Friday, September 5, 2008

The Bush/McCain Republicans Refuse to Support America's Veterans

The Bush/McCain Republicans Refuse to Support America's Veterans

The Democratic Senators unanimously support a new GI Bill to help returning Veterans, providing them with full tuition, room and board to give them more education opportunities.

George Bush, John McCain, and all but 9 Republican Senators are oppsing this support for Veterans, going so far as to threaten a fillibuster to prevent a vote on this.

General Wesley Clark, Robert Greenwald, and Captain Jon Soltz are joining together to demand Republicans support our Veterans:

I think it is useless to try and get McCain behind this. Ironically McCain, along with most Republican Senators, get very poor ratings from Veterans and Solder advocacy groups. From Project Vote Smart, here are John McCain's ratings on Veterans' Issues from 2004 on:

2006 Senator McCain supported the interests of the Disabled American Veterans 20 percent in 2006.

2006 In 2006 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America gave Senator McCain a grade of D.

2006 Senator McCain sponsored or co-sponsored 18 percent of the legislation favored by the The Retired Enlisted Association in 2006.

2005 Senator McCain supported the interests of the Disabled American Veterans 25 percent in 2005.

2004 Senator McCain supported the interests of the Disabled American Veterans 50 percent in 2004.

2004 Senator McCain supported the interests of the The Retired Enlisted Association 0 percent in 2004.

Pretty dismal record. But it is also pretty typical for Republican Senators. Let's look at a few examples of Republican Senators up for re-election this year.

How about Ted Stevens, Senator from Alaska. Here are his ratings on Veterans' issues:

2006 Senator Stevens supported the interests of the Disabled American Veterans 40 percent in 2006.

2006 In 2006 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America gave Senator Stevens a grade of D.

2006 Senator Stevens sponsored or co-sponsored 6 percent of the legislation favored by the The Retired Enlisted Association in 2006.

2005 Senator Stevens supported the interests of the Disabled American Veterans 33 percent in 2005.

2004 Senator Stevens supported the interests of the Disabled American Veterans 0 percent in 2004.

2004 Senator Stevens supported the interests of the The Retired Enlisted Association 0 percent in 2004.

Also dismal.

How about Norm Coleman of Minnesota:

2006 Senator Coleman supported the interests of the Disabled American Veterans 40 percent in 2006.

2006 In 2006 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America gave Senator Coleman a grade of D.

2006 Senator Coleman sponsored or co-sponsored 29 percent of the legislation favored by the The Retired Enlisted Association in 2006.

2005 Senator Coleman supported the interests of the Disabled American Veterans 50 percent in 2005.

2004 Senator Coleman supported the interests of the Disabled American Veterans 0 percent in 2004.

2004 Senator Coleman supported the interests of the The Retired Enlisted Association 0 percent in 2004.


How about Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma:

2006 Senator Inhofe supported the interests of the Disabled American Veterans 40 percent in 2006.

2006 In 2006 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America gave Senator Inhofe a grade of D-.

2006 Senator Inhofe sponsored or co-sponsored 6 percent of the legislation favored by the The Retired Enlisted Association in 2006.

2005 Senator Inhofe supported the interests of the Disabled American Veterans 33 percent in 2005.

2004 Senator Inhofe supported the interests of the Disabled American Veterans 0 percent in 2004.

2004 Senator Inhofe supported the interests of the The Retired Enlisted Association 0 percent in 2004.

Dismal again!

How about Gordon Smith of Oregon:

2006 Senator Smith supported the interests of the Disabled American Veterans 40 percent in 2006.

2006 In 2006 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America gave Senator Smith a grade of C-.

2006 Senator Smith sponsored or co-sponsored 12 percent of the legislation favored by the The Retired Enlisted Association in 2006.

2005 Senator Smith supported the interests of the Disabled American Veterans 42 percent in 2005.

2004 Senator Smith supported the interests of the Disabled American Veterans 0 percent in 2004.

2004 Senator Smith supported the interests of the The Retired Enlisted Association 0 percent in 2004.

Seems like Republicans like to beat their chests and TALK about supporting our troops, but when it comes to actually helping our Veterans they suddenly forget what these soldiers have given to our coutry and turn their backs on them. Disgusting. By all means tell John McCain to support our Veterans...but his record is as dismal as the bulk of the Republican Party on this issue.

Sphere: Related Content

The battle within

The battle within

In the weeks before Christmas last year, a brigade of battle-bruised soldiers left Colorado's Fort Carson for its third round of war in Iraq.

Sgt. Colin Barton was getting Botox shots in his forehead to kill the relentless pain from a brain injury. Army doctors said he should not wear a helmet — a safety requirement for the flight to Iraq. The Army sent him anyway.

Sgt. Joshua Rackley, recovering from his eighth knee surgery, was classified as permanently injured. The Army sent him anyway.

Master Sgt. Denny Nelson and Sgt. Joseph Smith didn't have time to recover from predeployment surgeries. Nelson hobbled with crutches; Smith wore a post-surgical boot. Sgt. Tim Graham brought a sleep-apnea machine. Sgt. 1st Class Walter Overton had a shoulder injury and couldn't lift his gear. Spec. Joseph Leon was popping morphine pills to dull the nerve damage to his groin.

The Army sent them too.

Five years into the war in Iraq and six years after the invasion of Afghanistan, the Army is sending soldiers with physical and mental injuries back to war, at times overruling physicians' classifications of soldiers as "nondeployable."

Facing demands unprecedented in the history of the all-volunteer force, the Army has deployed soldiers with slings and crutches and some who need machines to help keep them alive through the night. Thousands are taking pain, sleep or antidepressant medication, with sometimes deadly consequences.

The pressure to send marginal soldiers grew with the "surge" of troops to Iraq in January 2007, an effort that Army leaders say has succeeded in stabilizing the nation's government and reducing sectarian violence.

Yet from the onset of the Iraq war, deployment pressures have been evident. An Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center analysis shows that 43,000 service members — two-thirds of them in the Army or Army Reserve — were classified as nondeployable for medical reasons three months before they deployed

AMY DUERKSEN | The 19-year-old s family calls her suicide in Iraq friendly fire - because they failed to take care of a fellow soldier. Her diary talks of her rape at a training session before being deployed. anyway.
Army spokesman Paul Boyce said many had minor medical needs that could be resolved in a day.

"Our medical personnel know from experience that service members are ruled medically nondeployable for reasons such as requisitioning a second pair of eyeglasses, bringing dental records up to date and filling dental cavities," he said. A Denver Post examination of deployment records, internal e-mails and medical files provided by soldiers from one Army brigade — Fort Carson's 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division — shows that more than 130 soldiers were sent to Iraq last fall despite being classified with medical limitations just before deployment.

In many cases, those limitations went well beyond cavities or missing eyeglasses.

At least 25 of the brigade's soldiers — including Barton, Nelson, Rackley and Smith — were still suffering from serious and unresolved medical problems as they boarded transport planes bound for Kuwait and then Iraq.

In interviews, soldiers or their relatives described how they worked in constant pain, sought physical therapy in vain and were ordered to perform tasks that violated duty restrictions in what are known as their "medical profiles."

Army commanders have final authority to decide who goes to war and who doesn't. The commander considers doctors' opinions but can take a soldier to a war zone even if a doctor says the soldier should not be deployed.

Army officials say those

COLIN BARTON | Barton and his wife, Jenifer, pack up to move from Fort Carson this spring. Barton was being treated for severe headaches when he was deployed for a third tour in Iraq, despite instructions to not wear a helmet. (Post | Andy Cross )with medical conditions are assigned to jobs in the war zone suited to their physical limitations. They also say many of the problems that caused soldiers to be classified medically as "no-go" were minor.
"Were there some mistakes made? Yes. Some soldiers should not have gone and did," said Maj. Gen. Mark Graham, who became the commanding general of Fort Carson just before the 3rd Brigade departed. "My understanding is the majority of the soldiers, not all of them, once they got over there and realized they couldn't give them the care they needed, they were sent home."

Multiple tours take their toll

Some soldiers who discussed their cases with The Post requested anonymity, fearing retribution, but their accounts were

JOSHUA RACKLEY | Eight knee surgeries aside, the sergeant was deployed to Iraq, where I had other people carrying my gear for me because he couldn't carry more than 50 pounds. (Post | Andy Cross )corroborated through Army records, interviews, observations or medical records that they or their families provided.
One soldier said he walked with a cane to relieve the relentless knee pain that kept him awake at night. Another said he isn't supposed to stand more than 15 minutes a day, but stands 12 hours at a time as a gunner. Another left his medication at home — Zoloft and Klonopin for combat stress, and Tramadol for degenerative disc pain in his back — because, his wife said, he feared they would interfere with his job as a sniper who must lie still for hours at a time.

"I have a herniated disc in my neck, and the Army docs said I was fine," wrote one Fort Carson soldier, who said he was sent to Iraq with two buddies who had broken bones in their hands and couldn't fire their weapons. "I know they sent us over here hurt so they could keep the numbers up."

Of the 1.6 million active-duty service members, reservists and National Guard members sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, 34 percent have served at least two tours. With each deployment, the chances of injury increase. With multiple deployments and shortened downtime, the chances of being sent back while still nursing physical or psychological injuries also increase, veterans advocates argue.

"We'll have some units, entire units, that have served four tours over there," said Tom Berger, senior analyst for veterans' benefits and mental-health issues for Vietnam Veterans of America. "Those are the kinds of things that at least scare me, and they should be scaring mental-health professionals and the (Department of Veterans Affairs) and the (Department of Defense). And it should be scaring the American public because we don't know what's going to happen. We really don't know the impacts of multiple deployments.

"We do know, at least from the research that has been done, the more a person is exposed to those traumatic events and for longer periods of time, there are real problems. But we don't really know. . . .

"This is the first time we've really had to deal with that."

In Vietnam, soldiers served 12-month tours and Marines served 13-month tours. Those who wanted to go back for a second tour signed up. Those who didn't left. When the Army needed soldiers, it drafted more. From 1965 to 1973, 3.4 million Americans were sent to war in Southeast Asia, 2.6 million within Vietnam.

In the current conflicts, the Army, which is doing most of the fighting, has relied on a relatively small core of soldiers.

Through May, about 206,000 soldiers, plus about 63,000 in the Army National Guard and Reserve, had gone to Iraq or Afghanistan at least twice, Army data show.

At the same time, 174,241 active-duty soldiers in the Army as of Feb. 29 had never been deployed overseas. Some are ineligible because they are in basic training, they are physically disabled or they hold jobs — such as recruiters, drill sergeants and some medical occupations — that tend to exclude them from overseas combat. But the Army has identified 37,000 eligible soldiers who were not deployed once while others were ordered to return to war with injuries.

The Army also is examining the cumulative length of soldiers' deployments in an effort to make calls to combat more equitable. Recently, it reduced future deployments from 15 months to 12 months.

"(Equitability) is so keen and essential to making sure we're taking care of our force," said Louis Henkel, deputy director of the Army's enlisted personnel management directorate.

In June, after complaints from soldiers and Congress, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reviewed Army records and reported that "the increasing need for able warfighters has meant longer and multiple deployments for its soldiers."

In a survey of 685 soldiers at Fort Benning and Fort Stewart in Georgia and Fort Drum in New York, the GAO estimated that 14 percent had "medical conditions that could require duty limitations," including herniated discs, back pain, chronic knee pain, Type 2 diabetes and asthma. About two-thirds of them were deployed anyway. The agency could not determine how carefully those limitations were respected once soldiers arrived in a war zone.

But dozens of family members and soldiers who were deployed with medical issues said in interviews with The Post that once in Iraq, commanders sometimes ignored medical limitations set by doctors Five minutes of helmet too much

After too many blasts from nearby explosive devices in two deployments to Iraq, Barton had incurable headaches. Sometimes they left him dizzy; sometimes he flew into a rage.

An Air Force doctor had begun an experimental treatment, injecting Botox into Barton's forehead to relieve pressure before his third deployment. He was scheduled for a follow-up treatment in January, but he was deployed in December with a medical profile instructing him not to wear a helmet.

"In any military plane, you're supposed to be wearing your Kevlar (helmet). They told me, they're like, 'Oh, we got a waiver, you can just wear it when you get on the plane,' " he said. "I had it on once for like five minutes and

CHAD BARRETT | While on his third deployment in February, Barrett became the sixth Fort Carson soldier to commit suicide in Iraq. ( | )I took it off. I started to feel the pressure building up and having the headaches."
Sgt. Jason Knierim was diagnosed with delayed post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic depression in July 2007 and was given an antidepressant but had no therapy between August 2007 and Nov. 30, when he was ordered to a third tour in Iraq.

At the soldier-readiness processing site, his mental illness was flagged, but a major cleared him for combat duty anyway. "I went into her office, she said, 'You're good to go.' She stamped the paperwork," he said.

Since his first deployment, Knierim had been haunted by memories of killing a 7-year-old boy who pointed a toy gun at him. When he arrived in Kuwait to prepare for his third tour of duty, he had a mental breakdown. His superiors took his gun away and put him on a 24-hour suicide watch.

Even after that, "the chain of command wanted to send me to Iraq to get my treatment there. They thought I could get enough treatment in theater," he said. "They told me to get ready to go — they were getting ready to give my weapon back to me."

He said soldiers such as him become a burden to other soldiers.

"We're unstable," he said. "We can't be relied upon to do our job. We're taking up someone else's time, watching us, to make sure we're OK. Someone has to do that when they could be doing something else."

Rackley had a long history of knee troubles. He had to go through basic training twice just to get into the Army. At 25, he had undergone eight knee surgeries and was listed as nondeployable last year.

When his brigade deployed, Fort Carson's soldier-readiness processing center insisted, "Look, this soldier's not going to Iraq. There's no way," he said.

Yet two days before Christmas, he was asked whether he could leave Christmas Day for Iraq. He was told the rear detachment at Fort Carson had received an urgent call for more soldiers.

"They need people, is what was told to rear detachment. 'Send me people...'," he said. "They needed numbers."

In Iraq, Rackley tried not to violate his medical profile, which instructed him not to carry more than 50 pounds. When he needed to wear armor, "I had to take out all my plates but two," he said. "No ammunition, no water. I had other people carrying my gear for me. Soldiers, we help each other out."

Even carrying a machine gun posed a weight problem. "My first sergeant gave up his own 9mm (pistol) so I wouldn't be breaking a profile," he said.

Rackley said others in Iraq are in worse shape. "I know of five other people deployed right now" with more painful injuries, he said. "Mostly back injuries. One with a shoulder injury."

Eight months after Fort Carson deployed the 3rd Brigade, Knierim has been discharged from the Army and is seeking disability benefits from the VA. Leon returned to Fort Carson after doctors decided his groin injury couldn't be treated in a war zone. Barton came back to Colorado to help his wife cope with multiple sclerosis. Rackley went to South Carolina to train for a noncombat job.

Stories repeat across the country

Fort Carson is not the only base that has deployed soldiers with serious health problems.

Recently, the Army flew Sgt. 1st Class Jason Dene, the nephew of actress Mia Farrow, from Iraq to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for surgery.

"He was released from the hospital into the loving arms of the government, who sent him directly back to Iraq," his uncle Patrick Farrow wrote in a letter to the Rutland (Vt.) Herald. "He was put on active duty while he was still on a liquid diet, unable to eat solid food because of a throat hemorrhage due to a botched surgery at a military hospital."

Dene, 37, of Castleton, Vt., died of a drug overdose in his bunk in Iraq on May 25.

At Fort Hood in Texas, a doctor recently recommended deploying a soldier with eosinophilic granuloma, a rare disease that causes growths in his lungs.

The soldier, Cameron Atkin, declined to comment publicly. But his wife, Britney, and a soldiers' advocate, Carissa Picard, questioned why the Army would deploy any soldier who struggles to breathe whenever he tries to wear body armor.

"Basically the only gear he can wear out of his combat gear is his helmet," his wife said. If he puts on a flak vest, "after a couple of minutes it feels like a 100-pound weight on his chest. He can't breathe."

She said her husband passed out twice doing push-ups and was unable to train for deployment or even fire a gun because he was being treated for the newly diagnosed lung disease.

Among her husband's friends already in Afghanistan, she said, one failed his last four hearing tests, one has a worsening case of glaucoma, one rarely wears body armor because of a slipped back disc, and one has undergone three surgeries on the same ankle.

"They're trying to fill their quotas. They don't care about lives; they care about bodies," she said.

This month, she said, a second Army doctor examined her husband and found him undeployable. There is still a chance his commander could overrule that recommendation.

Scrambling to grow the ranks

Five years into the Iraq war, the Army has established Warrior Transition Units to help manage a growing number of soldiers with physical and mental-health problems.

But for every soldier assigned to a WTU brigade, another must be sent to Iraq in his or her place.

The Army is managing to enlist about 80,000 new soldiers each year. But to do so, it raised enlistment bonuses by an average of 37 percent last year. In three years, it nearly doubled the number of waivers for recruits with criminal-arrest records, a history of drug or alcohol abuse, or medical problems such as poor hearing or eyesight, asthma and high blood pressure.

And it is taking fewer high school graduates — down to 79 percent last year from 94 percent in 2003 — despite Defense Department and Army standards that say "no less than 90 percent" of soldiers must have high school degrees.

Fort Carson's 3rd Brigade was originally set to deploy in March. But last fall, with the 30,000-soldier surge showing some signs of success, the date was moved up, "to the left" in Army parlance, to get the brigade into the fight.

When that order came, Fort Carson had transferred 225 brigade soldiers to its WTU, where injured soldiers go to concentrate on recovery, and 368 others were deemed nondeployable.

"So when they got moved to the left, were there problems getting them? Yes, there were, because the system never caught up," said Maj. Harvinder Singh, the rear-detachment commander for the brigade.

Singh said that every unit has a goal to send a certain percentage of the brigade, usually about 3,500 soldiers at full strength. "Our goal was 95 percent; we went through with 87," he said.

Singh said that once in Iraq, the brigade slowly added soldiers sent from other units.

"As the Army starts backfilling everyone else, over the last six months, we have received over 500 soldiers. Again, it's just a goal that commanders have. If you don't reach it, you don't reach it," Singh said.

Changes to clearing a "no-go"

E-mails from Capt. Scot Tebo, the brigade surgeon, written Jan. 3 just after the brigade deployed, show the brigade was struggling to find enough healthy soldiers.

"We have been having issues with reaching deployable strength and thus have been taking along some borderline soldiers who we would otherwise have left behind for continued treatment," Tebo wrote to Maj. Thomas Schymanski.

One of those soldiers he evaluated was Nelson, a 19-year Army veteran who is a Bronze Star recipient.

Nelson had fractured a foot while jumping on his daughter's trampoline. He was sent to Kuwait on crutches.

"They're sending units so rapidly, they're having trouble getting them healthy," Nelson said.

After The Post in January reported on the deployment of some injured soldiers with the brigade, Maj. Gen. Graham ordered the post's inspector general to investigate.

The inspector general found "no initial indication that the units deliberately deployed medically unfit soldiers against explicit medical advice," nor that the unit systematically changed medical profiles to deploy more soldiers.

The inspector general did find the brigade sent 36 soldiers "who were rendered nondeployable" by a "medical no-go" and recommended a more rigorous reporting system to ensure that unfit soldiers are not sent to war.

The inspector general's report also suggested limiting the use of "no-go" to describe soldiers with "potential deployability constraints" that a commander must consider. "The term 'medical no-go' is unclear and, as witnessed by recent public media interest, can easily be misunderstood," it reported.

Graham said the Army has "very good, competent commanders that I think are doing a tremendous job, and they work closely with the medical care providers. And I'll tell you, I don't think there is any evil here. These are America's sons and daughters, and we don't put people in command who don't take that responsibility quite seriously."

Still, after the inspector general's report, Graham ordered brigade commanders not to send no-go soldiers until he had reviewed their cases and signed off on them personally. Another brigade is due to deploy from Fort Carson in the coming weeks, the first test of Graham's new policy.

And he acknowledges the hardships that come with multiple deployments.

"This is hard, this is hard," Graham said. "War is hard. And there is no doubt you can see the Army is working hard to get back to 12-month deployments from 15 months because we know this is tough on our soldiers and families too. It is very hard."

"They just need the numbers"

For Michelle Graham, the wife of Sgt. Tim Graham, a mechanic serving in Iraq, the level of desperation in the Army is no more apparent than in her husband's case.

Graham — no relation to Maj. Gen. Graham — has a permanent profile for severe sleep apnea.

"With his profile, he was not supposed to go. He stops breathing," Michelle Graham said. "He has a machine that goes over his face to help him breathe at night. If his machine breaks down, they have to send it back to the States to fix it. He does have a backup, but how long is that going to last?"

She said she does not sleep at night because she worries about her husband. The Army recently changed its regulations, deciding soldiers on sleep machines could deploy safely.

"Tim has a profile that says he's not supposed to go, but his first sergeant and his commander said, 'You're going anyway.' It's numbers, that's all it is. They don't care who goes out there; they don't care what's wrong with them. They just need the numbers. It's really frustrating."


The series
Today. Facing the unprecedented demands of simultaneous wars fought by volunteers, the Army has sent wounded and drug dependent soldiers back into battle, sometimes overruling the recommendations of physicians.

Tuesday. Defense Department spending for narcotics, antidepressants, sleeping pills and other drugs has soared, but some soldiers complain that they are simply being medicated to return to war while the causes of their injuries go untreated.

Wednesday. The number of suicides committed by soldiers has reached its highest recorded level, and the multiple deployments troops face is increasingly identified as a cause.

UPDATE: 10 Sep 2008 It takes time for the truth to surface and this morning I received an e mail with the clarification on SFC Jason Dene

Clarification: An autopsy determined that the death of Army Sgt. 1st Class Jason Dene was an accident. His body contained elevated levels of an Army prescribed anti-depressant drug, called an SSRI, which his father said was being used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. A story published Aug. 25 on page 1A contained an incomplete description of how authorities believe he died.

Since I am 100% P&T with the disgnosis of PTSD, I understand the problems with medications the government passes out, I ended up hospitalized by the VA in 2003 in a lockdown ward, the SSRI's they had me on messed me up bad, they changed my meds and everything is a bit better. My heart goes out to the family this was a loss that did not have to be.

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Soldiers' Suicide Rate On Pace to Set Record

Soldiers' Suicide Rate On Pace to Set Record

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 5, 2008; Page A02

Suicides among active-duty soldiers this year are on pace to exceed both last year's all-time record and, for the first time since the Vietnam War, the rate among the general U.S. population, Army officials said yesterday.

Ninety-three active-duty soldiers had killed themselves through the end of August, the latest data show. A third of those cases are under investigation by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner's Office. In 2007, 115 soldiers committed suicide.

Failed relationships, legal and financial troubles, and the high stress of wartime operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are the leading factors linked to the suicides, Army officials said.

The officials voiced concern that an array of Army programs aimed at suicide prevention has not checked a years-long rise in the suicide rate. Still, they said, the number of deaths probably would have climbed even more without such efforts.

"What does success look like? Frankly, we do not know," said Col. Eddie Stephens, deputy director for human resources under the Army's personnel division.

The Army's suicide rate has increased from 12.4 per 100,000 in 2003, when the Iraq war started, to 18.1 per 100,000 last year. Suicide attempts by soldiers have also increased since 2003, Stephens said.

This year the death rate is likely to exceed that of a demographically similar segment of the U.S. population -- 19.5 per 100,000, Stephens said. According to service officials, the last time that occurred was in the late 1960s during the Vietnam War, when the United States had a draft Army that suffered from serious discipline problems. In 1973, the nation created an all-volunteer force that has generally enjoyed an above-average level of mental health, a condition contradicted by the recent rise in suicides.

The latest Army prevention efforts include the hiring of hundreds of new mental health providers, the production of an interactive video on the subject, to be released this fall, and the introduction of an intervention program aimed at teaching junior Army leaders not only suicidal symptoms but actions that can prevent suicides.

The ACE program includes handing out laminated cards decorated with the ace of hearts that advise three steps -- "ask," "care" and "escort" -- that spell "ACE": Ask your buddy direct questions such as "Are you thinking of killing yourself?"; care for your buddy by taking away weapons; and escort your buddy to a military chaplain or health provider.

"Take away the weapon if someone is playing Russian roulette with it. . . . Unfortunately, people have not always done that," said Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, the Army's assistant surgeon general for force protection. Army prevention programs to this point have not trained soldiers adequately in what to do after they learn a comrade is in crisis, she added.

Another measure that Cornum said has proven effective is for Army commanders in combat zones to take a more "humanistic" approach and to return soldiers home so they can deal with personal crises and thereby "live another day to keep serving."

Col. Scott McBride, commander of the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, said such measures have helped him prevent any suicides among his 4,000 soldiers, who have been deployed in northern Iraq for the past year.

"If they're having a problem at home and we can keep a family together, reduce stress by sending a soldier home so he can take care of that problem, we're doing that," McBride said yesterday by video link from Iraq.

Sphere: Related Content

Vets in atomic tests riled by offer

Vets in atomic tests riled by offer

$24,000 payout called federal election ploy
Jason Fekete, Calgary Herald
Published: Wednesday, September 03, 2008
After decades of pressuring for compensation, Canada's "atomic veterans" -- about 900 soldiers who were deployed at atomic-bomb test sites half a century ago -- will be eligible for a special payment of $24,000.

The payment, announced Tuesday, was quickly labelled "a joke" by the association representing the remaining veterans and their widows -- some of whom have filed a class-action lawsuit against the government -- and called an "election ploy" on the eve of an expected federal campaign.

The Atomic Veterans Recognition Program will offer $24,000 "ex-gratia" payments to about 700 eligible Canadian military veterans and technology workers who participated in nuclear weapons tests for the United States and United Kingdom between 1946 and 1963.

Email to a friend

Printer friendly
Font:****It will also compensate about 200 military personnel who helped in the decontamination of the Chalk River, Ont., nuclear reactor following two accidents in the 1950s.

"It's a recognition that is long deserved and long overdue," Defence Minister Peter MacKay told a luncheon of military and defence experts in Calgary.

"Until now, the participants have received no recognition for their dangerous assignments in the service of Canada," added MacKay, who said he expects as many as 1,000 payments could be made to veterans and their estates.

The Harper government announced the money on the eve of an expected election call this week, and as a class-action lawsuit by atomic veterans and their widows, against Ottawa, continues through the courts.

Balzac resident Jim Huntley, spokesman for the Canadian Atomic Veterans Association, said the compensation offer falls short of what's needed for the hundreds of veterans and their families who've already died, and others who continue to suffer through subsequent health problems such as cancer.

"It's a joke," said Huntley, a 69-year-old atomic veteran who participated in six nuclear bomb tests in the Nevada desert.

Members of the association were deployed in trenches as close as 1,000 metres to ground zero.

Huntley has said previously that, of the 40 soldiers in his unit, 18 have died of cancer, while another five suffer from it.

Eight of the soldiers' children reportedly had birth defects.

"We were sent there without knowing . . . guinea pigs -- that's what we were," Huntley said last winter.

The veterans had been seeking compensation of $150,000 per survivor.

They noted the U.S. government decided in the 1980s to pay $75,000 to veterans who developed any of more than a dozen types of ailments, mainly cancers.

"If you think that $24,000," Huntley said Tuesday, pausing, "I'm not telling my association not to accept the money, but I don't think it will stop the class-action lawsuit."

The veterans have been battling for compensation and recognition for the last five decades through both Conservative and Liberal governments. Their case was bolstered in 2007 when a Defence Department report determined that an estimated 900 Canadian military personnel were exposed to radiation during atomic tests and during a reactor mishap at Chalk River, Ont., during the 1950s.

In early 2007, then-defence minister Gordon O'Connor and Gen. Rick Hillier, chief of the defence staff at the time, met with some veterans and promised their cases would be swiftly dealt with. In August of that year, shortly before he was removed from the portfolio, O'Connor said a compensation package was almost complete.

A few months later, MacKay assured Parliament he was working on the matter and that something would soon be done for the veterans.

The federal government's offer is a slap in the face to those who've been fighting for decades for some recognition and financial compensation, argued Bob Bergen, an expert who's written extensively on atomic veterans.

Email to a friend

Printer friendly
Font:****The government essentially took the soldiers out to the Nevada desert and had them "stand there" for not just one nuclear bomb, but several blasts, he said.

"To see them come up with $24,000 now is a drop in the bucket compared to what these guys should have been getting years and years ago," said Bergen, a fellow at the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

"These guys did this in the service of their country and they got the shaft."


The only comments I can think of is this is the same paltry amount they gave the veterans used in chemical weapons experiments at Gagetown, the same experiments that were also done at Porton Downs, England which has also compensated the british test subjects, the only nation to ignore the veterans used in these type of experiments is the United States, Operation SHAD/112, Fort Detrick Operation Whitecoat and the 7120 men of Edgewood Arsenal Maryland from 1941 thru 1975 have been ignored, the US should be ashamed of itself.

Sphere: Related Content

Canada to Compensate 'Atomic Soldiers'

Canada to Compensate 'Atomic Soldiers'

September 03, 2008
Associated Press

CALGARY, Alberta - Hundreds of former Canadian soldiers will receive compensation for being assigned to participate in atomic bomb tests by the U.S. and British militaries in the 1960s, the Defense Ministry said Sept. 2.

Defense Minister Peter MacKay said the soldiers were involved in operations in the United States, Australia and the South Pacific from the end of World War II until the international treaty banning atmospheric test explosions was signed in 1963.

Canada's government will also compensate former military personnel who assisted with emergency decontamination efforts at the Chalk River nuclear plant in Ontario following two major nuclear reactor accidents in 1952 and 1958, MacKay said.

"The participants have received no recognition for their dangerous assignments in the service of Canada," MacKay during a speech Tuesday in Calgary.

In total, 900 former soldiers or families of deceased veterans will receive payments of $22,000 each, Mackay said.

"All those who serve their country, past or present, deserve the respect, admiration and care of a grateful nation," he said.

Many of the surviving former soldiers have complained of health problems associated with being exposed to radioactivity during the test blasts or the nuclear cleanups.

Ken Umpherville of Calgary, who is now 78, was a sergeant when he took part in testing in Desert Rock, Nev. in 1957. He declined to discuss his war experiences, but feels the recognition is long overdue.

"I think its a fair settlement," said Umpherville, who suffers from lung cancer. "It recognizes the service that the Canadian atomic veterans put toward the country. I would like to see them expedite claims for legitimate people who do have problems because of being exposed to radiation."

The nature and extent of Canadian participation in the nuclear tests was not fully known until a study was commissioned by the government in 2006.

In a report published last year, historian John Clearwater identified approximately 700 former soldiers who participated in up to 29 American and British nuclear weapons trials between 1946 and 1963. The tests attempted to simulate battlefield conditions expected in a nuclear war.

The report also identified about 200 ex-soldiers who helped decontaminate the Chalk River plant, where their duties included mopping and scrubbing buildings tainted with radioactivity.

"The duties involved specialized training and/or unique operational deployments unlike any other carried out by the Canadian Forces and members of the National Defense Department. Until now these veterans have received no recognition of their exceptional service to Canada under these circumstances," MacKay said.

Bob Bergen, from the Center for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary, has written about the experiences of Canadian soldiers involved in the tests.

"They took them out into the desert and had them watch several nuclear explosions," Bergen said. "They were being denied benefits because the government would say it's just old age and they said no, this is because we were exposed to these nuclear bombs."

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Golf becomes a relaxing part of rehab for vets

Golf becomes a relaxing part of rehab for vets

LAKEWOOD, Wash. — Joe Jackson takes one final puff from his yellow-labeled Dominican cigar before placing it gently on the tee, a few yards from where his ball is waiting.

In this moment, Jackson is simply another golfer. With a typical C-shaped whip swing, he cannons 300-yard drives down the middle of the fairway. Not bad at all.

His back story is what makes the drives amazing. The four times his vehicles were hit by roadside bombs in Iraq. The post traumatic stress disorder that clouds his thoughts. The medications he must swallow each day simply to function.

None of that matters here. When Jackson arrives at American Lake Veterans Golf Course — a haven for military veterans from World War II to the Iraq war that sits a short distance from Fort Lewis — Jackson is another hacker, trying to use his passion for smacking around a little white ball to help him cope with the aftermath of tours in Iraq.

“It’s really nice having a place to go out and not be looked at as being different than anybody else,” said Jackson, who goes by Spc. Jackson when he’s on base at Fort Lewis, working in the Warrior Transition Battalion. “Ninety percent of the guys out here are wounded veterans from World War II all the way up to now. We all deal with similar limitations and just get out there and have fun.”

The fact Jackson and his comrades have American Lake as a sanctuary is thanks to the yeoman’s work of some determined veterans, who wouldn’t let the tree-lined course about an hour south of Seattle become a pasture when Congress cut funding to all military golf courses in 1995.

Nearly every veteran who walks onto the course has an ailment of some sort: an amputated limb; a noticeable limp; those who are blind and those who cannot walk.

Here, they can relax and make friends, sharing their military experience as a bond.

“I prayed for death pretty much every day after I got out. I felt pretty much useless,” said Dave Best, a veteran of the Iraq war who is the operations manager at the course. He’s also the treasurer for Friends of American Lake, the nonprofit that handles fundraising for the course. “(Then) I came out here to this support group.”

Best and Jackson certainly aren’t alone in seeking help on the course.

Take, for example, Staff Sgt. Travis Spradlin.

Spradlin was hit in the shoulder by a sniper in Iraq in August 2007. For a time, he lapsed into a coma.

Now he has turned to golf as a coping mechanism in his recovery. Once nearly a scratch golfer right-handed, Spradlin was forced to switch to lefty because of his injuries — relearning all the basic muscle movement that once came so naturally. With help from Pepper Roberts, a soon to be 77-year-old who has helped the course survive and thrive, Spradlin quickly picked up the game from the opposite side.

“It can be (hard). It all depends on the person, all depends on where they are in the continuum of healing,” said Kristine Goedhard, program manager for Rehabilitation Care Services at VA Puget Sound Health Care System. “Some you’ll find that if they were really good at something before an injury occurs, it’s really hard for them to try it if they’re not as good as they were before. ... Some are ready right away after an injury.”

Spradlin’s reliance on golf as his therapy was evidenced on a recent Monday. After finding out he would no longer be on active duty during a midday meeting, Spradlin was back at the course that afternoon.

“After my injuries and the severity of what it’s like to be in Iraq, and the day-to-day business of being over there, this is someplace we can come and play golf that’s relaxing,” Spradlin said. “You don’t have the high pressures of military life.”

With the likes of course manager Mike Kearney working tirelessly, the course stayed open long enough for Roberts to arrive seven years ago.

Roberts was a former golf coach in the nearby Clover Park School District and Jim Smith, then the course manager, was a friend who asked Roberts to help with clinics and sit on the golf course board of directors. Smith promised it would take only one day a month.

“That was the first lie he told me,” Roberts cracked.

Roberts became the catalyst for a plethora of improvements at the course and many others in the planning stages. He was astonished the first time he came to American Lake and realized a course designated for military veterans was only accessible for the able-bodied.

“I was always a little bit amazed that the only people that could play the course were those that could walk it. They had no carts, none of that stuff,” Roberts said.

So he got to work, writing grants, seeking donations, helping to form the nonprofit corporation and asking for all the help he could garner.

Through the group’s fundraising, the course acquired a handful of SoloRider golf carts that allow severely disabled, or even partially paralyzed golfers to still swing a club. The cart swings the seat and can physically support someone who otherwise couldn’t stand, giving him or her a chance to swing and putt.

The greens and bunkers of the course were redesigned or replanted, allowing the SoloRiders to be driven into the traps and onto the putting surface. A three-hole short-course was built within the driving range, keeping the nine-hole course open for the regular stream of vets that cycle through.

Pat Gailey, the course project manager, estimated that $360,000 worth of work has been donated by local contractors wanting to help out.

“It’s easier to get $8,000 or $10,000 worth of work donated than a check of $2,000,” he said.

A covered driving range was constructed with stalls large enough to accommodate wheelchairs. There’s also an A-framed picnic area, and a new clubhouse is next on the docket.

The ultimate dream for those in charge is constructing another nine holes and creating an 18-hole complex. Rough sketches are already in place, courtesy of Jack Nicklaus’ design group — a favor that was called in.

That’s the benefit of having Ken Still, a former Ryder Cup teammate of Nicklaus’ and close friend, on the American Lake board.

“There is a difference between having a cookie bake sale and the type of money we’ll need to build it,” Roberts said. “I need a little bit bigger donations than the cookie sale.”

Whatever American Lake becomes, the basic principle still remains fellowship and a different type of rehabilitation.

Maybe Russ Carlson tells it best. A Vietnam vet who lost his left leg, Carlson once attempted suicide — unable to handle the idea of becoming a civilian believing he was a freak. Now he’s one of the first to greet every new face that walks onto the course property.

“Things that I’ve seen, I don’t want it to happen to these guys,” Carlson said. “I don’t think it would be fair to them. I think they deserve more than what the government is giving to them. So every little bit we do we try and help. That’s what we’re there for.”


I did two tours at Fort Lewis and lived near American Lakes, there is a VA Hospital there and it was an idyllic setting, the WW2 building did need work, probably still does, but this brought some joy to my heart this morning

Sphere: Related Content