Resolution to Protect a National Sacred Trust
Whereas the property on which the Los Angeles National Veterans Home is located was irrevocably deeded to the nation 120 years ago by John P. Jones and Arcadia de Baker as a place dedicated for the “sole purpose of providing veterans a place to heal from war”; and
Whereas the Department of Veteran Affairs has awarded rent-free occupancy for 20 years of a 16-acre portion of that land to the Veterans Park Conservancy, not a veterans organization but a local community organization, for use, in the Conservancy’s words, “for the enjoyment and education of the entire community”; and
Whereas a public park, despite its value to the whole community, is inconsistent with the exclusive use for veterans envisioned by the donors, and the trust conveyed in their deed to the United States.
Therefore Be It Resolved that [replace this text with your name or your organization’s name as appropriate] joins Veterans United for Truth, Inc., The American Legion, the National Veterans Coalition, the Gathering of Eagles, We the Veterans, and the American GI Forum, Military Spouses For Change, Veterans For Common Sense, among others, along with hundreds of thousands of veterans and their families, to support an immediate halt to any giveaway of any of the Los Angeles National Veterans Home property, either to a non-veterans organization or for any non-veteran-related purpose, and the revocation of any extant agreement to do so.
For Organization (If appropriate)
The land belongs to all veterans, if you feel inclined send this letter to your elected officials and let them know what you think about this situation. If they grab veterans land in Los Angeles where do they go next to do the same thing, and this was donated land by a special couple in Californa more than 100 years ago, after 100 years it would seem absurd that a land grab would be taking place now, but greed never seems to be out of place or never too late. Maybe they don't want homeless veterans living on this land, but it seems as if the donators anticipated this and donated it just for that cause, a place for the veterans of America's military to spend their days in piece and quite, when they donated the land, they never knew it would be in the middle of some of this nation highest priced real estate, how ever it is where it is and it belongs now to the nations veterans, not the people of Brentwood.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Resolution to Protect a National Sacred Trust
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.
When "doing good" doesn't
The West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) was deeded in perpetuity for thesole purpose of caring for military veterans. This trust was established in 1888 through a gift by two families that held old Spanish grant properties. The many buildings on this property were built over timeto care for veterans of the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, WW I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, the current Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and another hundred or so military actions and all
peacetime service that has occurred in between.
Because of its location in Brentwood, a generally wealthy community of Los Angeles, the facility occupies some of the most valuable real estate on the West Coast – land that currently sells for $6M-$12M an acre. Likewise, because of its location, it has often been the target of developers and investors.
Veterans Park Conservancy
Since 1988 a worthy organization, the Veterans Park Conservancy (VPC) made up of many veterans, veterans relatives, a descendant of one of the grantors, and other citizens residing in Brentwood and Beverly Hills, has raised some serious money for, and supported some worthy causes at the facility. They have also helped in the past to fend off commercial development on the property. Despite the real good that this organization has done over the years, two recent initiatives have raised serious questions and profound doubts on the part of veterans across the country as to the propriety of this organization's current goals.
The first of these questionable acts is a recent campaign to replace a portion of the fence surrounding the 388 acres of the VAMC property. The VPC raised some money and the DVA pitched in $1,000,000 of VA construction funds. The fence faced toward Brentwood properties. The stated goal was, of course, to improve the property for veterans. The actual goal was revealed by two acts: 1) the statement by one of the principals that the new fence would “remove an eyesore” -- thus revealing an aesthetic goal rather than a veterans’ benefit goal; and, 2) the inclusion on the fence at the pedestrian gateway (to the future park?) of a sign that absolutely reinforced the understanding of any thinking person that the goal was purely aesthetic.
The sign in question bore the words "Beauty, Honor, Country". This sign denigrated the motto of the US Military Academy -- "Duty, Honor, Country", which motto has become the solemn oath and polestar of all serving military and veterans. By substituting the cutesy "Beauty" for the near-sacred word and concept of "Duty" the organization revealed its true concern – once again aesthetic gain for Brentwood,
not veterans’ benefit. After much protest, the sign has been replaced with the proper quotation.
Sliding down the ol’ slippery slope
Now the VPC has signed an agreement with the DVA to set aside 16 acres of the Brentwood campus as a "Veterans Park". Their correspondence and their website talk only about establishing this park as a place of respite for veterans. Deep in the agreement, however, the true purpose is buried, for there it states that this will be a public park. The cost-free agreement is for 20 years with a 10 year option for extension.
One wonders what “park” they have been conserving for the 20 years preceding this 15-month old agreement – perhaps there was a goal sitting there all along?
This property is already quietly slipping away from its sworn purpose to be used solely to benefit veterans. 25 or more of its buildings are already leased out to other agencies, community organizations, and commercial businesses (yellow buildings on the above map). No one would argue with the Red Cross or Salvation Army using the property, recognizing both organizations’ involvement in military and veterans’ services. There are legitimate questions about Enterprise rent-a-car and other commercial interests.
20+ acres are used by the Brentwood School, a private K-12 Academy, for its athletic facilities. This school, with its annual tuition of $27,650, is unlikely to have too many veteran’s kids enrolled.. This “Veterans Park” initiative plants the seed of a slow-growing eminent domain or adverse possession claim 30 years hence. When the lease and its extension expire, and should some DVA administrator resists granting a new lease at that time, it's easy to predict the uproar. All of us who either
supported or opposed the public use of this private land will be long gone. The cry will come from a new generation who will believe that they are losing an entitlement. "They're taking our Park!" "I grew up in that park -- our family had picnics there!" "You can't take away our Park -- it's not fair!"
Of course those veterans being helped in that facility who cannot, by reason of their physical or mental condition, mix with the general public will be denied use of that park. They too could reasonably say of the current plan, "It's not fair!"
Since they have not been allowed to weigh in, we are proud to stand for them.
All of us can understand Brentwood’s need for a park. After all, this town of 33,000 souls ought to have open space where its residents can relax. Admittedly some of those souls are veterans, but with the income levels in the community there are not likely to be many vets who need the VAMC’s facilities or their services.
Brentwood is not your average town. With a median household income of only 200+% of the national median, and with the income of those residents in their early 30s equal only to the poverty level income of a family of nine, one can understand how deprived they must feel. That median household income ($102,308) is, of course, approximately 285% of the median income of all veterans nationwide ($36,053).
With only 15% of its 17,000 households having children, the need must still arise for those children to have play space. Since they spend more than twice as much as the rest of us on clothing, food, health care, furniture, reading materials, transportation, and utilities, and almost 3 times as much on gifts and education, they are probably a little strapped.
You would think, though, that a town with at least as many people with graduate degrees as there are children could have come up with a better solution.
A modest proposal We have a proposal for a few legitimate alternatives that Brentwood should consider. Brentwood should recognize the park that it already has only 1 mile to the west of the veterans property. The eastern end of the Brentwood Country Club is designated on maps as "Brentwood Park". Looking at that area on “Google Earth” reveals that it is apparently part storage yard and part dump so
improving it should be nothing but a gain to the community.
While “Brentwood Park” does not seem to offer the full 16 acres, certainly the very small group of good folks who are members of the private Brentwood Country Club would not mind giving up some land and rerouting a couple of holes for this worthy purpose. Considering the scarcity of land in that immediate area, they should be able to demand a sufficiently large price to salve any wounds – at least a
If the Brentwood country club is unwilling to give up their land for this noble cause, there are other Brentwood properties that could be considered. There are quite a few properties of five acres or more to the northwest up Mandeville Canyon.
Brentwood could also go in with Pacific Palisades to their West and claim enough land for a park to serve both communities from the Riviera country club which is much larger. It’s a private club too, but their membership should willingly release some of their large holdings for the benefit of the community
On doing good We believe in the concept of doing good and we believe that doing good has been the VPC’s intent for most of these past 20 years. They have done much good in the past and should be praised for it. For all of us it is the same, however. No matter how much good we may have done before, each actand each initiative must be evaluated on its own merits. Sometimes doing good, doesn't – it does harm. As
the constitutional scholar Lawrence Tribe recently wrote in a different context, "a premise of our system is that good will, altruism and empathy are insufficient safeguards." We think those words apply here – in
The VPC has elicited some strong political support – US Senators, US Representatives, the mayor of Los Angeles, City Councilperson's, and prominent civic leaders. We are confident that all of these politicians and dignitaries looked at the community’s need and agreed that a park was a good idea. (We have the letter to prove it). Such support is clearly understandable as the Brentwood ZIP code contributes 121 times as much money to political causes as the average ZIP in the US ($5,991,733 vs. $49,689).
Unfortunately, they seem to have forgotten that the land doesn't belong to the City of Los Angeles, or even to the State of California. The land belongs to the nation, and was given and dedicated solely for the support of veterans. If a handful of local residents and a few politicians are allowed to repurpose this property, such an act would seem to deny due process to the real stakeholders – 24 million veterans. We believe that only the President of the United States and the full Congress should have a say in how this land is used, and whether or not it can be transferred from its entrusted purpose.
On doing better Instead of “doing good” for a few, let's do better for everyone. The VPC should explore the alternatives we have provided, and we will support their efforts. We'll even try to help them pay for it, although they will have to wait for the results of our fundraising methods which are pretty slow as they are limited to bake sales and sponsored 5Ks – we have no trust funds.
In time, if the veterans and their 75 million or so family members can raise two or three dollars each they would have enough, perhaps, to satisfy the private owners of one or the other country club or of those multi-acre residential properties..
We really don't need any more memorials or remembrance parks – thanks, but no thanks – our sisters’ and brothers’ needs are much more serious than that.
Maybe we can take back the million dollars that the DVA spent on their lovely fence, and maybe we could keep a million or two of the rest of the money we raise selling cupcakes so that Brentwood can have their park. We can then apply those bucks to a truly private park for veterans and their families.
But first we’d like to use whatever money they leave to us to refurbish some of the 218,000 ft 2 of vacant buildings at the facility so that we could start to take some of the 20,000+ homeless veterans off the streets of their city. By sheltering as many as possible we could start to identify those veterans wandering homeless in LA who truly need and deserve the physical and mental health care for which this
facility and this land was dedicated.
We don’t believe that the VPC and their supporters (or for that matter whomever signed the agreement for the DVA) are greedy or heartless. We just think that they are insensitive and totally oblivious to the consequences of their actions.
Everyone would benefit if we “do better” to "do right", instead of just "doing good". [Ed.]
[Editorial, Veterans United For Truth, Inc. Newsletter Sound Off!, Vol. IV, #7, 25 November 2008]
VA botches appointment scheduling, report says
By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Dec 5, 2008 16:59:32 EST
A new report says Veterans Centers run by the Department of Veterans Affairs could have seen more patients in the past year if they did a better job scheduling and rescheduling visits.
About 4.9 million appointments were not kept in fiscal 2008, with each missed visit costing the VA about $182, according to the report by the VA inspector general, released Dec. 4.
That means VA is both losing money and failing to treat veterans as quickly as possible by keeping a flawed system for making appointments, and by not maintaining waiting lists to fill appointments canceled at the last minute.
A medical facility sometimes may leave an appointment open intentionally because visits can run long, and facilities worry about being able to see everyone.
But the report also found about 3.1 million incidents in fiscal 2008 when patients did not show up for appointments, and 1.8 million appointments that were canceled by the patient and not refilled with other patients.
Having 4.9 million unfilled appointments does not mean VA potentially could see 4.9 million more people, however. Most were seen later, and some of those were multiple appointments for the same person.
The biggest benefit from better scheduling is that veterans would be seen faster, the report says.
Sen. Daniel Akaka, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee chairman who requested the reports, said something needs to be done.
“The fact that we continue to see a trend of flawed or inefficient scheduling practices being used by VA is troubling,” he said. “I have led the fight to provide full funding for VA, but VA must be as efficient and accurate as possible in order to avoid waste and mismanagement, especially in these times of economic difficulty.”
The VA could save $76 million a year if did better at scheduling and rescheduling appointments, Akaka said.
In a written response to the report, VA health officials vowed to develop a revised scheduling system that will include a waiting list for patients ready to fill openings left by others who have canceled appointments.
A second IG report also released Dec. 4 continues to monitor problems with inaccurate records of appointments in the North Florida-South Georgia Veterans Health System, where statistics about how long veterans must wait for an initial appointment are skewed because some patients are left out.
Ordered stop-loss payouts still undelivered
By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Dec 6, 2008 7:06:50 EST
Two months after Congress ordered special pay of up to $500 a month for anyone involuntarily kept on active duty under stop-loss orders, nobody has received a dime.
But the wait may be coming to an end. Senior Army officials are close to issuing a recommendation on whether to pay the full $500 allowance authorized by Congress and when payments might begin, according to Senate aides monitoring the program.
The decision, one of the last military pay actions by the Bush administration, must be cleared by the House and Senate Appropriations committees before payments begin.
Army spokesman Maj. Nathan Banks could not say when an announcement would be made, but he noted that top Army officials are reviewing a payment plan for submittal to Congress.
“Congress authorized the payment, but the amount could be anywhere from zero to $500,” Banks said.
Senate aides, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Banks appears cautious about not overpromising.
“I would be very surprised if the amount was less than $500, especially because we provided full funding for that amount,” one aide said. “The Army would have to make a very strong case why it needs to pay less.”
Anyone who spends even one day of a month in fiscal 2009 under stop-loss orders would be eligible for what the law calls “stop-loss special pay.”
Banks’ statement and those of Senate aides come after several soldiers under stop-loss orders have complained that they went to local finance offices to look into collecting the promised money, only to find that no one knows anything.
“I have been having a hell of time trying to find information on this bonus,” said an Army sergeant who asked not to be identified. “My finance people know nothing about it.”
The soldier received stop-loss orders in January and does not expect to be released from active duty until March.
The allowance, included in Public Law 110-329 that was signed by the president Sept. 30, is a special pay available only during fiscal 2009, which began on Oct. 1 and ends on Sept. 30, 2009.
It covers all personnel whose military service is involuntarily extended or whose retirement is involuntarily delayed.
While all of the services have used stop-loss since the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., the Army is the only one that still has people under stop-loss orders. Army officials said they expect about 12,200 people will qualify for payments once they begin.
The chief sponsors of the stop-loss pay, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Ohio, have vowed to try in 2009 to make the payments permanent and to apply them retroactively to anyone affected by stop-loss orders since 2001.
The democrats have been busy making sure the "Promises" to the nations veterans are being kept, the American Legion magazine noted that more was done in the past year than the previous 6 that kind of tells me the Bush Administration and Republican Congress have not done as well for the nations veterans as they have been proclaiming, when the American Legion admits the last year has been the best since 2001 that is saying something.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Diary of a Suicide: For two years Jason Ermer fought to make it home from Iraq. Last New Year’s Eve, he gave up.
It was just after midnight on Dec. 31, 2007, and bitterly cold outside, when two Ogden police officers knocked on the door of Jason Ermer’s home.
Earlier that night, Danny Murchie, an addictions counselor at the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Salt Lake City office, had called Ogden police and asked for a courtesy check on Ermer, his 28-year-old client, a recent Iraq war veteran. Murchie had talked with Ermer and feared he might harm himself.
When no one answered at the Ermer home, police followed footprints in the snow a few blocks into the Ogden Canyon foothills. Near a large boulder, a man’s body lay in the snow, blood pooling near his head. His breathing was slow and gargly.
Ermer was dressed in a black leather jacket and a baseball hat with the logo “Airborne.” When paramedics moved Ermer, barely breathing, to a stretcher, they found his black Ruger .45 pistol beneath him. Hours later, Ermer died at McKay-Dee Hospital Center.
A native of Roy, Utah, Jason Ermer served his country for a year in the northern Iraq city of Mosul in 2003. He was a soldier in the 37th Engineering Battalion of the 82nd Airborne division, later of the 101st Airborne. He was redeployed to Fort Bragg, N.C., in March 2005 and discharged from the Army seven months later. On Nov. 11, 2005, he returned to Utah with his wife Brandi and their newborn daughter Marley.
But Jason was scarcely the same man who had enlisted three and a half years earlier. He brought back to Utah constant pain from a parachuting injury to his neck and lower back, a growing addiction to painkillers and Iraq-fueled nightmares that wouldn’t let him sleep at night. One particularly graphic flashback plagued him—the last terrified look of an Iraqi child, who fell beneath the wheels of a Humvee Jason was driving near Mosul.
When he could hardly function anymore, Jason’s family says, he voluntarily entered the VA system for treatment. But the VA, after helping him with counseling, ultimately added insult to his injuries. In the early hours of Thanksgiving Day 2007, staff members suspected the confused veteran was high. In the emergency room, Jason later told his parents, he was held down and forcibly catheterized by several nurses and security personnel to obtain a urine sample for a drug test. His parents later obtained medical records from the VA that confirmed Jason’s story. The test, his parents add, came back negative. “Now I know what a woman feels like being raped,” he told his wife afterwards in tears. One month later, Jason was dead.
On a recent rainy night, 28-year-old Brandi Ermer stands beside the boulder where her husband shot himself. She looks toward her former home and says of Jason’s two-block journey to his suicide site: “It’s the longest walk anyone ever does.”
Jason’s suicide is a bitter symbol, a summation of issues that many Iraq veterans reportedly struggle with—marital and financial difficulties, health problems, post-traumatic stress disorder and drug addiction. His is also a journey that many other Iraq veterans in Utah are all too familiar with. Since the end of 2007, 130 Utah veterans have attempted suicide, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Of the seven Utah veterans who succeeded in taking their own lives since Jason’s death—down from 13 in 2007—six were from the Korean or Vietnam War era. Only Jason served in Iraq. Of the 130 attempts, however, almost a third were by veterans young enough to have served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Mike Koplin, suicide-prevention coordinator for the Salt Lake City VA office, is one of 150 such specialists appointed nationwide in April 2007. “The problem is increasing as vets come home and try to make the transition,” from soldier to civilian, Koplin says. For Iraq veteran and Salt Lake City antiwar activist Andy Figorski, Jason’s life and death offer a painful mirror of what might have been, indeed what still might be for other soldiers returning from the Middle East. “I could see myself in that kid, looking for a warm place, for acceptance in society,” he says. “He went to war thinking he was doing right in the world, promoting human rights, peace—then he ran over a kid in a Humvee and the downward spiral began.”
When Jason returned to Utah after his discharge in November 2005, he drove from Fort Bragg with his older brother, David, a captain at Riverdale City Fire Department. They planned on driving straight from North Carolina to Ogden, stopping only for dinner. As David later told the crowd at Jason’s funeral, “That didn’t work out too well.” When they reached Tennessee, they encountered rain “like we had never seen.” Tornadoes forced them to hole up in a small truck stop where they waited out the storm, “laughing at our luck.” They made it to their parents’ yellow-ribbon festooned home in three days.
Jason seemed safe at last. But in so many tragic ways, he never left that storm behind.
Allen and Rosa Ermer raised their five children in a Latter-day Saint household. No alcohol, no stimulants, as the Word of Wisdom dictates. Fourth child Jason entered a rebellion phase—tobacco, beer drinking with friends, a little weed now and then. “He got in a rough crowd,” younger brother Joey recalls.
His parents laugh good-naturedly about his teenage antics. He was a risk taker; he loved bull riding. They prefer to remember Jason’s loving nature. “He was very soft-hearted,” Rosa says. Allen says his fourth son was the emotional core of the family. “Since he’s been gone, there’s something missing in our lives.”
The Ermer family boasts a long record of military service. Allen did four years in the U.S. Navy and now helps keep F-16s flying through his job at Hill Air Force base as a software engineer. When youngest son Joey enlisted in the Army after 9/11, it was no surprise. A week later, Jason also enlisted. He told Brandi he wanted to protect his little brother. Two of the other three Ermer siblings have also served in the military.
Jason did his basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. Joey was there at the same time with his unit, prior to shipping out to Germany. Army regulations kept the brothers from fraternizing. They got around the rule by attending a nearby local LDS ward together. Jason confided in Joey how much he disliked army life—it was much more than simple homesickness or general malaise.
Joey was gung-ho. “I told my mom I’m not coming back,” he says today. “I wanted combat bad.” Yet Joey didn’t make it to Iraq. The hatch door of an armored vehicle hit him on the head while his unit was in Germany, damaging nerves at the back of his eyes. Overnight, he went from being the hero of his unit for his boxing prowess to an object of ridicule. Joey says his superiors bullied him with accusations of cowardice and malingering. He quit when he had the chance, forfeiting medical benefits. “I felt ashamed I’d gotten hurt,” he says. His unit went to Iraq without him.
Jason went to jump school. Parachuting from a plane meant an extra $150 each month. He also spent several months learning how to operate heavy machinery, with a goal of making that his trade in civilian life. Jason learned his brother wasn’t going to Iraq shortly before leaving for Kuwait with his own unit on April 1, 2003. Brandi Ermer says the news depressed her husband. “His brother gets to go home and away from this shit, and he’s stuck in it.”
THE BODY IN THE ROAD
Twelve days after Jason landed in Kuwait, 20 miles from the Iraq border, he wrote to Brandi, complaining about guard duty “with all our shit on (full battle rattle).” The infernal 130-degree heat left him beyond exhaustion.
Mosul, where Jason was stationed for much of his year in Iraq, is a desolate place, veteran Andy Figorski says, with “gray cloud sky, dingy asphalt and gray-khaki buildings.” Jason told his parents how desperately poor the Iraqis were. Whenever the soldiers distributed water among raggedy villagers, they were all but mugged.
After Jason’s unit finished repairing Mosul airport’s bomb-cratered runway and building baseball and football fields for the troops, his unit became infantry. In a letter to his parents, Jason foreshadowed his growing sense of despair. “We have no real mission here,” he wrote.
His father says his son bought Valium from Iraqi children on the street for his nerves. He wanted the medication to get him through guard duty at night in the tower of a former Iraqi army base. Once darkness fell, insurgents would fire mortars into the camp, he told Rosa. He and his battle buddies would sit there, wondering who was next to die.
Jason told his brother David about things he did or saw in the war that Allen’s oldest son refuses to share with his father. “I don’t know why,” Allen says. “It’s seems strange, especially now that Jason’s dead. Things must have happened, I don’t know.”
What Jason’s parents did learn shortly before his suicide was of his part in the death of an Iraqi child. Jason was driving the lead Humvee in a convoy when, he told his parents, Iraqi insurgents threw a boy at the vehicle to slow it down so they could attack. The boy grabbed hold of the side-view mirror and shouted at Jason in Arabic through the window. Jason couldn’t stop, otherwise he would have endangered the whole convoy. The boy fell under the wheels.
Jason told Brandi a different version. While the convoy was routinely slowing down, the boy jumped onto the vehicle. Children in filthy rags always swarmed around the soldiers, he told her, begging for food or money. The convoy picked up speed. The boy did not jump off.
Jason kept looking at his sergeant while the boy was shouting. “What do I do, what do I do?” Jason screamed.
“He might have a bomb,” the sergeant shouted. “Push him off.”
Jason pushed the boy away. The child fell beneath the vehicle. “He felt the whole Humvee run this kid over,” Brandi says. In the mirror, Jason saw the vehicles behind him swerve. The boy lay still in the middle of the road.
Jason’s military record has its blemishes. His parents say he was busted down from a specialist E4 to a private El after he shoved a sergeant. At a hearing on the incident, his comrades and superiors spoke up for him. The Army told him if he went to Afghanistan with his unit, his rank would be reinstated—or he could quit. Jason told Brandi he was done. He got his dragon stamp, which marks the end of service. Because of his otherwise exemplary service, his parents add, he was honorably discharged. A press officer at Fort Bragg, N.C., did not respond to a request for comment. Jason’s sudden departure from the military still angers his mother. “A good soldier doesn’t turn bad overnight,” she insists. Rosa and Allen believe Jason’s superiors were trying to provoke him into quitting because he was showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to the VA report on his death, Jason received no psychiatric treatment from the Army. Yet an Army service report referred to by the VA noted he’d “seen civilian injuries and deaths” and also suffered from “sleep disturbance” at Fort Bragg after his return, signaling perhaps, knowledge of Jason’s challenges.
Brandi first noticed something awry with Jason shortly after they moved back to Utah. At a friend’s barbecue, Brandi was in the kitchen when someone told her Jason was crying by the garage. “That’s not my husband,” she said. “He’s the guy kicking someone’s ass.” She found Jason in tears. He showed her a piece of paper from his wallet written in Arabic. It was the address of his “Iraqi friend,” he told her. One day while Jason was on guard duty, his friend came up to greet him, only to be blown apart by a mortar. “I had to pick pieces off of me,” he told Brandi.
In Roy, Jason found work with a company cutting trees away from power lines. He was in constant pain from a neck injury he received on a parachute jump in March 2005. A VA report notes Jason “became addicted to pain medications by time of discharge [from the Army], and for the last 18 months prior to admission [at the VA] was abusing opioids to feel better and deal with stress.”
All her son wanted, Rosa says, was to play with his two daughters, one by a relationship prior to Brandi. In video footage of Jason in his last year of life, he lifts then 2-year-old Marley into the air while they play in a pool. Even for something so simple, he needed painkillers. Jason’s consumption of Percocet and other narcotics mushroomed. He ate very little and the drugs damaged his stomach. His mother made him a cornstarch-based soup to help keep the food down.
Jason’s drug addiction isolated him from his wife. Brandi says she became frustrated with his lying and what she saw as his self-obsession. She didn’t want to leave him and their daughter alone for fear Marley might hurt herself while Jason was in a pain-medication stupor.
For Jason, there weren’t enough pills to feed his need. Rosa woke up one morning to find her son rifling through her husband’s drawer looking for painkillers. Both Allen and Brandi were taking prescription pain medications for their own back problems. Jason also bought drugs on the street.
Brandi gave him an ultimatum: Either he get help or move in with his parents. Jason agreed to seek help. His mother drove him to Salt Lake City for an appointment with VA addiction counselor Danny Murchie. Both his parents and widow praise Murchie for the sensitivity and commitment he showed Jason. Murchie did not respond to numerous requests for an interview.
According to Rosa, who sat in on Jason’s first session, Murchie told her son his problems with drugs were typical of veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. The only surprise, he added, was that Jason had steered clear of trouble with the law. That well might have changed had he lived. Brandi says Jason was planning to rob a pharmacy with a friend, go to the mountains east of Ogden to consume their haul and then face their wives afterwards. “What kind of logic is that?” Brandi says.
At the VA Medical Center, Rosa listened with Murchie as Jason described for the first time in her presence the child he killed while driving the Humvee. Every time he went to sleep, he said, his voice drenched with pain, he saw the child’s face, then his hand, as the boy desperately tried to pull himself up on the mirror.
HOLD HIM DOWN
On Nov. 16, 2007, Jason checked himself into the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medican Center in Salt Lake City. He told the admitting nurse he had taken 21 Lyrica tablets, a painkiller. Not that he wanted to commit suicide. He was just nervous, he said. Jason was admitted to the psychiatric unit. He got to know several Vietnam veterans who told him, his little brother Joey recalls, that he had to stop bottling up the war and tell people what happened. “‘You have to let it out,’ the vets told him, ‘or it’s going to destroy you,’” Joey says.
Widow Brandi and Jason’s parents have vastly different views on visiting him at the VA. Brandi felt he needed time alone to sort himself out. Jason’s parents visited whenever they could. On Thanksgiving Eve 2007, Jason phoned his mother and asked her to pick him up the next day at 8 a.m. The VA releases patients who have families to go home to on Thanksgiving. Jason was excited for the holiday. The treatment was going well, and his voice was clear and upbeat.
Sometime in the early morning before his mother arrived, Jason took more of his medication than was prescribed. He became confused. Convinced he was high, a doctor took him to the VA’s emergency room. Jason told his family a nurse put him in a room and gave him a cup for a urine specimen to test for drugs. Confused, he went out into the hallway to look for the restroom. The nurse ordered him back into the room. He came out again. A second nurse told him to return to the room. Two VA security guards abruptly entered the room with the nurses. They pinned Jason down on the bed and pulled down his pajama bottoms. One of the nurses forced a catheter into his penis to obtain the sample.
When Rosa got to her son’s room that Thanksgiving morning, his bed was stripped. An orderly told her Jason became confused and was taken to the emergency room. “We thought he was on meth,” Rosa says the orderly told her.
She went to the emergency room with Joey. An orderly brought Jason to her in a wheelchair. For the first time ever, Rosa says, Jason cursed in front of her. “Help me get the fuck out of here,” he said. “They hurt me.” While they waited for the psychiatrist, Rosa says, she got her son to lie down on his bed and covered him with her coat. A nurse brought him a blanket. Jason started to fall asleep, then jumped up. “Don’t leave me,” he begged.
Later, he turned to Joey, dazed. “Do we have enough ammunition?” he blurted out. Soon after, the family took him home.
“All he wanted was the bathroom but he couldn’t tell them,” Rosa now says in tears. “He was so confused. And that’s when they hurt him. He felt like he was raped.”
Jill Atwood, a former KSL-TV reporter turned VA public affairs director, says she cannot comment on the specifics of Jason’s case due to federal patient-privacy regulations. As to policy on forcible catheterization, she says Jason’s “patient plan ran according to practiced guidelines,” where tests are done to rule out or confirm a diagnosis.
Allen Ermer says he was told his son’s case led to a hearing, staff reassignments and subsequent changes in hospital procedure. Forcible catheterization only occurs now, he believes, when a veteran’s life is in immediate danger.
Rosa suspects that decades of dealing with homeless Vietnam veterans who, while not willing to relinquish their drug habits, come to the VA in the winter for a warm bed and food, shaped how some nurses in the emergency room deal with veterans in general. Otherwise, she is at a loss to explain VA personnel’s harsh treatment of her son when he was there of his own free will. Drug addict or not, Rosa says, any veteran “needs to be treated with respect.”
MY BABY’S GONE
Jason refused to return to the hospital. Allen was concerned enough about his son’s depression to ask him for his handgun. Jason handed over the .45 pistol. Brandi was furious; she wanted a gun in the house for protection. “Are you suicidal?” she remembers asking Jason. He told her that “was the pussy way out.” The only reason he gave the gun to his father, he told her, was to stop him “freaking out.” He telephoned his father to get the gun back. Allen returned the weapon.
By Christmas 2007, Jason seemed to improve. He hadn’t stolen Brandi’s pain medication for a while. Then, once again, her pills disappeared. Compared to the muscular man who returned from Iraq, Jason had grown emaciated. Brandi bought him a pair of jeans, 29-inches at the waist, for Christmas because his older pair kept slipping down.
Rosa looks at photographs of her gaunt son during his last weeks of life, a tissue clutched in her fist. He was unbearably sad, she says. He went to his parents’ home for his last Christmas. Passing each other in the hallway, Jason hugged his mom tighter and longer than usual. “You know what?” she said, “It doesn’t matter how old you are. You’re always going to be my baby.”
THAT MY EYES MIGHT SEE
On Dec. 30, 2007, Brandi left the house at 6.30 p.m. to party with friends. Jason had blanked on her birthday the day before, she says, and she wanted a break. She left him and Marley playing with Play-Doh. The next time she saw him was seven hours later at Ogden’s McKay-Dee Hospital Center, surrounded by his family. Calls to Brandi from Jason, drug counselor Murchie, the police and Jason’s family in the first hours of that morning went unanswered, and she finally called back Jason’s older brother, David. She screamed when he told her Jason was badly hurt.
When Brandi reached the hospital, Jason was on life support. Blood-soaked towels shielded the family from the sight of the exit wound on the left side of his head. The doctor told Rosa there was nothing he could do.
“Oh, honey, what did you do?” Brandi said when she entered the room. She gave permission to turn off the machines. “I couldn’t get mad at him any more,” she says, “because he was gone.” Brandi asked the family to leave for a moment. She lay on Jason’s chest and told him, “Don’t fight.” She heard the blood gurgling down through his body.
The doctor switched off life support. Jason took several breaths and died three minutes later at 2:18 a.m. He was 28 years old. Brandi donated his kidneys, skin and corneas. She later received a letter of thanks from a woman, once blind, who now sees with Jason’s corneas.
Jason left a suicide note for Brandi. He tore in half a birthday card envelope with her name on it and wrote on the back: “I’ll never hurt you again. I love you too much to stay here and keep hurting you. Please sober up and keep taking care of our daughter. I know you can do it your stronger then me. Love, Jason.’’
In a postscript, he asked her to give his father his commendation medal and the certificate signed by Gen. David Petraeus, the former U.S. Commander in Iraq.
It’s a tiny, fragile piece of paper to mark the end of a life. Says Brandi: “It’s just not long enough.”
Jason was buried in frozen ground in Roy City Cemetery on Jan. 5, 2008. A military honor guard attended. As the last notes of Taps faded away under an overcast sky, two soldiers picked up the corners of the American flag draped over the casket and folded it into a triangle. A third pressed it to his chest, tucking in the edges. He knelt down before Brandi, then gave her the flag. She broke down in tears as Jason’s parents looked on. [Graveside service video below, provided by family]
Ten months later, standing under a slate-gray sky by the grave, Allen and Rosa mourn all they have lost. “I want to feel about the war like Jason told me,” Allen says. “He said we did some good there, there were people that needed us there.” So all they can do, he adds, is live with it. “I don’t know what else to do.”
Brandi prefers to do her mourning at the boulder where Jason shot himself. Sometimes she takes Marley up there to play, although their 3-year-old daughter doesn’t know it was where her father gave up on life. A VA examiner concluded that Jason’s death was “related to military-acquired mental and physical disorders.” Brandi and Marley, who live in a new home Brandi is buying with a VA loan, will both receive a free college education courtesy of the U.S. government.
Two months after Jason’s death, Marley let go of a balloon in the kitchen and it flew out to the garden and up into the sky. Brandi told her Daddy would catch it for her. Marley ran out back to look for him. The despair on her daughter’s face when she returned empty-handed devastated Brandi, who gave her little girl the simplest explanation she could. Now, when Marley lets go of a balloon, she and her mother watch as it races up and up until it disappears. Then Brandi says, “Daddy caught it.”
I am sad for the daughter and the family, they still have to deal with the memories, his pain is over, now they have to deal with the aftermath. This is how people with PTSD and depression deal with it sometimes, he is not the first to do this, and unfortunately he will NOT be the last. How many more have to die? The men taking their own lives while trying to cope with PTSD are not counted in the death toll from the war, but just like the Vietnam vets that have and still are dying at their own hands, either thru overdoses or however they decide to end their misery, the effects of the war have killed them the same as an IED or an insurgent, etc. Bottom line is they are still gone from the living.
Now they just live on in the memories of the people who knew them.
Traumatic Servicemembers Group Life Insurance benefits expanded
By Jeff Schogol, Stars and Stripes
Stars and Stripes online edition, Thursday, December 4, 2008
ARLINGTON, Va. – Traumatic Servicemembers Group Life Insurance benefits have been expanded to include new injuries.
Under the insurance program, which began in late 2005, servicemembers are eligible for up to $100,000 in cash payouts for traumatic injuries, such as loss of a limb or sight, and severe burns.
Now TSGLI benefits cover 15-day hospital visits; treating malignant bone tumors, known as “limb salvage;” uniplegia, or total paralysis of a limb; and facial reconstruction, according to Army Human Resources Command.
Additionally, TSGLI benefits now cover second- as well as third-degree burns, new types of amputations and loss of sight for 120 days or more, said Col. John F. Sackett, chief of the Army’s TSGLI Branch.
In another change, servicemembers or veterans suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury are eligible for TSGLI benefits if they need help in two or more of the following areas:
· Going to the toilet
· Transferring, such as getting out of bed
Previously, servicemembers and veterans suffering from TBI had to be completely dependent on a caregiver to qualify for TSGLI benefits, Sackett said.
“We estimate about 1,640 people will now will be eligible for $52.6 million in TSGLI benefits,” said Stephen Wurtz, of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The changes, which are retroactive to Oct. 7, 2001, were prompted by a VA study into whether the TSGLI program had overlooked any injuries, said Wurtz, deputy assistant director for insurance at the VA.
The VA has already made payments to several dozen people since the changes became effective shortly before Thanksgiving, Wurtz said.
Each of the services are now reviewing TSGLI claims that were denied, or people who did not receive the full $100,000, to see if they now qualify for TSGLI benefits, he said.
The Army, which makes up 68 percent of TSGLI claims, is reviewing each of the 2,973 TSGLI claims that have been denied to see if the claimants now qualify for benefits, Sackett said.
AF Family Liaisons Help the Wounded
December 01, 2008
American Forces Press Service|by Gerry J. Gilmore
WASHINGTON - Air Force family liaison officers have an important role in assisting wounded warriors and their families, a San Antonio-based Air Force senior noncommissioned officer said.
The Air Force's family liaison officer program "truly is the lifeblood of taking care of our war wounded," said Chief Master Sgt. Stephen B. Page, assigned to the 12th Flying Training Wing at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. Chief Page has assisted in the selection of family liaison officers that serve in his area.
Family liaison officers, or as FLOs, are appointed by local commanders, according to the Air Force's survivor assistance Web site. They provide assistance to surviving family members of deceased servicemembers and also render aid and support to injured military members and their families.
"Our ability to take care of our people is paramount," Chief Page, a 30-year Air Force veteran, said. "This program is so vitally important for us to ensure that we rehabilitate and put our Airmen back on to their feet to the best ability that we can -- not just for them, but [also] to take care of their families."
Four family liaison officers operating in his area serve seven military families, Chief Page said, noting that such assignments can last for years. FLOs support injured warrior families, he said, by attending to tasks such as medical appointments, housing, transportation, financial issues, daycare and more.
"I'm looking for the absolute best" people to serve as family liaison officers, Chief Page said. "The second thing is I'm looking for a person who can be and remain committed, because this is a long-term process."
Senior Airman Daniel Acosta, 24, has served as a family liaison officer at Randolph for about a year now. Airman Acosta himself is a wounded warrior, having lost his left arm to amputation due to a roadside bomb in Baghdad in December 2005.
Airman Acosta assists Staff Sgt. Matt Flaydon and his wife, Annette. The injured staff sergeant is receiving treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. A bomb blinded Flaydon near Baghdad, and he also lost his left arm to amputation, Airman Acosta said.
"The purpose of the family liaison program is to basically take all the stress off the family member so that they can focus on their loved one who is recovering," Airman Acosta said.
Airman Acosta said he does "everything and anything" to assist Flaydon's wife, Annette, including running errands and scheduling appointments.
"This program is great," Airman Acosta said. Family liaison officers, he said, can be especially helpful to spouses with limited knowledge of the military.
"That family liaison officer is that person who helps, who closes that gap and answers all those questions that the spouse cannot answer," Airman Acosta said.
The Air Force is totally dedicated to taking care of its wounded warriors and their families, said John Beckett, the Washington-based program manager for the Air Force's Wounded Warrior and Survivor Care programs.
It takes teamwork to support wounded warriors, Mr. Beckett said, citing the "fantastic" quality of today's military medical care.
"People are surviving that would have never survived in previous wars," Mr. Beckett said.
Determined, resilient Airmen, Mr. Beckett said, are working to recover from very serious wounds, some of which required amputation of limbs. Some severely injured warriors, he said, participate in marathon races.
"It is unbelievable to watch these folks," Mr. Beckett said. "They're just pushing and moving forward."
Requirements identical for Defense, VA health record system
By Bob Brewin, email@example.com 12/03/08
Development of a joint inpatient electronic health records system will satisfy almost all the requirements of the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, according to a long sequestered report obtained by Nextgov.
Comment on this article in The Forum.The report, prepared by Booz Allen Hamilton in January, said Defense and VA share a common definition of an inpatient electronic health record and both share similar functional requirements to manage patient care. Booz Allen analyzed more than 1,800 functional requirements and determined that 97 percent of them were similar and only 3 percent were specific to each department. The differences primarily involved admission, discharge and transfer capabilities.
"This overwhelming level of jointness confirms the main hypothesis of this study that DoD and VA care for patients in a similar manner and thus have similar functional requirements," the report concluded.
Defense is working with VA to develop a system architecture to manage both inpatient and outpatient electronic health records, Charles Campbell, the chief information officer at the Military Health System said in September. The fiscal 2009 Defense Authorization Bill requires Defense and VA to adopt technology-neutral guidelines and standards so the two agencies can share electronic health records and soldiers' health records can move seamlessly with them from the battlefield to hospitals and clinics run by VA.
Defense operates an outpatient electronic health record system called the Armed Forces Health Technology Longitudinal Application, but it does not operate an inpatient system. VA has an inpatient record system called the Computerized Patient Record System, which is a component of an electronic health care system called the Veterans Health Information System and Architecture. Booz Allen reported that VA needs to modernize this latter system.
The need to update CPRS and the requirement to deploy an inpatient electronic health record in the Military Heath System presents a "unique opportunity" for both departments to investigate the feasibility of a common system, the Booz Allen report noted.
Even though Defense has unique requirements for battlefield or theater medicine that VA does not have, the study determined there were few differences in the kind of system needed to help care for a patient at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington or on the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan.
Booz Allen interviewed military theater health experts and concluded that there were few differences in the functional requirements for a battlefield health system and a system used at Walter Reed. "The main functional differences are actually features that are not needed in theater," the report noted.
Booz Allen received input on its study from 24 commercial organizations, including electronic health record companies. The industry urged Defense and VA to shift from building a customized in-house electronic health record systems to one based on commercial systems.
The IT consulting firm Gartner, working on Booz Allen's behalf, examined electronic health record systems from seven vendors and said only health system developers Epic Systems Corp. and Cerner Corp. have fully integrated systems that support all Defense's and VA's requirements. Epic fielded a $3 billion electronic health record systems for Kaiser Permanente, the nation's largest private hospital company, and Cerner won a contract in 2005 to deploy its laboratory information system to Defense hospitals and clinics worldwide.
Joseph Dal Molin, founder of e-cology Corp. in Toronto and who works on deployments of electronic health record systems, said instead of looking to commercial sources for a joint inpatient electronic health record, Defense and Veterans Affairs should upgrade VA's inpatient system, which meets a key requirement of the Booz Allen study, user satisfaction.
Steve Arnold, chairman of the global electronic health record task force for the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, said Defense and VA should develop a converged electronic health record system that can follow a patient through the continuum of care from a battlefield aid station to care in a VA hospital.
Arnold said such a converged system should be developed on commercial electronic health record systems because VA's system aging. Dal Molin disagreed, and said it would be less expensive to upgrade VA's Veterans Health Information System and Architecture than to build one from scratch.
Booz Allen estimated it would cost between $1.4 billion and $5.2 billion to develop the joint system and take from six to 17 years to deploy.
Booz Allen recommended that Defense and VA conduct a cost/benefit analysis of various options to integrating electronic health record systems, including maintenance of the present systems as is, procuring and deploying commercial systems, and leveraging the capabilities of existing Defense and VA systems.
In July, S. Ward Casscells, assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs said he favored a "converged evolution" of the Veterans Health Information System and Architecture and the Armed Forces Health Technology Longitudinal Application into one system.
A spokeswoman for the Military Health System said Defense and VA have not decided how to adopt the Booz Allen recommendations and does not expect a decision until January.
I am not a government contractor, I am a disabled veteran, and have watched and lived thru the creation of "Vista" the VA electronic records system, when my open heart surgery was done back in 1997 all of the records were on old paper files, now everything is done on the Vista system, there is no reason to spend billions creating a "new system" merge DOD's system into the Vista system and use special access codes for access to DOD files to keep employees from being in area of files they have no business in, VA does it now, why create"new"?
Gulf War Illness, DOD and VA Ripping Vets: Looking to Obama
by MAL Contends, Fri Dec 05, 2008 at 09:20:48 AM EST
Over 100,000 American troops in the 1990-1991 Gulf War came back and suffered an array of debilitating ailments known collectively as "Gulf War illness."
Amputations, brain and central nervous damage are among the results.
Gulf War veterans are in a word: Pissed.
A report released last month, 17 years after the first Iraq war (published under a Congressional mandate), entitled "Gulf War Illness and the Health of Gulf War Veterans," was researched in response to the U.S. Dept of Veterans Affairs' (VA) inaction as 10,000s of veterans sought treatment and benefits.
The 400-plus-page report finally affirms that Gulf War Illness is a genuine medical condition, as suffering veterans and their families have been saying for years, but the Research Advisory Committee (RAC) on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses (created by Congress in 1998) scientific work is seen as being undercut by today's Department of Defense (DoD) and VA.
"As described throughout the report, scientific evidence leaves no question that Gulf War illness is a real condition with real causes and serious consequences for affected veterans. Research has also shown that this pattern of illness does not occur after every war and cannot be attributed to psychological stressors during the Gulf War," reads the report.
Michael Kilpatrick, a spokesman for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, comes under especially harsh criticism, representative of what many veterans see as negligence as usual in reaction to the report's findings.
Writes one Gulf War veteran activist in an e-mail circulating among veterans' groups:
Our good 'Doctor' Michael Kilpatrick (He is the one that said the burning trash pit in Basra, Iraq that is sickening hundreds of service members is 'Perfectly Safe' last week) is now stating that Gulf War Illness is due to: 'pre-existing medical conditions before they deployed to the Gulf.'
Despite a 450 page [Research Advisory Committee] RAC report stating the complete opposite. So, the good 'Doctor' is saying that we were all sick and deployed to fight a war with cancers, ALS, MS, and Parkinson's Disease to only name a few of the illnesses that Gulf War Veterans have now developed. Wow, I didn't realize our military was that disabled? Amazing. I never saw anyone that sick in the Marines or Army Special Forces I worked with.
The sense of betrayal by Gulf War veterans is reaching a degree of disgust and anger not seen since Vietnam.
Veterans are looking to president-elect Obama to set things write.
Continues the veteran's e-mail:
Oh, by the way... The Chairman of the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illness has just been notified of the VA/DOD's response. Pres.-Elect Obama is next to be notified.
Tags: Gulf War Illness, Michael Kilpatrick, U.S. Department of Defense,
Veterans' long-term problems linked to traumatic brain injuries
An Institute of Medicine report says even mild brain injuries seem associated with problems such as seizures, aggression and dementia reminiscent of Alzheimer's disease.
By Jia-Rui Chong
December 5, 2008
Traumatic brain injuries, one of the signature injuries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, can be linked to such long-term problems as seizures, aggression and dementia reminiscent of Alzheimer's disease, according to an Institute of Medicine report released Thursday.
Even mild brain injuries, the report found, appear associated with some long-term problems.
"We need to be prepared to take care of these people, and we need to be observant," said Yochelson, who was not involved in the institute's report.
A recent Rand Corp. report on which Yochelson worked estimated that 300,000 troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan -- 19% -- had suffered traumatic brain injuries. Such injuries have cost the nation $554 million in treatment and lost productivity, that report estimated.
The brain can be traumatically injured many ways, not all of them predictable: exposure to an energy source, for example, as well as bullet or shrapnel wounds or blows to the head. The injured person does not necessarily lose consciousness, doctors say.
The report by the nonprofit Institute of Medicine was the latest installment in a series of studies commissioned by the Department of Veterans Affairs on the health of veterans from the 1991 Gulf War and current conflicts.
The study was intended to help VA officials understand what conditions they should look for in brain-injured patients and to help officials determine disability benefits, said Dr. George W. Rutherford, chairman of the committee that wrote the report.
The authors reviewed 1,900 studies on traumatic brain injuries, looking for problems that persisted more than six months. Most of the research focused on civilians.
The report showed a "big hole" in medical knowledge about blast injuries, which have only recently come to doctors' attention because they are hallmarks of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Rutherford said.
"The good news is, [service members] are surviving injuries they had not survived in the past," Rutherford said. "The bad news is, since they didn't survive in previous conflicts, we don't have a lot of background experience."
The group found significant evidence connecting moderate or severe brain injuries to problems such as depression, unemployment and Parkinson's-disease-like tremors.
VA officials, who said they would carefully review the report's recommendations, have 60 days to decide whether the long-term problems should be treated as related to brain-injured veterans' military service.
Military officials said they knew about the issues cited in the report and had dedicated $300 million in the last two years for research on traumatic brain injury.
They have also recently started a long-term study on blast injuries.
"In terms of funding . . . we have received tremendous support, and as we identify emerging requirements, we will continue to gain the support we need," said Army Brig. Gen. Loree K. Sutton, who heads the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury.
She and Air Force Lt. Col. Michael S. Jaffee, who heads the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, said they were prepared to deal with the long-term challenges.
"It's not that we completely have all the answers right now, but we are on a path of getting there," Jaffee said.
Paul Sullivan, who heads the advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense, said he hoped the VA and Department of Defense would follow through.
The agencies "cannot deny that there is a TBI crisis," Sullivan said. "We can't let this get swept under the rug."
Chong is a Times staff writer.
VA's New York office among slowest to process claims
The New York office of Veterans Affairs is among the slowest in the nation to process new disability claims, with local veterans languishing six months or longer in one of three cases.
"It is much higher than we would like," said Michael Walcoff, the VA's deputy undersecretary of benefits. "It is something we have been concerned about."
Only the Detroit regional office, where 33.3 percent of claims take at least six months, processed claims slower than New York as of Nov. 15, according to VA data. New York, with 32.4 percent of claims taking that long, was tied with Pittsburgh for the nation's second slowest processing center. The national average is 21 percent.
Walcoff said the agency is addressing the backlog at its Manhattan office by hiring about 30 veterans service representatives over the past 18 months - a 16 percent staff increase.
The VA became so concerned that employees had misplaced key documents such as marriage certificates and medical records that they offered amnesty to encourage their return. Some 700 documents were recovered anonymously, Walcoff said.
The massive agency has already been pummeled by accusations that employees have lost, misplaced or shredded documents across the country.
Three weeks ago, the agency decided to allow veterans who submitted claims between April 14, 2007, and Oct. 14 of this year to reopen claims in cases where they believe the agency had lost their documents.
Those dates correspond with a period in which VA inspectors found evidence that claims-related documents were being improperly shredded. Claims refiled by Nov. 17, 2009, would receive benefits that correspond to the original filing date.
The irregularities in the New York office are only the latest in a string of embarrassing revelations about an agency that is expected to see a large increase in claims, as more than 1.6 million personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan continue leaving the military.
The VA ousted its New York regional director in October after a summerlong investigation found employees were affixing phony dates to claims to make it appear they were being processed on time. Investigators also turned up large quantities of unprocessed mail.
Last month, two national veterans groups sued to force the VA to handle claims within 90 days, saying vets with physical or psychological troubles often don't get services for a year or more. "Once the paperwork is filed, the individual just waits and waits," said Francisco Muñiz III, an officer with the Nassau County chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America, one plaintiff. "For someone who has lost a limb or is disabled, these individuals have no recourse."
Walcoff said he could not be certain that documents have not been improperly shredded at the New York office, which is responsible for the claims of some 800,000 veterans living in eastern New York State. But he said an October inspection did not show evidence of shredding in New York, and that the dating scandal did not reduce the retroactive benefits to which veterans were entitled.
I am curious about how many documents were found in Columbia SC, since they had one of the highest number of documents found in the shredder bin, my claim is entering it's eigth year 8 WTH, why has it taken this long?
Thursday, December 4, 2008
VA Opening 31 New Outpatient Clinics
World-Class Health Care Brought Closer to More Veterans
WASHINGTON (Dec. 4, 2008) - Veterans will have easier access to
world-class health care under a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) plan
to open 31 new outpatient clinics in 16 states.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake today announced VA will
establish new clinics in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida,
Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota,
Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Vermont.
"VA is committed to providing world-class health care to the men and
women who have served this nation," Peake said. "These new clinics will
bring VA's top-notch care closer to the veterans who have earned it."
With 153 hospitals and about 745 community-based clinics, VA operates
the largest integrated health care system in the country. VA's medical
care budget of more than $41 billion this year will provide health care
to about 5.8 million people during nearly 600,000 hospitalizations and
more than 62 million outpatient visits.
"Community-based medicine is better medicine," said Dr. Michael Kussman,
VA's Under Secretary for Health. "It makes preventative care easier for
patients, helps health care professionals have closer relationships with
their patients and permits easier follow-ups for patients with chronic
The community-based outpatient clinics, or CBOCs, will become
operational by late 2010, with some opening in 2009. Local VA officials
will keep communities and their veterans informed of milestones in the
creation of the new CBOCs.
VA's Proposed Sites for New Outpatient Clinics
Alabama - Monroe County (2010)
Arkansas - Faulkner County (2010), Pope County (2010)
California - Lake County (2010), Oakhurst (2010), Susanville (2010),
Yuba County (2010)
Florida - Brandon (2010), Clermont (2010)
Georgia -- Blairsville (2010)
Hawaii - Leeward (Honolulu, 2010)
Illinois - Carbondale (2009), Harrisburg (2010), Sterling (2010)
Iowa -- Decorah (2010)
Maryland - Fort Meade (2010), Montgomery County (2010)
Michigan - Bad Axe (2010), Cadillac (2010), Cheboygan (2010), Grayling
Minnesota - Southern central border (2010), Southwest metro area (exact
locations to be determined, 2010)
Mississippi - Pike County (2010)
Missouri - Excelsior Springs (2009), Sikeston (2009), Sedalia (2010)
North Carolina - Edenton-Elizabeth City (2010), Goldsboro (2010)
Pennsylvania - Cranberry Township (2009)
Vermont - Brattleboro (2010)
VA asks for more review and recommendations of Gulf War Illness report
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has sent the October 2008 report from the VA Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses to the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine (IOM) for review and recommendations.
The October report from the advisory committee identified potential causes for -- and asserted that research supports the existence of -- a multi-symptom condition resulting from service in the 1990 - 1991 Gulf War, which the committee identified as Gulf War Illness (GWI).
The congressionally mandated committee presented its 450-page report last month to Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Peake. It's the first time the full range of scientific research and government investigation on Gulf War illness has been compiled.
"The extensive body of scientific research now available consistently indicates that Gulf War illness is real, that it is the result of neurotoxic exposures during Gulf War deployment, and that few veterans have recovered or substantially improved with time," the report states.
Gulf War illness is typically characterized by a combination of memory and concentration problems, persistent headaches, unexplained fatigue and widespread pain, and also might include chronic digestive problems, respiratory symptoms and skin rashes, according to a release from the Boston University School of Public Health, which helped conduct the study.
The report states that about a quarter of the 697,000 veterans of the first Gulf War suffer from the illness, which is caused by exposure to toxic chemicals, including pesticides and a drug administered to protect troops against nerve gas. No effective treatments have yet been found.
In Alabama, 3,700 Army and Air National Guard members deployed to the Persian Gulf in 1990 and 1991, according to data from the Alabama National Guard. Information on the number of area veterans suffering from Gulf War illness was not readily available Wednesday.
The report recommends that more research be done on the illness and possible treatments, but no benefit or policy changes are currently being made.
The committee's review included hundreds of studies of Gulf War veterans, extensive research in other human populations, studies on toxic exposures in animal models, and government investigations related to events and exposures in the Gulf War.
Because VA has traditionally and by law relied upon IOM for independent and credible reviews of the science behind these particular veterans'
health issues, Peake has asked IOM to review the advisory committee's report before VA officially responds to the report's conclusions.
I will repeat what I have stated before, sending anything to the IOM for further review is a watse of time, look at DR Page's previous studies from the MUFA unit and he's never seen a health problem from exposures, they ignore known studies if it shows expensive outcomes as he did when he was doing the March 2003 Sarin Report for the Gulf War veterans, how do I know this?
I am one of the 7120 veterans used in the control group, the human experimentation subjects of Edgewood Arsenal's cold war program that involved 254 substances, Sarin was just one of these compounds, Mustard agents, BZ, LSD, PCP, etc you name it and they played with it on the soldiers.
There is a report the the National Institute of Health published in Jan 1994 showing many medical problems from exposure to Sarin, cardiac and pulmonary being the main problems.
They also ignored the long term study published by SIPRI in 1975 written by DR Karl Heinz Lohs of Germany who treated Wermacht soldiers from 1946 to 1974 that had worked in the Third Reichs chemical muntions areas the symptoms are the same as the Gulf War symptoms coincidence? I doubt it.
VA Recognizes ALS Link to Military Service
Veterans with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) may receive needed support for themselves and their families after the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced last month that ALS will become a presumptively compensable illness for all veterans with 90 days or more of continuously active service in the military. VA based its decision primarily on a November 2006 report by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine (IOM) on the association between active-duty service and ALS.
The report, titled Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in Veterans: Review of the Scientific Literature, analyzed numerous previous studies on the issue and concluded that “there is limited and suggestive evidence of an association between military service and later development of ALS.”
“ALS is a disease that progresses rapidly, once it is diagnosed,” explained VA Secretary Dr. James Peake in a statement. “There simply isn’t time to develop the evidence needed to support compensation claims before many veterans become seriously ill. My decision will make those claims much easier to process, and for them and their families to receive the compensation they have earned through their service to our nation.”
ALS, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neuromuscular disease that affects about 20,000 to 30,000 people of all races and ethnicities in the United States, is often relentlessly progressive, and is almost always fatal. The disease causes degeneration of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that leads to muscle weakness, muscle atrophy, and spontaneous muscle activity. Currently, the cause of ALS is unknown, and there is no effective treatment.
The new interim final regulation applies to all applications for benefits received by VA on or after September 23, 2008, or that are pending before VA, the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, or the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on that date. VA will work to identify and contact veterans with ALS, including those whose claims for ALS were previously denied, through direct mailings and other outreach programs.
Deciphering Today’s Signature War Injury Without More Knowledge, TBI and PTSD Are Ticking Time Bombs
Deciphering Today’s Signature War Injury Without More Knowledge, TBI and PTSD Are Ticking Time Bombs
By Beryl Lieff Benderly | Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008 | Share This | Print
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan brought the American military some unpleasant surprises, prominent among them the vicious effectiveness of cheap, small armaments such as mines, roadside bombs, and rocket-propelled grenades. But the soldiers, commanders, and strategists in Iraq and Afghanistan are not the only ones struggling to adapt.
Across the nation, in hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices both military and civilian, health care providers are facing unprecedented challenges in dealing with these weapons’ results. Among the most puzzling is a set of injuries widely considered a medical “signature” of this conflict, and one that raises clinical and scientific questions thus far unanswered.
This is the combination of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. TBI is a force to the head that damages the brain and impairs its function, with the extent and kind of harm depending on the exact location and scope of the injury. PTSD is a terrifying and often disabling anxiety disorder caused by the experience of violent trauma.
Any blast powerful enough to cause TBI is also powerful enough to cause PTSD, so a high—though unknown—percentage of the many exposed to blasts suffer from both. The scientific literature finds that “anywhere form 20% to 60%” of blast victims have PTSD, says Maxine Krengel, PhD, clinical neuropsychologist at the Department of Veterans Affairs Poly Trauma Network Site in Boston. “It’s huge.” The circumstances of the “event itself” indicate TBI, Krengel says. For example, “did the somebody have a loss of consciousness? If so, for how long?” At least mild TBI is therefore also very common.
A major clinical challenge is that the symptoms of the two conditions overlap—although the conditions are very different in their natures—making diagnosis often “very, very tricky,” Krengel says. TBI causes physiological damage to brain tissue that can result in cognitive deficits and reduced emotional control, among many other problems. PTSD is a learned connection between a traumatic event and a set of responses, which can include nightmares, flashbacks, and constant anxiety and can lead sufferers to alcohol, drugs, and even suicide. But the two conditions share many markers, including sleep disruption, irritability, personality changes, difficulty concentrating and remembering, depression, and more.
To add to the complication, the presence of one condition can interfere with the treatment of the other. And to make things even more uncertain, the type and extent of the brain damage caused by the compression wave of a blast appears to differ considerably from the injuries that form the basis of current scientific understanding of TBI.
“Most of the TBI research has been done in survivors of either motor vehicle accidents or sports injuries—a quarterback [who] gets knocked unconscious” or a driver who hits his head against the steering wheel, says Matthew Friedman, MD, PhD, Executive Director of the National Center on PTSD and professor of psychiatry at Dartmouth medical school. “But the real question that a lot of people are raising is, given the tremendous impact of an explosion, can it really compare to the impact of even a 350 pound defensive end knocking you to the ground? Even though that’s pretty bad, is it anything to compare to a bomb blowing up your Humvee and killing the person sitting beside you?”
Beyond a difference in strength of the impact, Krengel adds, the percussive wave of an explosion acts differently on tissue than an ordinary blow. “The blast impacts the air-filled cavities in the body, every air-filled cavity,” she says. “It’s different in different areas and also depending on how close you are to the blast.”
What is known about the impact of blasts on the brain essentially comes from animal models. “But in the animal literature there is a difference in what the connectivity looks like”—in other words, how the brain’s parts work together—“in blast injury versus traumatic brain injury, that we are typically used to seeing,” Krengel says.
“And then the second piece is that so many of these people have had more than one blast injury,” Friedman continues. So the crucial but as yet unresolved scientific question, he says, is “How generalizable is the sports injury or motor vehicle accident to what is coming into Walter Reed or VA hospitals these days?”
Figuring Out How to Help
The point is not just to study the problems with more science, but to find the best ways of helping suffering human beings, Friedman and Krengel emphasize. “We have two fabulous treatments for PTSD,” says Friedman. “These are evidence-based treatments and…vigorous review recently by the Institute of Medicine has verified their effectiveness.” One treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy, uses systematic, Socratic challenges to thinking about the traumatic experience to help patients restructure their thinking. The other, exposure therapy, breaks the Pavlovian connection between the event and the response with guided confrontation with the troubling memories. Beyond that, several medications help control the symptoms, though they do not resolve the basic issues. If medication is used alone, the symptoms return when treatment ends. Successful psychotherapy, however, permanently frees people from the terrors of PTSD. Which type of psychotherapy works better in a given case depends on the individual, but, Friedman says, in tests of otherwise normal individuals, both overall “perform extremely well and equally well.”
There are no drugs approved for TBI, although some appear to provide some benefit. They are not, however, the same drugs useful for PTSD.
But blast victims very often also have some degree of TBI, and depending where and how it damaged the brain, TBI can reduce the effectiveness of either or both of the two best PTSD treatments. Cognitive damage can impair the intellectual resources needed for cognitive behavioral therapy. The loss of emotional inhibition caused by brain injury can make a person unable to tolerate the emotional stress involved in exposure therapy. Mild TBI very often resolves over time, potentially allowing psychotherapy to work, but clinicians do not consider waiting a sound option because, as Friedman says, “six months is a long time to suffer.”
An additional potential complication is that a damaged brain may not tolerate medications very well. There are no drugs approved for TBI, although some appear to provide some benefit. They are not, however, the same drugs useful for PTSD.
A number of studies and proposals are underway, many of them sponsored by the VA or the Department of Defense, Krengel says, noting that, “The VA system is developing treatment modules or manuals to treat the pain issues, the PTSD, the depression.” Whether sufficient resources have been devoted to studying these conditions is a matter of opinion. But, Friedman notes, “It’s probably going to be a few years until we have definitive data. What I can tell you is that we understand the challenge and research is ongoing.”
Until the big questions get answered, “the challenge is to figure out what to do for these folks. We have some good stuff on PTSD, other [work] on TBI. The question is how applicable, how useful is it going to be for this more complicated situation. Can we utilize what works in the less-complicated cases and how much are we going to have to improvise?” At present, clinicians are improvising ad hoc modifications to treatments to make them more usable by individuals with impairments, while waiting for research to provide more answers.
Is It Enough?
Beyond these questions of basic knowledge and treatment are large issues of access to appropriate care. Although the VA maintains a number of specialized polytrauma centers in various parts of the country for dealing with complicated cases, for an unknown but undoubtedly large number of veterans distances can be large and waiting times long. People with mild TBI and PTSD can be “quite ambulatory and they’re going to walk into primary care clinics, psychiatric clinics” throughout the nation, Friedman says. They often show up with vague symptoms such as headaches or sleep disturbances. Many providers lack even the understanding of the conditions found in more specialized facilities. That’s why, he says, primary care doctors and mental health providers across the country need to be educated about these conditions and told that “anyone who has been in uniform should be asked about the different kinds of exposures they’ve had.”
For now, though, untold numbers of service members and veterans who have experienced blasts are suffering, often without knowing why. And PTSD can strike months or years after a traumatic experience. “You might be in a blast and you have to immediately go back to your job,” Krengel says. “You can sort of keep it together while you’re busy, busy, busy, but after you’re home for a while, people say, ‘Wait, I’m not functioning the way I should be.’”
The experience of a blast may therefore be a time bomb that goes off long after the traumatic event. Unless and until researchers and clinicians answer the crucial questions and effective care is readily available from military, veteran, and civilian providers, it should surprise no one that many who served in today’s wars continue to feel their effects long after the conflicts end.
Washington, D.C. science journalist Beryl Lieff Benderly contributes the monthly “Taken for Granted” column on labor force and early career issues to the website of Science magazine and articles to other major magazines and websites.
Panel Urges More Screening of Brain Injury in Troops
By BENEDICT CAREY
Published: December 4, 2008
A long-awaited government report is calling on the military to test all its new recruits for cognitive skills and then do large-scale studies of returning combat veterans to better evaluate and respond to traumatic brain injury, the signature wound of the Iraq war.
For years, veterans’ advocates and researchers have called for more careful investigation of head injuries — not just severe wounds but also “closed head” injuries, which do not produce visible damage and do not show up on CT scans.
Some doctors and veterans say the high blast impact of I.E.D.’s, the roadside explosives that have accounted for most head injuries to troops in Iraq, may be creating symptoms that differ from the sort of concussions suffered in sports or car accidents. Many veterans have complained of persistent, sometimes disabling symptoms like sleeplessness, dizziness and confusion that can resemble disorders like post-traumatic stress and can complicate disability assessments.
The new report, released on Thursday by the Institute of Medicine, a government advisory group that studies health and medical issues, recommends that the Departments of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs conduct careful studies “to confirm reports of long-term or latent effects of exposure to blasts.”
Some 5,500 military personnel have suffered brain injuries from mild to severe. The wounds account for an estimated 22 percent of all casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq — about twice the rate in Vietnam. Experts attribute this increase in part to better on-site medical care and body armor that allows ground troops to survive blasts that would otherwise be deadly.
Both the Veterans department and the Pentagon have stepped up efforts to address the problem. In a telephone interview, Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, director of the Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, said there was “no daylight between the recommendations and actions the Department of Defense has taken already” to better evaluate head injuries. She called that “a source of confidence, and reassuring.”
Civilian researchers said that they were encouraged by the report and that they hoped that the military would work with academic centers to study the injuries and therapies.
“We know how valuable these patients are in teaching us about recovery and about the plasiticity of the brain,” said Jordan Grafman, chief of the cognitive neuroscience section of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and a principal author of a landmark study of head injuries among Vietnam veterans. “These are people who have an exceptional ethic of volunteerism, they volunteer because they want to help vets in the future.”
Tom Tarantino, a policy associate at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American, who served as an Army platoon leader in Iraq in 2005, said that careful assessment of head injuries was especially important in decisions on redeployment. “Our highest mental health priority right now is to have face-to-face assessments done, by professionals, before redeployment.”
my thanks to Jerry Northington for pointing this out
Maine Company Donates Thousands of Wreaths
Wreaths Sent To Arlington National Cemetary
POSTED: 6:51 am EST December 4, 2008
UPDATED: 6:57 am EST December 4, 2008
HARRINGTON, Maine -- An eastern Maine wreath company said it will transport 10,000 wreaths to the nation's capital this month to be placed on graves at Arlington National Cemetery on Dec. 13.
A caravan with more than 30 truckloads of wreaths will depart Worcester Wreath Co. in Harrington on Sunday and make its way through Bangor, Augusta, Lewiston, and Portland. The next day, the caravan will go through other Maine towns before heading into New Hampshire and other states on its way to the Arlington, Va.
This is the 17th year that Morrill Worcester is donating wreaths to honor the nation's veterans.
Worcester is also donating another 7,000 wreaths for wreath-laying ceremonies to take place at cemeteries and veteran memorials across the country as part of his Wreaths Across America
I SALUTE this company for their compassion and expression of love for the
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Additional training will be useful, but, by itself, will be insufficient to
mitigate the risk that future bioterror attacks, like the last, will be
launched from US bioweapons labs by US bioweapons workers.
What is needed are: (1) a drastic curtailment in numbers of US bioweapons
labs (preferably reducing numbers from more than 400 to fewer than 4) (2)
video surveillance, with full coverage and permanent archiving, of
bioweapons work areas, (3) a requiremnent for at least two persons to be
present for access to bioweapons work areas, (4) unnanounced inspections of
bioweapons work areas, (5) security clearances for bioweapons workers, (6)
mental-health screening and monitoring of bioweapons workers, and (7)
accountability for USAMRIID staff for management and operational practices
that enabled the 2001 anthrax mailings.
Anything short of this essentially guarantees that future attacks, like the
last, will be funded by USA taxpayers.
Army labs get security training after anthrax case
By DAVID DISHNEAU
The Associated Press
Tuesday, December 2, 2008; 4:22 PM
HAGERSTOWN, Md. -- The Army announced additional security training Tuesday
for workers handling some of the world's deadliest germs and toxins, part of
its response to an FBI finding that an Army scientist was responsible for
deadly 2001 anthrax attacks.
The Army also said Tuesday that a lab closed for security shortcomings in
April won't reopen.
The new training to reinforce existing policies was recommended as a first
step by a task force reviewing lab security practices after the FBI
concluded that Army scientist Bruce Ivins was behind the attacks, said
Michael Brady, special assistant to Army Secretary Pete Geren.
The first weeklong refresher course began Monday at the Army's flagship
biodefense lab at Fort Detrick in Frederick, where Ivins allegedly obtained
and refined the anthrax used in the deadly mailings that killed five people
and sickened 17 others.
Lab spokeswoman Caree Vander Linden said the training in security,
accounting and accident-reporting rules will be rolled out to four other
Army labs over the next few months. She said Army leaders aren't calling for
changes in pathogen handling but are reiterating procedures for inventory
accounting and documentation.
The program also includes a review of Fort Detrick's automated pathogen
inventory management system, which Vander Linden said may serve as a model
for other labs that use different systems.
"They're trying to see which would be a good standard to follow," she said.
Tracking inventories of biological agents is trickier than tracking chemical
inventories because biological materials can be grown, resulting in a larger
supply, or reduced by distillation, Vander Linden said.
She said Fort Detrick's lab, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of
Infectious Diseases, has strengthened its security procedures since the
The Army also said Tuesday it won't reopen the Armed Forces Institute of
Infectious Diseases, a laboratory at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in
Washington. Operations there were suspended in April due to concerns about
"security, surety management and emergency response," Army spokesman Paul
The lab's activities will be transferred to other locations, Boyce said. He
said the lab had 30 to 40 workers, some of whom are authorized to transfer
to other labs.
Ivins committed suicide in July as prosecutors prepared to charge him in the
Stunned by the FBI's conclusion that Ivins was solely responsible for the
attacks, all military service branches launched reviews at their biological
labs. Secretaries of the services were to receive reports on the reviews
Workers at 12 military labs _ five Army, five Navy and two Air Force _
conduct biomedical research to support counterterrorism efforts, research
protection for the armed forces and keep track of infectious diseases across
the globe. Employees work with a range of dangerous materials such as
anthrax and germs that cause Avian flu and encephalitis.
The other Army labs in line for security training are the U.S. Army Medical
Research Institute for Chemical Defense at Aberdeen Proving Ground near
Aberdeen, Md.; the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Forest Glen,
Md.; the Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center in Edgewood, Md.; and the
U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah,
Vander Linden said.
I have a hard time believing that Ivins acted alone or if he even had anything at all to do with the attacks, but thereis to many sites and too many people involved in this type of research, and spread to many places. These sites have a rough history of involvement of abuses of the past, cold war experiments, mistakes etc.
Loyalty draws a sergeant back to war
Chad Stephens still has nightmares and avoids crowds, but he'll be joining his men
Sgt. 1st Class Chad Stephens sorts supplies for his coming deployment to Iraq. He earned the Silver Star for his attempt in 2004 to save a gunner's life during a firefight at Baqubah. Stephens says the Guard is working hard to help soldiers cope with post-traumatic stress.
N.C. National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Chad Stephens returns Monday to his comfort zone.
After a farewell ceremony in Williamston, Stephens and his platoon leave for intensive training. Then they will join thousands of soldiers from the N.C. National Guard's 30th Heavy Combat Brigade for a second deployment to Iraq.
Next spring, four years after leaving the Middle East, Stephens will return to war.
"I got a long road back to Iraq, a long road," Stephens said. "I'm a soldier. I can take anything they throw at me. I just got to get in the mindset, and I'm good."
Stephens says the National Guard has worked hard to address the mental health problems that trouble him and thousands of other returning soldiers.
But in the civilian world, life isn't so easy. Nightmares still plague him. He jolts awake in his bedroom in rural Ahoskie and can't fall back asleep. He retreats to a converted barn behind his home.
Seems like he never gets enough rest.
"I still don't go in stores," he said recently. "I still don't go in crowds. I avoid people. I still bypass Ahoskie; I take the back roads. I sit in that barn, drink cold beer and watch TV."
The News & Observer profiled Stephens, 41, a year ago in a series called "The Promise." The series followed Stephens, a platoon sergeant who risked his life to save a soldier and later suffered from a mental anguish he couldn't understand, seeking help from an Army ill-equipped to give it.
Trauma in Iraq
Stephens had been awarded the Silver Star, the Army's third-highest medal for heroism, after pulling his gunner out of the hulking Bradley vehicle in the midst of a firefight in Baqubah on June 24, 2004.
The gunner, Spc. Daniel A. Desens Jr., died. He was 20.
Months earlier, back in North Carolina, Stephens had promised his soldiers' families that he would bring everyone home. That was nearly five years ago.
Stephens, with more than two decades of military service, could have retired this past year. His wife wanted him to. But Stephens felt responsible for his men.
If I don't lead them, he asked, who will?
After returning from Iraq, Stephens suffered nightmares, spent nights drinking in the barn and listened to the fears of younger soldiers who, like Stephens, couldn't shake the imagery of that battle in Baqubah.
His cell phone rang constantly. Sometimes the caller was Patricia Desens, the mother of the young gunner, who wanted to hear stories about her son's work in Iraq and the last moments of his life.
Stephens finally reached out to a civilian psychiatrist and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health has said that more than 40 percent of returning National Guard troops require mental health treatment but that less than 10 percent receive care.
The N&O stories ended with Stephens uncertain about his future: Should he stay in the military, protecting his men? Or should he retire and stay home with his wife and son?
"Well, I thought about it," Stephens said recently in an interview.
He sat down at his computer one night last spring and looked up motorcycle repair schools in Pennsylvania and Florida. He sent for details, and the schools returned packets of information.
He dreamed of opening his own motorcycle shop in Ahoskie.
Meanwhile, some of Stephens' men from the first tour in Iraq got out of the military.
One moved to Pennsylvania. Another became a cop. Another got a medical leave. Some are getting help.
Others stayed. New soldiers enlisted -- young men carrying the same bluster of youth that Desens had before going into war.
"I think the command wants me there because they figure I've been there and know the deal," Stephens said.
Stephens' platoon won't leave the United States for the Middle East until April, after months of training. He thinks Iraq is safer than it was in 2004. He worries his men will become complacent.
What if there is another firefight, another battle like the ambush in Baqubah?
"It's my job," he said. "I won't make any promises this time. But no matter how bad it gets, I'll be there."
Stephens could have retired before orders came down for this deployment. But he never did. He is under stop-loss now, meaning that once orders come down about a deployment, soldiers can't leave the military.
"So nobody's going nowhere," Stephens said.
Good to go
Stephens talked to his psychiatrists, and they detailed his problems: jumpiness, nightmares, avoidance issues.
He told them: I'm only like that in the civilian world. In the military world, I'm good.
He talked to his wife, Rosalie, and said, "Look, let me go one more time, and I'll come back and I'll retire."
She doesn't want to hear it.
"He's got so many medical reasons wrong with him," Rosalie Stephens said in an interview. "He does not need to go over there again. To me, he's like a ticking time bomb."
He talks about death so much, she said. She imitated his voice: "'If I go over there, I'm not afraid of death. I look death in the eye.'
"It's like he's bragging or something," she said.
But Stephens passed his medical review.
Doctors talked to doctors, and they concluded Stephens is good to go. Rosalie suspects they lost some paperwork somewhere.
She called his civilian psychiatrist and his Veterans Affairs psychiatrist and asked: Is there anything they can do?
Soldiers will be asked again about their mental health before they leave for Iraq, said Maj. Tina Scott, the deputy state surgeon for the N.C. National Guard. Any hint that they are experiencing nightmares or anxiety brings a more intensive review.
Still, Scott said, many soldiers can deploy with post-traumatic stress syndrome, although their medications need to be watched carefully.
"Some soldiers might have leftover anxiety [from an earlier deployment]," she said. "Those guys are perfectly fine to redeploy. Where guys have depressive issues, that might limit their deployment."
Guard's new tactics
The N.C. National Guard has begun two new programs to boost the mental health of its soldiers.
One program, "Battlemind," tries to get soldiers thinking about how to deal with wartime experiences. The Army required it after studies showed that up to a quarter of returning troops were having mental health problems.
Already, Stephens said, he has noticed that at monthly briefings, leaders remind troops of the military suicide hotline and the importance of mental health.
"They're doing a lot more now even than they were doing a year ago," he said.
Another program, "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon," is borrowed from Minnesota and tries to help families and troops cope together with the stresses of war. It, too, is being developed in National Guards across the country.
When the 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team returns from Iraq in 2010, soldiers will be sent home for just 30 days rather than 90 days, said Maj. Matt Handley, spokesman for the N.C. National Guard.
Then, Handley said, the troops and their families will return to armories for informal debriefings to talk about their transition to the civilian world.
"There wasn't any of that before," Handley said. "It was, 'Do your post-deployment health assessment, turn it in. Let us know how you feel.' "
Talking about feelings doesn't always mesh with the macho culture of the military. But Stephens tells his men the same thing he began saying out loud about a year ago, as he was telling his story to The N&O.
I'm getting help, he says. You can, too.
But after so much work, does he think he'll ever feel comfortable in the civilian world?
"Yeah ..." he said. "I don't know. ... I hope so."
It's my own two cents but I don;t think anyone dealing with PTSD should be sent back into combat, riding the same horse that threw you is not a "cure" it will just add more stressors. Then I am not a shrink, just a disabled staff sergeant with PTSD that I ignored for more than 30 years, and used other excuses for. There is no denying the monsters, they are with you 24/7