he is sympathetic to the challenges of the Veteran's Administration but adds that his first concern is for struggling veterans and their need for effective, ongoing mental health support.
"In our current war-time circumstances the serious issue is how quickly can veterans can get the care they need to address their healthcare concerns," says Dr. Dombeck. "We're happy to fund the actions that break our troops, but not to fund the actions that help to put them back together again."
The MentalHelp.net website exists to promote mental health and wellness education and advocacy.
End shameful treatment for veterans on the mend
By the Herald editorial staff
The jump from combat to poverty is a short one for America's military.
Get shot-up bad enough, or disabled instead of killed by a roadside bomb, and after whatever level of medical care required, these young men and women find the Veterans Administration ready to deal with them.
According to The Associated Press, nearly 20,000 disabled soldiers were discharged in the past two fiscal years, and lawmakers, veterans advocates and others say thousands could be facing financial ruin while they wait for their benefits to come through.
How could this be?
As usual, blame the VA. It has it coming.
Although most permanently disabled veterans qualify for payments from VA and Social Security, it takes a while for the bureaucrats to do the paperwork.
The AP reported it's not unusual for veterans and their families to see monthly income drop from $3,400 a month to $970 while all the paperwork is completed.
For six to nine months.
Half to most of a year.
That's described as extreme hardship.
"The anecdotal evidence is depressing," Rep. John Hall, D-N.Y., who heads a subcommittee on veterans disability benefits, told AP.
The Army, we're told, is doing what it can, allowing wounded soldiers to continue to draw their full Army paychecks for up to 90 days after discharge.
That doesn't close the financial gap but it narrows it.
It does seem, however, that a country that expects so much of its troops could make sure none of them has to live under a bridge.
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 24, 2008; Page A02
President Bush has nominated Lt. Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody to take over the Army's Materiel Command as a four-star general, and if confirmed by the Senate she would be the first woman in U.S. history to receive such a high military rank.
In announcing the nomination yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates praised Dunwoody's "extraordinary leadership and devotion to duty" and called the choice "an historic occasion." There are 57 active-duty female general officers in the U.S. armed forces, five of whom are three-star generals. About 5 percent of the Army's general officers are women.
"Women continue to achieve great success and make invaluable contributions to the defense of this nation," Gates said.
Dunwoody joined the Army in 1975 after graduating from the State University of New York, and she has risen to the highest ranks of the Army while focusing on logistics and support services. She has served as deputy chief of staff for logistics and last week was welcomed to Fort Belvoir as the deputy commander of the Army Materiel Command -- a command she would take over from Gen. Benjamin S. Griffin if confirmed.
The Web site of the Army Materiel Command explains its mission simply: "If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, communicates with it, or eats it -- AMC provides it." Dunwoody would lead an Army command that is integral to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and would supervise more than 56,000 soldiers and civilians who deal with Army contracting, acquisition, technology and logistics.
"I am very honored but also very humbled today with this announcement," Dunwoody said in a statement. Because of the sensitivity of the nominating process, generals rarely grant interviews until confirmed.
"I grew up in a family that didn't know what glass ceilings were," she continued. "This nomination only reaffirms what I have known to be true about the military throughout my career . . . that the doors continue to open for men and women in uniform."
Gen. George W. Casey, the Army's chief of staff, said the nomination marks an important day for the nation.
"Lt. Gen. Dunwoody's nomination not only underscores her significant contributions and success throughout 33 years of service, but also shows the level of possible opportunity in our Army's diverse, quality, all-volunteer force," Casey said. "Our nation will continue to benefit from Lt. Gen. Dunwoody's leadership as the Army continues to build strength from our diversity."
According to the Army, her family has served in the military for five generations, including her great-grandfather, grandfather, father, brother, sister, niece and husband.
Army General's Nomination Called Historic
Monday, June 23, 2008
FW: FIGHT OR DIE premiering on Discovery this Thursday, June 26 at 10PM
Forwarded FYI, please forward to others...
We finally heard from Discovery that FIGHT OR DIE will premiere on the Discovery Channel on Thursday, June 26 at 10pm EDT/PDT. We would appreciate your help in getting this information out to your military and Ia Drang veterans networks!
You can watch the preview for the show by clicking this link to YouTube.
Based on the viewer response to this broadcast, Discovery will decide whether the show will become a weekly series. So please tune in (or TiVo it) and please forward this email on to those you think might also be interested. And if you like the show, please email feedback to: FEEDBACK@WHEELHOUSEENTERTAINMENT.COM
FIGHT OR DIE
Discovery Channel (in HD)
Thursday, June 26 at 10pm ET/PT
(Additional show info below)
From Executive Producer Randall Wallace (BRAVEHEART, PEARL HARBOR, WE WERE SOLDIERS, THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK), comes FiGHT OR DIE, an exciting new epic documentary special that captures the personal experience of war in groundbreaking fashion by delving inside the psyche of the soldier under fire, allowing viewers to walk the Thin Red Line that separates sanity from madness and the living from the dead.
Harrowing personal accounts of battle are seamlessly blended with cinematic dramatizations, digitally remastered combat footage, and a bullet-ridden soundscape to present one of the most riveting, emotional, and realistic portrayals of war ever produced for television. 'We all have the capacity for depths of courage, compassion and even cruelty that we can't imagine when sitting in safety and comfort,” said Wallace. “FIGHT OR DIE explores these extremes of human character made apparent in the cauldron of conflict.'
The first episode tells the real-life story of a group of American soldiers whose lives were made famous in Wallace’s motion picture WE WERE SOLDIERS starring Mel Gibson. On November 14, 1965 in the Ia Drang Valley of Vietnam, in a small clearing called Landing Zone X-Ray, 2,000 enemy soldiers surrounded 400 United States Army troopers. The ensuing battle was one of the most savage in U.S. history. FIGHT OR DIE is a tribute to the nobility of those men under fire, their common acts of uncommon valor, and their loyalty to and love for one another.
U.S. President's 2009 Biodefense Budget Proposal Calls for Overall Growth, But Some Cuts
In 2001, 22 anthrax victims "wreaked havoc on hospitals up and down the East Coast," said Dr. Eric Toner, a senior associate with the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Although only 11 of the 22 anthrax victims were afflicted by the most extreme form of exposure, resulting from inhalation, thousands of other patients had to be individually assessed in hospital emergency rooms.
Since then, hospitals have dramatically improved their ability to respond to biosecurity threats through better planning, drills and improved communications, according to Toner, a speaker at a 12 June Capitol Hill briefing organized by AAAS and the Congressional R&D Caucus.
Yet the number of hospital beds and emergency departments continues to decline, particularly in cities and at academic health centers, and many hospitals remain unprepared for either deliberate terrorist attacks or major disease outbreaks. "Unless we address the critical issue of hospital overcrowding, our ability to respond to any sort of biological attack is going to be severely limited," Toner cautioned.
Under U.S. President George W. Bush's proposed biodefense budget for fiscal year 2009, support for hospital preparedness would drop by 15%, or $60 million, according to Alan Pearson, director of the Biological and Chemical Weapons Control Program at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
The other "big loser" in the proposed budget, he said, would be state and local capacity-building efforts, which are recommended for an 18%, $140 million cut in biodefense funding. Pearson was the featured speaker at the Hill event planned by two AAAS program: the Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy, and the Center for Science, Technology and Congress.
Pearson later added that, according to the Bush Administration, these cuts reflect one-time adjustments to better align federal funding with state budget cycles, and further that funding would be unchanged compared with fiscal year 2008, when viewed on a month-to-month basis. "Funding for these activities has been slowly but steadily declining since FY2003," Pearson said. "It remains to be seen whether annual funding in FY2010 will return to the FY2008 level, or continue at the lower FY2009 level."
Across multiple agencies, however, the Bush Administration has recommended a big overall increase—an additional $8.97 billion for bioweapons, prevention and defense in 2009—equivalent to a 39% increase, compared with the congressional appropriation for 2008. The new funding would be devoted primarily for biodefense-related research, development, and medical countermeasures such as vaccines.
The proposed $8.97 billion includes $2.18 billion in BioShield funding, appropriated in 2004, but not available until 2009, Pearson explained. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), established within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also is significantly increasing biodefense investments, and is likely to continue to do so, he added.
After the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks triggered relatively rapid growth in U.S. federal funding for bioweapons, prevention and defense between fiscal years 2001 and 2009—for a total of $57 billion over those years, if the president's 2009 budget is approved, according to Pearson. Funds also are now being provided for Project BioShield, a 10-year effort to stockpile protection against biological, chemical, radiological and nuclear agents.
Within the president's proposed 2009 budget, Pearson said, the "winners," or categories of activity receiving the largest increases in funding would be research and development (R&D), which would rise by $330 million, or 10% compared with 2008; surveillance and detection, slated to go up by $114 million, representing a significant increase; and prevention efforts, which would jump by $32 million, or 15%. Funding for food and agricultural security also would increase, by $146 million, or about 35%.
But hospital preparedness and state and local readiness would see less support. "Particularly noticeable this year is a dramatic decrease in [proposed] funding for health professions training," he noted. This recommendation is "ironic" in light of a nursing shortage and requirements for pandemic and hazard preparedness, Pearson added.
Pearson also described a shift in funding emphasis, from "biodefense," or a focus on deliberate attacks, to "biosecurity," which also encompasses natural outbreaks of diseases, food contamination and other non-deliberate crises.
In addition to Pearson and Toner, four other leading experts took part in the 12 June briefing to provide perspectives on medical countermeasures, prevention strategies; agriculture and food defense; and public health preparedness.
Brad Smith, a senior associate at the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, addressed medical countermeasures—efforts to develop vaccines and other medicines to protect people from anthrax, smallpox and other biological agents.
Developing such treatments is time-consuming, expensive and often futile, Smith noted. He and his colleagues recently completed an analysis to determine how much it would cost to develop eight key medical products currently of interest to the government. By their estimate, it would cost $3.4 billion per year, every year, to have a 90%percent chance of successfully developing each of the eight needed medicines. By comparison, researchers have so far received $100 million per year for the past two years, through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).
"That's enough to support two of those [development] funnels with a 30% chance of getting products," Smith said. "If the government is going to get the products it says it needs to protect American citizens, the government will need to increase its investment across the board in developing new vaccines and medicines."
In the biodefense field, efforts to prevent new biological knowledge and technologies from falling into the wrong hands are inherently complicated, said Gerald Epstein, a senior fellow for science and security in the Center for Strategic and International Studies Homeland Security Program. That's because "biotechnologies are pervasively dual-use," Epstein noted. "The very technologies and capabilities we need to worry about are the capabilities we need to actively promote."
Epstein sees long-term scientific partnerships between nations as an important aspect of any strategies for preventing the misuse of biotechnologies.
While funding to prevent deliberate contamination of the U.S. food supply has increased since 2001, Pearson said, support for efforts to avoid accidental contamination of food has remained flat. Dr. James A. Roth, a veterinarian and director of the Center for Food Security and Public Health at Iowa State University, pointed out that food has been relatively cheap and abundant in the United States since World War II. But, he added, "that period is over, and internationally, food insecurity is becoming a huge and increasing problem."
Already in the United States, he said, corn has increased from $2 a bushel to $7 a bushel, and the food distribution system remains extremely vulnerable to any disruptions. In Iowa, for example, the largest egg-producing state, a single case of avian influenza would bring production to a halt, and within several days, eggs would disappear from grocery store shelves, restaurants and food processing plants.
Roth identified three defense-related food and agricultural areas in need of more funding: First, he said, efforts to combat zoonotic diseases deserve greater support. A new, $460million research facility is being built in Ames, Iowa, he said, but with insufficient support for operations and research. Second, Roth said, the pharmaceutical stockpile for protecting animals against major diseases is inadequate, which puts humans at risk, too. Third, Roth echoed Pearson's call for additional investment in the veterinary workforce.
"Only 26 states have vet colleges," Roth said. "We don't have nearly enough vets in rural areas, or to treat livestock." In the event of a disease outbreak affecting animals, he said, vets would be at the forefront of a rapid, critical response effort.
Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, discussed public health preparedness. The public health system has made dramatic improvements in its capacity for dealing with bioterrorism, he said. The national stockpile of key medicines also has improved, along with systems for enhancing communications among states and agencies. Today, more epidemiologists are trained in biopreparedness, but Benjamin noted that too few professionals are focusing on chronic disease and maternal-child health issues. Further, low-income, elderly and other disadvantaged populations remain particularly vulnerable to biosecurity risks.
Moreover, Benjamin said: "The public really has not yet developed cultural awareness" of biosecurity risks. "We've not yet built this awareness that we need to have gas in the car, food in the fridge and an awareness of where our family members are and how we're going to communicate with them."
Looking to the future of biodefense, Pearson said that BARDA funding is likely to increase for the next few years. Support for medical countermeasures is shifting from agent-specific approaches to mixed strategies, he said. Further, policy-makers are beginning to recognize the need for efforts to prevent and prepare for natural disease outbreaks and food contamination as well as deliberate terrorism.
19 June 2008
Maryland to seek Superfund status for Fort Detrick dump site
June 18, 2008
FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Maryland’s environmental secretary, hoping to speed the cleanup of ground water tainted by an old Army dump, has asked federal regulators to add the site at Fort Detrick to a list of the nation’s most polluted places.
The Army says it has spent $43 million since 1992 to remove industrial and laboratory waste dumped decades ago in unlined trenches, but it has yet to clean up the contaminated ground water.
In a letter dated June 4, Department of the Environment Secretary Shari T. Wilson asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to add the site known as Area B to the Superfund program’s National Priorities List by July 4, The Frederick News-Post reported Wednesday.
“The continued delay perpetuates the unacceptably long timeline that this investigation continues to take,” Wilson wrote.
Adding Area B to the list would enable the state to “move forward with alternative forms of action, if necessary,” Wilson wrote. She didn’t specify the possible actions.
Wilson also wrote that despite state requests and the recommendation of a cleanup advisory board in 1999, the Army has never completed a comprehensive review of the water contamination.
The EPA is considering the state’s request but hasn’t made a decision, agency spokeswoman Roxanne Smith said in an e-mail.
Fort Detrick’s Environmental Management Office said in a written statement that it expects to finish work in the near future on 41 of 42 sites targeted for cleanup. The 42nd site is the groundwater contamination, the agency said.
In April, the Army announced a renewed effort to find and test private wells near Area B for possible contamination.
Fort Detrick is home to the military’s biological warfare defense program. In the 1940s through the 1960s, workers dumped chemical and biological wastes in unlined trenches at Area B.
In 1991, test wells detected industrial solvents in the water running beneath Area B. The chemicals were identified as trichloroethylene, a metal degreaser linked to liver tumors, and tetrachloroethylene, a dry-cleaning solvent that is a suspected carcinogen. A number of private wells near the post also were contaminated, prompting the Army to connect at least seven homes to public water lines.
From 1997 to 1999, the levels of contamination reached 20,000 parts per billion of TCE and PCE. Anything higher than 5 parts per billion violates federal standards.
In 2004, the Army finished removing about 3,500 tons of contaminated soil, drums, laboratory vials and cylinders from four pits at Area B, but lacked funding to clean up the ground water. Since then, contamination levels in the ground water have fallen sharply, installation spokesman Chuck Gordon said in April.
On the Net:
Maryland Department of the Environment: http://www.mde.state.md.us
Fort Detrick: http://www.detrick.army.mil
Maryland to seek Superfund status for Fort Detrick dump site
Given the fact that Edgewood Arsenal/Aberdeen Proving Grounds was added to the Superfund site decades ago, I wonder why it took so long for the state government to catch on the Fort Detricks toxic levels?
How to Recoup Taxes Paid on Disability
Severance pay From the Armed Forces
EAST CANTON, Ohio; 20 June 2008 -- IRS publications 17 (Your Federal Income
Tax) & 525 (Taxable & Non-taxable Income, page 17) both state that "if you
receive a lump-sum disability severance payment and are later awarded VA
disability benefits, exclude 100% of the severance benefit from your
income." But neither publication says how.
"Many medically discharged vets, including some good friends of mine, don't
know they are entitled to get the taxes back if they get a VA rating," says
Dorothy, the author of this extremely important USVI veteran document.
In this informative USVI document, composed by a discharged veteran of
recent years, discharged veterans awarded VA disability benefits will learn
how to recoup money paid as taxes on disability severance income.
Read it on USVI: http://www.usvetinfo.com/meddischarge.htm
U.S. Veteran Information (non-governmental) USVI - Serving Veterans since
1997 P.O. Box 30076 East Canton, Ohio 44730 USA http://www.usvetinfo.com
Al Colombo, the U.S. Veteran Information web site, and the individuals who
actively research and provide information are not affiliated with the
Veterans Affairs, Federal Government, or any state or local government
agency. Neither are these individuals or the U.S. Veteran Information
(non-governmental) organization qualified to render legal advice of any
kind. Opinions or information offered should be verified with the VA or
appropriate agency/department at http://www.va.gov/ before taking action.
I am 52 years old and have never heard of this before, this is good info for recently disabled veterans that are medically discharged from the military, all the dollars add up
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Ethics of military drug testing questioned
Degree of 'voluntary' participation raises concerns
David R. Sands (Contact)
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Colombian and Indonesian troops have been drafted to test new anti-malaria drugs. South African researchers used Tanzanian soldiers to study the effectiveness of an unorthodox treatment for HIV/AIDS.
And a trial conducted on some 2,000 Nepalese soldiers for a new hepatitis-E vaccine by a major U.S. drug company sparked public protests and complaints that the Nepalese troops were being used as human guinea pigs.
An investigation by The Washington Times and ABC News, which on Tuesday reported a troubled U.S. government program using military veterans to test potentially dangerous drugs, has focused new attention on what medical ethicists say is an especially difficult problem. The U.S. military is not the only one that has had to deal with the consequences.
Military personnel and veterans represent two particularly tempting populations for medical study, researchers say. A large sample of participants, complete with detailed medical histories and personal data, can be quickly assembled. Their behavior, travel and personal habits are far easier to control during the study period.
But that high level of control also makes military medical testing a moral minefield, ethicists say. Just how much freedom does a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine in the ranks have to refuse to participate in a medical trial when asked by a superior officer?
"Considering that the majority of defense-related research is 'non-therapeutic' and ... is typically carried out on healthy volunteers, the standard of legal consent is high," according to recent study of military medical issues by lawyer Ashley R. Melson.
Earlier this year, Britain's Ministry of Defense paid out more than $5.9 million to settle claims from 369 veterans subjected to tests at the government's Porton Down chemical-warfare center. The veterans claimed in a lawsuit that they had been exposed to nerve gas and mustard gas in trials there, leading to a wide variety of health problems.
Porton Down, believed to be the oldest chemical-warfare research site in the world, has tested some 25,000 British servicemen since its establishment in 1916.
In Nepal in the mid-1990s, an institute of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research set up a field station to test a new hepatitis vaccine licensed to pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.
After popular protests forced the cancellation of plans to test the vaccine on Nepalese citizens, researchers in 2001 turned to 2,000 Royal Nepalese Army soldiers at a military hospital in Katmandu.
The U.S. Embassy strongly defended the tests, saying the Nepalese soldiers had volunteered for the trial and denying a link between the research and U.S. military aid to the poor Asian nation. The U.S. government had given tens of millions of dollars to the government as it battled a Maoist insurgency.
But critics said the Nepalese military was unlikely to refuse a request from its biggest patron to provide recruits for the medical study.
The money, training and equipment supplied by the U.S. military to Nepal's army "threatened the voluntary nature of the institutional and individual participation in the trial," medical researcher Jason Andrews wrote in the American Journal of Bioethics.
cRita Tiwari contributed to this report
This was my reply to the reporter that wrote this story, this nation refuses to address the issue of the enlisted men they tested in similar experiments as Porton Downs, at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland from 1955 thru 1975.
Your article talked about Porton Downs and the British govt compensating their "volunteers" for being used in "drug experiments" right now no one is talking about the enlisted men used at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland from 1955 thru 1975 in experiments using 254 substances from chemical weapons Sarin, mustard agents, LSD, PCP, Scopolomine, Ecstacy, etc.
I realize I am dismissed as a "raving, agenda driven person" well if you had been used in classified experiments and the VA refised to address the medical problems caused by the long term consequences of the experiments I vounteered for at age 18, and have left me totally disabled by age 45, naturally I am angry at the government.
Of the 7120 men used at Edgewood during the 20 years, the last health study shows that 40% of them are assumed to be deceased. 3098 men could not be found in FY 2000, the compnay that did the survey had access to IRS, VA and SS databases, men aged 45-65 are either paying taxes or drawing federal disability benefits, they don't just disappear. Of the 4022 survivors they did locate, 54% of them reported being disabled, that combines for a 74.43% death and disability rate, and still DOD and the VA dismiss any nexus to the experiments, that is just not reasonable. There are 2 studies from reputable organizations, that National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) that show the effects of the long term health problems from the chemical weapons exposures. This is the link to Dr Page's study in March 2003 based on the FY 2000 data gathering
http://www.iom.edu/Object.File/Master/5/844/0.pdf, this is the NIH Study from Jan 1, 1994
http://www.ehponline.org/members/1994/102-1/munro-full.html then finally this is the SIPRI study
Sir, I have the names of 18 other Edgewood "test vets" and their e mail addresses you can contact them about this, since I am a "liability" publicly when it comes to this issue, but these other men are not as public as I am about speaking about this.
Last year the last living researcher from the experiments wrote a book about them, Colonel James Ketchum, US Army Retired. He spent most of his career at Edgewood doing research and worked for DR Van Sim and with DR Fred Siddell.
I bought a copy of it last year DR Ketchum signed it and on Dec 17,2007 I was able to get President Bill Clinton to sign it at a veterans event, as he apologized for the experiments done by the government during the Cold War and the Tuskeegee Sysphlis experiments and the Nuclear tests done on civilans and military.
Canada and Britain have both compensated their "test veterans" they ran similar experiments at Gagetown, since they have National Health Care they gave each veteran or their surviving spouse 24,000 dollars, why is the United States the only nation to ignore, it's test veterans. I will be happy to give you the names of the other veterans, they are all like me, they can't get the VA to deal with them on their claims for medical problems caused by the expsoures. Thank you for your time.