Saturday, December 20, 2008

Taking Command Actually, Democrats and the military can get along. Here's how.

Taking Command Actually, Democrats and the military can get along. Here's how.

By Wesley K. Clark
Sunday, December 21, 2008; Page B01

The last time the United States elected a Democrat as its president to govern with a majority-Democratic Congress, an immediate fracas arose over gays in the military, reinforcing a partisan story line that Democrats can't be trusted with the nation's security. Sixteen years later, some will certainly be watching how deftly President-elect Barack Obama salutes, or how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid say the Pledge of Allegiance.

These are symbols, of course, but the national security challenges the nation faces now are anything but symbolic: two wars, an ongoing terrorist menace, a growing list of unmet military needs and a long roster of other threats arising from new quarters. So it's natural to ask: What do the Democrats need to understand about the military? And what does the military need to understand about the Democrats? As someone who has labored in both camps, I offer some thoughts.

Let's start by facing the truth: Democrats have long had an ambivalent relationship with the military, and vice versa. While Democrats profess to like and support the military, Republicans usually win more military and veterans' votes than Democrats, and no wonder: Democrats have been pilloried for supposedly wanting to cut defense spending, for being soft on America's enemies and for wanting to use the armed forces for "social engineering" -- code for letting openly gay soldiers serve. As one senior Army leader told me a few years ago, "The Democrats may be all in favor of using force in a crisis, but can you trust them to stick with us when the going gets tough?" Exit polls last month showed that voters who've served in the military went for the Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain, over Obama by 54 percent to 44 percent.

And the mistrust runs both ways. To some Democrats, the armed forces appear, in the words of one New Hampshire activist who chided me in 2003, to be an "authoritarian, hierarchical, male-dominated" institution that's out of touch with liberal values. A small number of Democrats can usually be counted on to oppose any use of force and occasionally go after the institution that makes the use of force possible. (I sometimes hear concerns on college campuses that the make-up of our all-volunteer force is not "representative" of America, but I don't see the students rushing to volunteer themselves to redress the balance.)

So it's easy to assume that the military and the Democrats don't and won't get along. It's also wrong. As the 2000 election approached, a member of the Joint Chiefs confided to me: "You know, people wouldn't believe it, but probably no one else will ever treat us as well as the Clinton administration has." From a shaky beginning, including the confidence-battering 1993 "Black Hawk Down" shootout in Somalia, the top civilians on Clinton's team and the president himself took pains to build respect and trust with the military's top brass -- above all by engaging in forthright dialogue.

Building on that, Obama is off to a promising start with the Pentagon, steering clear of a reprise of the fight over "don't ask, don't tell" and picking pragmatic, non-ideological leaders whom top military officers will find highly reassuring -- especially since so many may have discovered from personal experience that a particular partisan label is no guarantee of good leadership. Retaining Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, designating Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (with her six years of experience on the Senate Armed Services Committee) as secretary of state and appointing James L. Jones (a retired four-star Marine general) as national security adviser should go a long way toward assuring members of the armed forces that their concerns will be given a fair hearing at the very highest levels.

But the incoming team and the Democrat-dominated Congress still need to work hard to understand the lower ranks and the culture of today's military. Perhaps as many as 75 million Americans have either served in uniform or have family members who have done so. At any given time, the armed forces total some 2 million Americans on active duty, in the National Guard or in the reserves -- all volunteers. Most read military-focused newspapers, such as the Army Times, and many live on bases, relatively isolated from nearby communities. The majority are married, and almost half have children, creating a subculture of families that endure frequent moves and frightening absences. Most Americans just can't fathom the stress and pain this lifestyle imposes (although Michelle Obama can -- as the future first lady showed by reaching out to military family members during the campaign).

Our military is a values-based institution. Don't think of it as Republican or Democratic. Sure, occasionally someone will pop up, like the radio talk-show host I met while traveling in Arizona, who assured me that he had become a dues-paying Republican while serving as a Marine officer and thought that everyone else should, too. But most of us are uncomfortable with partisanship. True, many in the military, especially those who have served longer, lean toward the conservative end of the political spectrum. (What would you expect? The military must obey the orders of the commander in chief and follow the chain of command, which means giving up one's own liberties and spending time in difficult and often very dangerous circumstances.) But the real military values aren't partisan values; they're service, loyalty, honesty, patriotism, respect, achievement and personal responsibility.

Which brings us to one more core military value, one that Democrats can easily embrace: fairness. Military leaders take care of their troops -- and their unit's families. They don't take advantage of their authority. Captains eat after their troops do, not before. Good officers get to work earlier than their subordinates and leave later. I used to joke on the campaign trail that the Army was a socialist organization: The government owned the housing and all the equipment I worked with, everyone's children went to the same schools and used the same hospitals, and the highest-ranking person (after more than 30 years in uniform) earned only about 10 or 12 times the salary of a raw recruit. In the military, we don't like favoritism, show-boating or elitism.

That's a good base upon which to build. But Democrats must also realize that the military's respect has to be earned. We don't consider ourselves an "interest group." Sure, we will always appreciate more pay, better housing and stronger veterans' benefits. But that isn't how the Democrats will win over the military. They'll win by being straight-up, clear-eyed and professional about national security. And if they are, the military will trust them, even with a painful withdrawal from Iraq and the inevitable defense cutbacks.

Above all, don't think that we are anxious to "use our toys." Forget about the Hollywood dramatics: Soldiers are the last to seek war. We know its personal and professional consequences painfully well. Those in uniform would prefer that President Obama use every other tool and method -- diplomacy, sanctions, calling in the allies -- before sending troops into combat. You're better off leaving political and economic development to others, too. As for crisis response? Please, let the diplomats work their magic first.

But the military will have to show some understanding as well. We don't have a monopoly on knowing what the nation's best interests are. National security now involves such spheres as law enforcement, the economy, the nation's industrial and scientific base and even such matters as health care and civil liberties. The military is just one voice among many.

Nor are our military plans and proposals beyond questioning. There's a lot of judgment involved in strategy and operations, and not a lot of certainty. The military is a cautious institution, and plans and options sometimes reflect just the opinion of the most senior person in the room. Even hard military "requirements" should stand up to public scrutiny. So when new members of Congress, Hill staffers and political appointees question tactics, techniques, troop levels and programs, we have to continue to treat these questions seriously and answer them with respect and diligence.

Recognize, too, that the Democrats have generally been pulling for the human side of the military. Worried about veterans' benefits, on-base child care facilities, health care and troop retention? Since at least the early 1990s, Democrats have been putting the "juice" into the all-important people programs that have made the armed forces such a successful institution today.

Finally, let's put aside the partisan legacy of Vietnam once and for all. We all grieve for the losses there and for the needy, homeless vets today. But almost no one now in uniform served in that conflict, and most of the Democrats who will be moving into offices at the National Security Council, the Pentagon and in Congress are too young to have been part of the bitter national debates over the war. Iraq just isn't Vietnam, and the debates over a U.S. withdrawal need not tear the country apart -- especially if we in the military recognize that the Democratic Party that I have been associated with is every bit as patriotic and service-oriented as any other group in the United States.

We have a president-elect who has set out a pragmatic, nonpartisan, visionary course. It's time to lay to rest the old stereotypes about feckless, pacifist Democrats and authoritarian, war-mongering soldiers. If there were ever a time to get the relationship between Democrats and the military right, this is it.

Wesley K. Clark, a retired four-star general, commanded the 1999 war in Kosovo as NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe. He is a senior fellow at UCLA's Burkle Center for International Relations.


I served under General Clark twice both times at NTC Fort Irwin once when he was a Colonel and again when he was the Base Commander as a One Star, I was a Staff Sergenat both times once in the 6/31 Infantry and the next time as part of a rotation of the 48th Infantry Brigade duirng Operation Desert Storm.

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From Colonel Dan

Thomas D. Segel
956 423 3126

With Democrats In Control, Disabled Military Retirees Demand No
900 words

Harlingen, Texas, December 18, 2008: What are all veterans looking
for in the new administration come 2009? Well, Tony Nathe,
of the Uniformed Services Disabled Retirees (USDR) says, “If the
Executive Branch, the House and the Senate are now owned by one
there can be no more excuses for not passing full Concurrent Receipt
of Military Retired Pay!”

What he is referring to is a law that since 2004 allows military
retirees with 20 or more years of service and a Veterans Affairs
rated disability of 50% or higher to receive their VA Disability
Compensation and their retired pay without any offsetting
deductions. Prior to that 2004 law all military retirees had their
military retired pay reduced by any amount of disability
they received. What the USDR has been fighting for is for any
disabled military retiree, regardless of the percentage of
awarded should be treated in the same manner as those in the 50% to
100% disability range.

Nathe continues on the topic of Concurrent Receipt saying that when
it comes to passing such legislation, “each party has always
the other party for its failure.” With that standard excuse as a
backdrop, his organization plans to introduce a “No More Excuses
Campaign” and promote it through the retiree and veteran community.

He also points out that every government agency has its own advocacy
office to handle the affairs of retired personal, except the
military. He announces the USDR supports the establishment of an
Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Disabled Retiree
or an Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Retired Affairs
and will lobby for such an office. “It is time”, he says,
all the veteran service organizations and government officials to
stop lumping military retirees into the veteran category and give us
the category we earned with a lifetime of service…Military

Noel Pritzi, the USDR Past President reports his organization is
pushing for new legislation that will allow for the increase of
Veterans Affairs Supplemental Service Disabled Veterans Insurance
from the current $10,000 maximum amount to $100,000.

Pritzi points out that this is an insurance program that was created
through legislation in 1951 to provide a means for disabled veterans
to obtain coverage for their families in the event of their death.
Standard life insurance plans were not offered to them due to the
injuries they had received while in the service of their country.
More than 58 years have now passed without the VA seeking to
these insurance limits or Congress creating new legislation to
correct such an oversight.

Another disparity pointed out by Pritzi is a ruling, which says,
“You can purchase this insurance in amounts of $1,000 to $10,000.
However, if you have any other government life insurance the total
amount of the policies cannot exceed $10,000.” In a time when
standard funeral expenses can often run in excess of $10,000, this
insurance as currently limited amounts to nothing more than a burial

After more than a 100 year battle with Congress to obtain the same
benefits as other governmental retirees, which were the receipt of
their retirement pay, earned by years of service to the country,
disability compensation for service connected injuries, disabled
military retirees are now receiving benefits for the upper 50% of
those who were awarded a VA rating. Jim Reifinger is one such
military retiree who is now receiving

Combat Related Special Compensation (CRSC) for injuries received in
battle, along with his retirement pay for more than 20 years of

He is worried about the future of his finances because of rumors he
is hearing that are emanating from Washington. “My big question
are the Democrats going to allow us military retirees that are
receiving CRSC and military retirement, who are old enough for
Security to draw our benefits? I keep hearing that issue may come
into question.

The USDR has an extended list of items it wants to place in front of
this 100% Democrat Congress and Administration with “No Excuses”
accepted. The organization seeks the elimination of Medicare
payments for all military retirees, recalling that for most of them
free medical care was promised as a right during their service

They will seek legislation to provide full military burial honors
all military retirees.

They will also continue to support legislation that provides
mandatory funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Also, the
USDR will continue to support legislation that provides health and
dental care for military retirees and their dependents.

Finally, they will seek out and support legislation to eliminate any
offset or deduction from the full amount of benefits for Survivors
Benefit Plan recipients and those who receive Dependency and
Indemnity Compensation.

There is a quote I read, that had no attribution, but states the
clearly…”The soldier is not the cause of war. The soldier is
first victim of war”. All too often that victimization continues
long after he or she is retired and suffers alone with those
The victimizers are usually the government and the country the
soldier served.

Semper Fidelis,
Thomas D. Segel

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Editorial Survival Guide for Veterans - Thank You NY Times

Survival Guide for Veterans

Published: December 18, 2008
Far too often, military veterans find themselves desperately short of the information they need as they make the torturous quest for benefits within one of this country’s most daunting bureaucracies, the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Additional commentary, background information and other items by Times editorial writers.

Veterans Affairs Department Officials say help is on the way, but administrators are forever promising to streamline procedures for an era of conquered paperwork that never seems to come. That is why it is heartening to see that one promising form of help has indeed arrived: a 599-page guide to veterans’ issues, from educational help to vocational rehabilitation, from housing to citizenship.

It’s called “The American Veterans’ and Servicemembers’ Survival Guide,” and it comes, unsurprisingly, from outside the system. It is a publication of the nonprofit advocacy group Veterans for America, available as a free download at

This electronic book is a descendant of “The Viet Vet Survival Guide,” which was published a decade after the end of that conflict — when veterans were still being routinely and shamefully denied their rights. The new book was written by veterans and lawyers for a new generation of soldiers with old problems, like post-traumatic stress, and new ones like traumatic brain injury, the brutal legacy of Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s roadside bombs.

The authors caution that while the guide will help a veteran understand what’s going on, it is not a substitute for a good lawyer or other advocate. And it isn’t the only source of information: The government, too, has vast Web sites explaining things — for example, how officers help veterans through the disability evaluation system. (In military acronyms, it’s how the Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officer, or Peblo, helps with the D.E.S.)

The “Survival Guide” does this, too, but with a difference: It also warns veterans to “pay careful attention to what you say to your Peblo,” because the Peblo is not required to act in their best interests the way an attorney is, and things told to a Peblo are not necessarily confidential.

No book will ever defeat a bureaucracy this large, but a book can help people to subdue it. Veterans and their families often praise the dedication of health-care providers, but at the same time express utter frustration over incomprehensible thickets of rules and the glacial pace at which benefits and appeals are decided.

Unless and until the government significantly improves its treatment of veterans — and our hopes are high for progress under Gen. Eric Shinseki, President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee to run Veterans Affairs — they will have to keep looking to one another for help, as they always have. This veterans’ guide looks like a powerful updating of that old tradition.
Click on download new copy in the middle of the block ad

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder has made headlines in recent years, but is not new. The disorder has been known to exist as far back as ancient Greece, but has had different names throughout history. In the American Civil War, it was called soldier's heart. In the First World War it was called shell shock and in the Second World War it was known as war neurosis. In the Vietnam War, the symptoms were described as combat stress reaction.

Now, more Canadian soldiers than ever are coming forward to make claims for psychiatric disabilities, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The military ombudsman's office in Ottawa made 31 recommendations in a report on PTSD in 2002. In a follow-up report that was released on Dec. 17, 2008, the ombudsman noted that 18 of the 31 recommendations had not been fully implemented.

The report found that the military had made some progress by:

Improving screening before and after soldiers enter conflict.
Setting up and funding support groups across the country to help families.
Committing to hiring 200 more mental health professionals by March 2009.
The report recommended further steps be taken, including:

Create a full-time operational stress injury co-ordinator responsible for all related issues, including the quality and consistency of care, diagnosis and treatment, as well as training and education.
Develop a database of Canadian Forces personnel — both regular and reserve forces — affected by stress-related injuries.
Conduct an independent and confidential mental-health survey of Forces personnel.
But the condition doesn't just affect soldiers. Paramedics, front-line nurses and victims of abuse, violent crimes or accidents have been known to develop symptoms. One in 10 people have post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Often with time and support, people can get past a traumatic event. But some people experience such severe psychological stress that it affects them long after. They have flashbacks and nightmares or tune out for periods of time, making it hard to live a normal life. If these symptoms persist for more than a month, it could be post-traumatic stress disorder.

What is post-traumatic stress disorder? What causes it?
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is one of several anxiety disorders, conditions where people feel intense, prolonged feelings of fright and distress for no clear reason. As the name suggests, PTSD is caused by a traumatic event involving threatened death or serious injury to oneself. Stressors such as seeing someone else threatened with death or serious injury, or killed, can also cause it.

Some examples of stressors known to cause PTSD include:

Violent personal assaults, such as rape or mugging.
Car or plane accidents.
Military combat.
Industrial accidents.
Natural disasters, such as hurricanes or tornadoes.
In life-threatening circumstances, the body goes into a "fight or flight" response. But when a person continually relives the traumatic event, this response is reactivated and it becomes a problem.

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms usually start to appear three months after the traumatic event. But they can also appear many years later.

They fall into three categories:

Reliving the traumatic event: This is the disorder's main characteristic. Most often, the person has powerful, recurrent memories of the stressor. It can happen in the form of flashbacks or nightmares. Reminders of the event, such as certain images, sounds and smells, often trigger these. They may become distressed, sweat excessively, and their heart rate increases.

Emotional numbing and avoidance: The person may withdraw from friends and family. They avoid situations that remind them of their trauma. They don't enjoy life as usual, and have a hard time feeling emotions or maintaining intimacy. They often feel extreme guilt. In rare cases, they can go through disassociative states where they believe they are reliving the episode, and act as if it is happening again. These can last anywhere from five minutes to several days.

Changes in sleeping patterns and alertness: Insomnia is common, and people with PTSD may have a hard time concentrating and finishing tasks. This can also lead to more aggression.

PTSD can also lead to other illnesses, such as depression or dependence on drugs or alcohol. Some physical symptoms, such as dizziness, chest pain, gastrointestinal and immune-system problems can also be linked to the disorder.

How is it treated?
The depression and anxiety can be treated with medication. Therapy with mental health professionals can help, such as:

Group therapy.
Exposure therapy, in which the person works through the trauma by reliving the experience under controlled conditions.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy, which focuses on the way a person interprets and reacts to experience.
Some people fully recover within six months, but it can take much longer. Cognitive-behavioural therapy appears to be the most effective treatment, according to research.
But PTSD research continues to determine which treatments work best.

How many people does it affect? Who does it affect?
About one in 10 people have PTSD, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. It can affect anyone who has a traumatic experience. Children and adults alike can suffer PTSD, which is among the most common mental health problems.

But, some people can experience symptoms without developing PTSD. About five to 10 per cent of people may have some symptoms without developing the full-blown disorder, according to the B.C. Ministry of Health Guide. Women are twice as likely as men to develop the full-blown disorder.

In 2002, the Canadian Forces was surveyed by Statistics Canada to determine the prevalence of PTSD and other conditions. The survey found that in the year before the study, 2.8 per cent of the regular force and 1.2 per cent of the reservists had symptoms of PTSD. The more missions soldiers had embarked on, the more likely they were to develop the disorder or PTSD-like symptoms.

But, the rate might be much higher, says Dr. Greg Passey, a Vancouver psychiatrist who specializes in trauma and works with Canadian Forces patients. In the mid-1990s, Passey studied two battalions who had served in the former Yugoslavia and found a 12- to 13- per-cent rate of PTSD.

Because our military is so small, he told CBC News, the front-end combat people have to go on more than one tour. And, he added, the more traumatic situations a person is exposed to, the greater risk of developing an operational stress injury such as PTSD.

The Canadian Forces now screens soldiers three to six months after they return from a mission. The "enhanced post-deployment screening process" involves a set of standard health questionnaires and an in-depth interview with a mental health professional.

If I have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, what can I do to cope?
Veterans Canada recommends a few common sense tips.

Live a healthy lifestyle, eating healthy meals, exercising regularly and getting enough rest.
Set aside time to reflect on the trauma, rather than allow a constant stream of worrying thoughts throughout the day.
Join or develop support groups.
Educate yourself and your family about reactions to trauma. Understanding the condition is helpful in coming to terms with the trauma and dealing with its associated problems

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Lungfuls of worry

Lungfuls of worry

Report cites toxins in air, water; service members say they’re sick
By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Dec 10, 2008 18:15:12 EST

A report presented at the annual Military Health System conference earlier this year shows that burn pits at U.S. military bases in Iraq may not be the only thing troops need to worry about.

The report says particulate levels in the air in Southwest Asia are six to eight times as high as recommended limits under military regulations, and 65 of 140 water samples came back with unsafe levels of toxins during testing in 2007.

Military Times has received more than 100 e-mails from service members who say they are sick and believe it is because of air toxins, possibly from burn pits, they were exposed to in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some say they have had letters placed in their health records; some say the letters have disappeared; others said they received no letters. Burn pits also release particulate matter into the air.

John Young, the Pentagon’s chief of acquisition, technology and logistics, sent out a Defense Department instruction Nov. 11 expanding the department’s risk management procedures to anticipate, recognize, evaluate and control health hazards associated with exposures to chemical, physical and biological hazards in the workplace, “to include military operations and deployments.”

It advises comparing exposures to health records to see whether there are connections between troops’ ailments and where they were based, to group people so they can be monitored for long-term health effects after known exposures, and to include exposure data in each person’s medical record.

The report presented earlier this year at the Military Health System conference, prepared by the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine, said 50 of 414 air samples taken in Southwest Asia from January to June 2007 came back as “very unhealthy” under Environmental Protection Agency standards.

According to the report, “sand and dust exceed guidelines but pose minimal acute health effects; long-term effects not known,” and airborne particulate matter is a “moderate” risk.

‘We don’t think there’s a problem’
R. Craig Postlewaite, senior analyst in the Pentagon’s force health protection directorate, told Military Times that particulate matter has been evaluated all over Iraq, as well as at the burn pit at Joint Base Balad, and that “in some ways,” readings are above military safety guidelines.

However, he said, “We don’t think there’s a problem.”

Still, a service member sent in a copy of a “Chronological Record of Medical Care” for Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan that cited some risks: “Expected health effects associated with exposures to airborne dust are eye, nose and upper respiratory irritation. [Particulate matter] concentrations fall within ranges that are believed to pose significant health concerns to susceptible groups, which in the military can include asthmatics or persons with pre-existing cardiopulmonary disease.”

Military researchers also found metals above safety guidelines in 26 air samples, including lead at 12 times safe levels and manganese at 3.5 times safe levels. One sample found acrolein, which was used as a chemical weapon in World War I, at 285 times recommended levels.

A particulate matter working group created by the Defense Department in 2005 determined that “acute effects appear to be minimal,” but added that “subacute and chronic effects are unknown at this time — more research is needed,” according to minutes from a workshop. The working group also recommended an enhanced surveillance system.

In that 2005 workshop, several doctors voiced concerns. Dr. Vince Castranova of the Center for Environmental Health Sciences worried that ultrafine particles — thousands of which could fit on the head of a pin — could cross the skin barrier and also be deposited in the lungs. He said toxicity per unit mass for ultrafine matter is higher than for larger grains.

Dr. Teri Franks, a pathologist with the Armed Forces Institutes of Pathology, autopsied two soldiers who died of pneumonia in Iraq and found several types of mineral particles, including crystalline silica, aluminum silicates with iron and pure iron in the soldiers’ lungs.

Postlewaite said research on people native to Southwest Asia shows no ill effects.

Water samples also contained toxins above military guidelines. Testers found arsenic, barium, benzene, boron, cadmium, calcium, chloride, copper, fluoride, lead, magnesium, mercury, nickel, selenium, sodium, sulfate, thallium, zinc, detergents, the herbicide diquat, dissolved solids and turbidity.

Troops aren’t supposed to drink this water, but it is used for showering and people often brush their teeth with it.

* Burn pit at Balad raises health concerns

* Burn pit fallout

* Senator wants answers on dangers of burn pits

What the troops are saying

Pentagon must recognize burn-pit health hazards

An interview with a patient at Walter Reed who believes burn-pit fumes caused her leukemia


Click on the link at the top of the page there are a lot of links with great data and video available

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Britain to Double Compensation for War Wounded

Britain to Double Compensation for War Wounded

By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 16, 2008; Page A15

LONDON, Dec. 15 -- The British government is doubling the maximum cash payment it gives to severely wounded soldiers after criticism that amputees and other veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars were not suitably compensated.

The Defense Ministry announced Monday that the current limit of 285,000 British pounds, or $428,000 at current exchange rates, would be raised to 570,000 pounds, or $855,000.

The increase will apply retroactively, with the government dividing $15 million among 2,700 wounded soldiers who recently received lump-sum payments.

In the U.S. military, injured service members with a "disability rating" of 30 percent or less qualify for a lump-sum severance payment. An Army specialist with three years of service could receive as much as $24,000 after a combat injury; a sergeant first class with 19 years of service would get as much as $129,000, according to Samuel Rutherford, director of officer and enlisted personnel management at the Pentagon.

Rutherford said that troops with higher levels of disability do not receive a lump sum but are paid a monthly annuity that in some cases can be as much as their base pay at retirement, plus complete medical coverage.

The British government has been under pressure by military families and advocates to compensate the growing number of war wounded. Media campaigns have also drawn attention to the disparity between the large sums awarded in personal-injury cases involving civilians and the amounts paid to wounded soldiers.

"Justice for our Injured Heroes," blared Monday's front-page headline in the Daily Mail. The tabloid had noted that a civilian servicewoman who damaged her hand in the office had received $725,000 in a civil case, while paratrooper Ben Parkinson, 24, who lost both of his legs, the use of one arm, his ability to speak, and much of his memory in a mine explosion in Afghanistan, had been offered $228,000 under the military compensation program.

Parkinson's payment will now double. The new Armed Forces Compensation Scheme will increase payments to soldiers from 10 percent to 100 percent depending on the severity of injury, the Defense Ministry said in a statement. The most injured soldiers, in addition to receiving a lump-sum payment, will also be entitled to lifetime monthly payments. That would mean that a severely wounded young soldier could receive more than $1.5 million over the course of his life, the statement said.

Britain's undersecretary of state for defense, Kevan Jones, said the armed forces personnel "deserve the very best support," and that the new compensation package "will be a great boost to our injured personnel and their families."

Chris Simpkins, director general of the Royal British Legion, said the new program "is particularly good news coming just before Christmas."

Staff writer Ann Scott Tyson in Washington contributed to this report.


I can see DR Chu at DOD pulling out his hair now thinking how this will impact American troops.......................

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Judge rejects bid to force quicker VA payments

Judge rejects bid to force quicker VA payments

By HOPE YEN, The Associated Press 10:45 a.m. December 17, 2008
WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Wednesday rejected a bid by veterans groups to force the Veterans Affairs Department to speed up handling of its disability claims, saying it was not the court's role to impose quicker deadlines.
Vietnam Veterans of America and Veterans of Modern Warfare, which represent roughly 60,000 military veterans, had filed the lawsuit asking the VA process initial disability claims within 90 days and resolve appeals within 180 days. If the VA failed to do so, the two groups were seeking interim payments of roughly $350 a month.
At a court hearing Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said he was sympathetic to the plight of disabled veterans, many of whom he acknowledged might face unemployment and homelessness in a tightening economy. But Walton said that setting a blanket rule of 90 days for processing claims was a role for Congress and the VA secretary to decide.
Currently, thousands of veterans endure six-month waits for disability benefits and appeals that take years, despite promises by current VA Secretary James Peake and his predecessor, Jim Nicholson, to reduce delays. More recently, Congress passed legislation that sets up a VA pilot program aimed at speeding the processing of disability claims.
"It has to be appreciated that courts play a limited role," Walton told a courtroom filled with about two dozen veterans and their family members. "I am being asked here in a sense to run the VA and set in place a timeline that Congress has not."
"As much as I as an individual would like to see claims expeditiously concluded, ...I just don't see how I could provide the relief," he added. "If I did, I would be reversed in a heartbeat."
Earlier in the hearing, Robert Cattanach, an attorney representing veterans, called the VA's delays "egregious and unacceptable." Noting that the backlogs have persisted for nearly a decade, Cattanach argued that the VA has no incentive or requirement to improve its practices without a clear deadline.
"Give some help to these veterans who so desperately need it," he pleaded.
But government attorney Ron Wiltsie countered that the VA is working to reduce delays and has made some improvement. In recent months, the VA has added dozens of claims processors and now says it has whittled delays from 178 days to about 163 days. The VA should be allowed to continue its work without micromanagement and blanket judgments from a federal judge who has not reviewed the individual cases, Wiltsie said.
The hearing comes as the VA is scrambling to upgrade government technology systems before new legislation providing for millions of dollars in new GI education benefits takes effect next August. On Saturday, the VA also said it was working to pay back millions of dollars in government benefits to surviving spouses of veterans who – due to computer glitches – were wrongfully denied disability checks during the month of their spouse's death.
President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to "fix the benefits bureaucracy" at the VA. Earlier this month, he named retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, a former Army chief of staff, to be the next VA secretary.
Julie Mock, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Veterans of Modern Warfare, said she and other veterans are tired of broken promises and months of delays.
"It's time the VA is held accountable," she said. "We're hopeful that President-elect Obama will make drastic changes."
On the Net:
Department of Veterans Affairs:
Vietnam Veterans of America:
Veterans of Modern Warfare:

In my opinion the lawsuit was frivilous and a waste of time and was done more for advertising for the groups, they knew the Judge has no authority over the VA, only the VA Secretary, the President or Congress can force the Veterans Affairs Department to do anything.

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New PTSD lawsuit against the Army

Veterans Sue Federal Government Over Disability Benefits

A group of military veterans filed a class-action against the federal government today, alleging that they were illegally denied disability benefits despite being diagnosed with severe cases of post-traumatic stress disorder that should have qualified them for free care.

The five soldiers, all veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, were discharged by the Army after it determined that their damaged mental health left them unfit to serve, according to a complaint filed with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Once released, they were assigned disability ratings well below the 30 percent figure needed to qualify for lifetime health care benefits.

The complaint alleges that starting in 2002, the Army “systematically” ignored rules requiring that all servicemen diagnosed with PTSD receive an automatic 50 percent rating. Just this past October, the Defense Department ordered the Army to stop deflating PTSD victims' disability ratings.

So far, there has not been any discussion at the Defense Department about how to compensate the soldiers who were denied benefits before the order, said the veterans' lawyers. The suit asks the Army to award them disability benefits, as well as financial compensation for the benefits they have missed.

Lawyers for the veterans are hoping that the suit’s discovery process will reveal how many other servicemen with PTSD were denied disability benefits.

“We don’t know the exact numbers of the people who were effected, but we think there were thousands,” says Bart Stichman, co-director of National Veterans Legal Services Program, which is representing the soldiers.

Along with the NVLSP, the soldiers are being represented by Brad Fagg, James Kelly, Richard Black and Charles Groppe of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. The suit is the first from the NVLSP’s Lawyers Serving Warriors project, a program meant to provide veterans pro bono counsel from major firms.

This isn’t the first time the Army has come under fire for its handling of PTSD victims. In California last year, a group of former soldiers filed suit against the Veterans Administration in federal court demanding that the agency completely restructure the way it processes PTSD claims and clean up a bureaucratic mess that left many former soldiers without care for months.

Army spokesman Paul Boyce did not address the suit directly, but says the Army would continue doing its best to aid veterans.

“We have assisted more than 650,000 soldiers with their disability both their physical and mental health concerns,” Boyce says. “That’s more people than the city of Atlanta. We will continue to do so.”


I hope the veterans win for all of the low ball awards and the PDO discharges malischiously given PTSD affected veterans.

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Mental health officer stands trial after soldier's suicide

Mental health officer stands trial after soldier's suicide

Military advocate general sets precedent with decision to put mental health officer up for disciplinary trial after latter failed to prevent soldier from taking his own life. Soldier's commander had called health officer for help – but was told to try again later

Hanan Greenberg Published: 12.13.08, 18:45 / Israel News

For the first time in the history of the IDF, a mental health officer will stand trial on charges of dereliction of duty in his handling of the case of a distressed soldier – who ultimately took his own life.

Military Advocate General, Brig. Gen. Avi Mendelblit, made the decision after the soldier's commanders were already convicted of having failed to prevent the suicide. The incident in question occurred in August 2006, when the soldier, identified only as Cpl. A., a combat engineer in the Judea and Samaria Division, encountered personal difficulties.

The night before he ended his life the soldier was caught locked in his room, holding a loaded weapon.

Following the incident the soldier's personal firearm was confiscated and he was placed under the supervision of his commanders. The next day, just after 3:00 pm, Cpl. A. seized the weapon of an officer who stepped out of the room for a moment, and shot himself dead.

In an unprecedented move, two of the soldier's commanders were charged with criminal offenses and eventually convicted of negligence. But despite this, Cpl. A.'s family demanded the mental health officer be held responsible as well. Through their attorneys, they appealed to Mendelblit and explained their case to him.

The two-hour gap

The family claimed that two hours before Cpl. A. committed suicide, his commander telephoned the mental health officer, who holds the rank of captain, to ask for help. However the psychiatrist replied that he was busy, and said he would only have time for Cpl. A.'s case after 5:00 pm. The parents asserted that the health officer rejected the commander's suggestion that Cpl. A. be immediately sent over to the base where the psychiatrist was situated.

The family further claims that the health officer did not give the commander any specific instructions or get to the bottom of the case in question - thereby failing to realize his responsibility as the professional element overseeing the case.

During the preliminary hearings conducted by the military advocacy, the head of the army's mental health department, Col. Dr. Gadi Lubin, was apprehensive about the possibility of putting his subordinate on trial.

Lubin said he feared that doing so would prevent mental health officers from carrying out their duties in the future. Lubin's predecessor, Col. (res) Dr. Haim Knobler, called the decision to charge the mental health officer "idiotic."

Knobler said the move would lead the excellent professionals in the department to start questioning their every decision. The repercussions, he said, could lead mental health officers to needlessly excuse soldiers from military service.

"There has recently been a sharp decline in the number of suicides in the IDF, and a key part of that is thanks to the work of health officers, who do extraordinary work. Even if in this case there was a mistake, it would be wrong to take legal action, rather it should be studied for the future. This decision is shameful
and outrageous."

Shlomi Tzipori, one of the attorneys representing Cpl. A.'s family, said he was satisfied with Mendelblit's decision, but lamented the fact the officer was only standing disciplinary trial and not a court martial.

"When you want to conduct a war that will lead to a decrease in the number of suicides, there is no escaping the need to set standards of professional behavior even for the doctors in the IDF's mental health department. In this case the doctor allegedly failed in administering preventative treatment – there is no escaping that he must face the full extent of the law."


I wonder if VA doctors and military doctors in the US are paying attention to this?

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Hey Congress where is the oversight?

Expense account dinners, first class travel, luxury hotels and top pay. Sounds nice, right?
That's how a nonprofit group "squandered" federal funding it received from Congress to help veterans start small businesses.

A Senate investigative report said the group, the National Veterans Business Development Corp., aka Veterans Corp, spent just 9 percent of its budget last year on the small business centers it was supposed to start and run.

One reader writes: "The Veterans Corporation is not a veterans group or organization. It was created by Congress and not by military veterans. Even the use of the word 'veterans' in their name is tainting 'real' veterans organizations."

Read Rest Here:

Senate Report:

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Dr Phil and veterans?

House Veterans Affairs Chairman appears on Dr. Phil show, with
Tammy Duckworth, Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs




FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 17, 2008

Contact Kristal DeKleer at (202) 225-9756

Filner Discusses Veterans Issues on Dr. Phil Show

Episode explores the needs of America's returning service members

Washington D.C. - Congressman Bob Filner, Chairman of the House Committee on
Veterans' Affairs, will appear on Dr. Phil in an episode focused on honoring
America's contract with our military veterans. Dr. Phil talks with veterans
and their families about the challenges of returning home after deployment.
Congressman Filner shares his views about the medical and mental health care
needs of returning service members. He also discusses the need for a good
faith reform effort at the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve the
care and services offered to America's veterans. The show, entitled "Beyond
the Front Lines," is scheduled to air on Friday, December 19. Check your
local listings for air time.

What Dr. Phil episode "Beyond the Front Lines"

When Friday, December 19 - Check local listings for air time

Who Veterans and their family members

Congressman Bob Filner, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Colonel David Hunt, FOX News Military Analyst

Tammy Duckworth, Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs

Paul Reickhoff, Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Beyond the Front Lines

Military men and women are true American heroes who fight for our freedoms.
But are we doing all we can as a nation to honor our contract with these
warriors? When a soldier survives war, oftentimes he or she comes home to
face a different battle. Dr. Phil's guests are veterans who say they have
returned from the front lines only to fight a medical system bureaucracy
that is failing them. Randy was severely injured during an ambush while
deployed in Iraq. His mother, Tammy, says the military lied to him, and used
him, and that Randy was eventually lost in the system. She says getting any
help from the Department of Veterans Affairs is a struggle with minimal

Dr. Phil introduces this wounded warrior to two special people who want to
make his life better. Next, Jerry says he got a "raw deal" when he returned
from Iraq, and he's struggling with what he believes to be post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD). His wife says Jerry is angry and violent, and she's
afraid of him. You won't believe what they say the Department of Veterans
Affairs advised Jerry to do to cope with his suicidal thoughts.

Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Congressman Bob
Filner, and FOX News military analyst Colonel David Hunt passionately share
their opinions about health care for veterans. Then, Kevin and Joyce say
their son came home from Iraq a changed man. They say they tried to get him
help for what they believed was severe PTSD, but it didn't come in time.
And, Tammy Duckworth, director of the Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs
and Paul Rieckhoff, director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America,
weigh in on the cases. If you are an American, this is your call to arms to
step up and help turn things around for the men and women in uniform.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Wal-Mart donates $500K to military charities

Wal-Mart donates $500K to military charities

By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Dec 16, 2008 17:22:59 EST

Wounded, injured and ill troops warriors and their families are the beneficiaries of more than $500,000 donated by the Wal-Mart Foundation to two national charities:

• Fisher House Foundation received $250,000 and used part of it to send out 1,000 Wal-Mart gift cards worth $100 each to its 42 comfort homes the week of Dec. 8, said Fisher House spokesman Jim Weiskopf. The cards will help families who are spending the holidays at a Fisher House because a loved one is being treated in a nearby military or veterans hospital.

An additional $95,000 is divided up between the Fisher Houses for each manager to use to benefit the residents. The remaining $55,000 will be used to defray costs of the Hero Miles tickets program that enables families to travel to be together using donated frequent flyer miles.

An additional $30,000 was donated to Fisher Houses in the Washington, D.C., area, Weiskopf said.

Wal-Mart provides additional support to local Fisher Houses in other regions.

• Operation Homefront also received $250,000 from Wal-Mart and is using it for food and fuel certificates for wounded warriors and their families in need, said Amy Palmer, chief operating officer of Operation Homefront. The organization issued its first gift cards from the grant on Dec. 15, she said.

If there is no nearby Wal-Mart, or if the family has better access to a commissary, they may receive a commissary gift certificate. For information about applying for assistance, families should contact the Operation Homefront chapter in their state, If their state does not have a chapter, families should call the national office at 210-659-7756, or e-mail

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Wal-Mart donates $500K to military charities

Wal-Mart donates $500K to military charities

By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Dec 16, 2008 17:22:59 EST

Wounded, injured and ill troops warriors and their families are the beneficiaries of more than $500,000 donated by the Wal-Mart Foundation to two national charities:

• Fisher House Foundation received $250,000 and used part of it to send out 1,000 Wal-Mart gift cards worth $100 each to its 42 comfort homes the week of Dec. 8, said Fisher House spokesman Jim Weiskopf. The cards will help families who are spending the holidays at a Fisher House because a loved one is being treated in a nearby military or veterans hospital.

An additional $95,000 is divided up between the Fisher Houses for each manager to use to benefit the residents. The remaining $55,000 will be used to defray costs of the Hero Miles tickets program that enables families to travel to be together using donated frequent flyer miles.

An additional $30,000 was donated to Fisher Houses in the Washington, D.C., area, Weiskopf said.

Wal-Mart provides additional support to local Fisher Houses in other regions.

• Operation Homefront also received $250,000 from Wal-Mart and is using it for food and fuel certificates for wounded warriors and their families in need, said Amy Palmer, chief operating officer of Operation Homefront. The organization issued its first gift cards from the grant on Dec. 15, she said.

If there is no nearby Wal-Mart, or if the family has better access to a commissary, they may receive a commissary gift certificate. For information about applying for assistance, families should contact the Operation Homefront chapter in their state, If their state does not have a chapter, families should call the national office at 210-659-7756, or e-mail

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Disability claims lawsuit begins against VA

Disability claims lawsuit begins against VA

By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Dec 16, 2008 17:17:49 EST

A hearing begins Wednesday in a lawsuit aimed at cutting the time that the Department of Veterans Affairs takes to process disability claims to no more than 90 days.

Vietnam Veterans of America and Veterans of Modern Warfare filed the lawsuit against VA after learning the department took as long as a year to come up with disability benefits decisions, and as long as four years to rule on appeals of those decisions. The average time for an initial decision is about six months.

VA has a benefits claims backlog of more than 400,000 cases.

Rita Reese, principal deputy assistant VA secretary for management, told Congress in January that the department would increase the number of fulltime case workers from 14,857 to 15,570, with a goal of reducing the disability claims backlog to 298,000 by the end of fiscal 2009, which would be a drop of 24 percent.

The lawsuit asks for monetary relief for veterans if VA can’t reduce its processing time.

“Delayed disability benefit awards create an additional and, in many cases, unmanageable stress for an already suffering population,” VVA and VMW officials said in a joint press release. “According to the VA, the suicide rate among individuals in the VA’s care may be as high as 7.5 times the national average, and every night, more than 150,000 American veterans are homeless.”

They blamed those problems in part on benefit delays that could cause people who are unable to work to lose their homes, jobs and families.

The two organizations also are sponsoring a rally at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where the lawsuit was filed. They said veterans from across the country will gather at the courthouse to show support.

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General Petraeus: Military studying burn pit fumes

Petraeus: Military studying burn pit fumes

By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Dec 12, 2008 17:10:38 EST

In response to a question about the burn pit at Joint Air Base Balad, Gen. David Petraeus, the chief of U.S. Central Command, said the need for burn pits will continue, but the military is trying to minimize exposure to possible toxins.

“Much effort has gone into locating/relocating pits in remote areas of the operating bases to minimize exposure, training personnel on proper operation, developing/circulating operating procedures and assessing burn pit operations to include corrective action,” Petraeus wrote.

After Military Times investigated possible chemicals and dioxins troops may have been exposed to in Afghanistan and Iraq from giant open-air pits that were burning everything from plastic bottles to used petroleum products, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., wrote a letter to Petraeus asking if the burn pits were being investigated.

Petraeus said thousands of air, water and soil samples have been tested. However, Military Times has learned that the Balad is the only base where the burn pit specifically has been checked.

A military report found toxin levels in the plume at acceptable levels; however, data on testing for particulate matter in that plume has not yet been released.

More than 100 service members have contacted Military Times saying they became sick with asthma, sleep apnea, heart palpitations, bronchitis, and lymphoma or leukemia while at Balad.

Disabled American Veterans is working to see if there are any trends in their illnesses, as well as to help people file claims with the Veterans Affairs Department.

An initial report from the burn pit, which remains classified, showed high levels of cancer-causing dioxins; however, military officials say that was due to a computer error and that dioxin levels are actually within normal limits. A second unclassified report shows the toxin levels are safe, if the data on particulate matter is excluded. However, the second report also states that reliability is low due to the number of samples.

“As part of the on-going occupational and environmental health surveillance program, a second comprehensive study of the air quality at Joint Base Balad was conducted and the results will be published soon and help guide recommendations for the frequency and extent of future air quality monitoring,” Petraeus wrote.

He also said service members have health monitoring data included in their medical records.

The Joint Staff and other agencies will “continue to collect air, water and soil samples for scientific analysis in an effort to monitor potential exposure levels to our personnel and local Iraqis,” Petraeus wrote.

He also said he expects 23 incinerators, in addition to the 17 now operating in Iraq, to be completed by December 2009. In Afghanistan, treatment and disposal facilities are “in the process” of being designed.

“Additionally, I am establishing an environmental program team ... to help identify and resolve environmental issues from operations in Afghanistan,” Petraeus said.

Feingold said he had hoped to see more.

“I look forward to reviewing the results of the study of the air quality at Balad Air Base,” Feingold said by e-mail. “But based on the preliminary briefings my staff has received, I remain concerned that service members may become sick as a result of exposure to fumes at Balad Air Base and potentially other bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Feingold said he wonders about service members who spent more than 12 months, as well as Iraqis who spend years, breathing in the fumes.

“I will continue to work to ensure that the military does what it can to reduce exposures and ensure that any service member who becomes ill receives all necessary treatment,” he said.

I am glad to see that they are asking General Petraeus directly to get involved, but then I remember back to the first Gulf War and General Colin Powell made similar remarks about getting to the root of Gulf War Illness, it took 17 years, the VA finally gets a report stating that it was caused by toxins in the war theater, so rather than accept the report the VA Secretary sends the report to the IOM for more review, come on it has been 17 years and more than 25% of all First Gulf War veterans are already in receipt of VA compensation, almost all of the other war periods have a 9% disability rate.

This alarmingly higher rate of disability for the Gulf War and desert Storm veterans indicates there is something related to military service and the medical problems these men and women suffer from.

I hope these new Gulf War veterans do not have to wait two decades for answers.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Effects of toxic smoke worry troops returning from Iraq

Effects of toxic smoke worry troops returning from Iraq

By Adam Levine
CNN Supervising Pentagon Producer

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The pervasive smoke spewing from the junk heap at Balad Air Force Base in Iraq is causing many returning troops to be concerned about the effects on their long-term health.

The U.S. military burns waste -- including medical waste -- in pits near an Air Force base in Iraq.

1 of 2 For four years, the burn pit was a festering dump, spewing acrid smoke over the base, including housing and the hospital.

Until three incinerators were installed, the smelly pit was the only place to dispose of trash, including plastics, food and medical waste.

"At the peak, before they went to use the real industrial incinerators, it was about 500,000 pounds a day of stuff," according to a transcript of an April 2008 presentation by Dr. Bill Halperin, who heads the Occupational and Environmental Health Subcommittee at the Defense Health Board. "The way it was burned was by putting jet fuel on it."

A lawsuit filed against the burn pit operators by a contractor alleges the burn pit also contained body parts. Watch burn pits spew black smoke »

"Wild dogs in the area raided the burn pit and carried off human remains. The wild dogs could be seen roaming the base with body parts in their mouths," says the lawsuit filed in Texas federal court.

Aside from Balad, there are similar pits at bases elsewhere in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some still have no incinerators.

'Iraqi crud'

Many of the soldiers who went through Balad since the beginning of the war had become used to "Iraqi crud," as they dubbed the symptom.

"I had a chronic cough, irritation, shortness of breath," said Dr. Chris Coppola, an Air Force surgeon who worked on base in 2005 and again in 2007, "I was coughing up phlegm, sometimes black stuff and dust."

While Coppola said he didn't work in the burn pit, he knew the medical waste was going there.

"In 2005, our hospital waste wasn't segregated," he said. "Our trash went out the door and went into the burn pit." By the time Coppola returned for his next tour, the hospital did separate its medical waste for disposal elsewhere, he said.

Coppola said that when he worked at the base hospital, the emergency room had frequent visits for "respiratory complaints, complaining of the coughing and breathing issues."

Since he's been back from Iraq, Coppola said he feels "very healthy."

But other soldiers said they cannot shake the symptoms and they suspect the burn pit smoke is the cause.

Dennis Gogel was stationed in Balad twice between 2004 and 2006. He said he was in housing just a few hundred yards from the pit and would often jog past the pit.

The 29-year old Gogel said that in the last two years he's had upper respiratory infections, skin irritation and he's lost 60 pounds since deployment.

"I have blotchy spots on my face. I was treated for psoriasis, but it won't go way," he said.

Gogel said his doctors do not know what caused the problems.

"You expect when you get to a new environment you would feel the effect, but it should get out of the system," he said. Gogel said it has affected his fitness, too.

"I used to run two miles in 10 minutes. I am up to 17," he said.

Gogel has recently joined a class action lawsuit against the company contracted to handle waste disposal.

Just months after returning home from his first tour in Iraq in 2006, Maj. Kevin Wilkins developed headaches, but did not see a doctor.

Soon after his second Iraq tour in 2007, Wilkins -- a registered nurse in the Air Force reserve -- died of an advanced brain tumor. He was 51.

His widow, Jill, suspects the burn pit at Balad. While the cause of his brain tumor is not known, Jill Wilkins was told by doctors who worked with her husband at a Florida emergency room that exposure to chemicals like those that come from burning trash is a potential risk.

"Kevin was in perfect health before he went to Iraq," Wilkins said. "He's always been in good health, a healthy eater, exercises on a regular basis. There was not one thing wrong with him when he went to Iraq."

Wilkins is trying to show the cause was service related so she can get access to her husband's pension, medical insurance and other benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Concerning memos, questionable tests

One reason many soldiers suspect the burn pit is a widely circulated 2006 memo in which an environmental engineer cited a still-classified study labeling the pit "the worst environmental site I have personally visited."

The memo, written by Lt. Col Darrin Curtis, a bioenvironmental engineering flight commander, concluded "there is an acute health hazard for individuals."

"There is also the possibility for chronic health hazards associated with the smoke," Curtis said.

The memo is co-signed by Lt. Col James Elliott, chief, Aeromedical Services, who wrote that he concurred with Curtis' memo.

"In my professional opinion, the known carcinogens and respiratory sensitizers released into the atmosphere by the burn pit present both an acute and a chronic health hazard to our troops and the local populations," Elliott said.

More alarm was raised in the military community when the initial draft of results from a 2007 study was released with a math error, overstating the dioxin levels tested by 1,000 times.

The report was circulated by the military's U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine "in the interest of transparency and the fact that they needed this information very quickly in order to answer service members' concerns," said Craig Postlewaite of the force readiness and health assurance office at the Department of Defense.

But Postlewaite said the error has been corrected and the data re-analyzed. A new test and report will be out soon. The military said smoke from the pit exposed troops to toxic emissions, including low levels of cancer-causing dioxins. But its tests indicate there is no long-term danger, officials said.

"The data indicate that there are no substances above a health threshold that should generate any long-term health risks, including cancer," Postlewaite said.

At the Pentagon's Force Health Protection Directorate, officials analyzed more than 160 air samples and concluded, in a soon to be released report, that the only risk is of temporary respiratory distress, nothing that poses a long-term threat.

"We have looked at respiratory health complaints for people that have been assigned to Balad. These complaints, by and large, are temporary in nature, most of them involve eye irritation, irritation of the upper respiratory passages, possibly a cough," Postlewaite said. "We know just right here in the United States for people that are around those kinds of conditions, like firemen, this is not unusual. But we feel that the data support the fact that these all should be temporary in nature."

A review of the findings by the military's advisory group of medical scientists and doctors concurred with the report's conclusions.

However, in the general findings, the report questioned whether the conclusions would hold "when more thorough analysis is conducted." But a spokeswoman for the military said the final report, expected this week, will find the testing conducted was sufficient and conclusive.

The reviewing panel also expressed concerns about how pervasive the burn pits were, according to a meeting transcript of the advisory group.

"It seems like there may be something systematic going on here in terms of waste disposal techniques going on in the [war] theater," notes Dr. Mark Brown, director of Environmental Agents Services at the Department of Veterans Affairs. "You couldn't get away with this kind of waste disposal here in the United States.

Pits still in use

The concern about the pits was first reported in the Military Times. Upon seeing that article, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, wrote to Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, to express his concern about the smoke's effect on troops.

Petraeus responded citing the military findings, but said burn pits are necessary.

"There is and will continue to be a need for burn pits during contingency operations," Petraeus wrote back to Feingold in a letter provided to CNN.

Five years into the Iraq war, many bases still do not have incinerators. There are 17 solid waste incinerators, two hazardous waste incinerators and 24 medical waste incinerators operational in Iraq, according to the military. Another 23 are under construction with some not scheduled to be completed until the end of 2009.

In Afghanistan, where the United States has been fighting since 2001, there are no incinerators.

"Our military leaders in Afghanistan are in the process of designing treatment/disposal facilities for solid waste," Petraeus wrote to Feingold.

Feingold said he awaits the latest report.

"I remain concerned that service members may become sick as a result of exposure to fumes at Balad Air Base and potentially other bases in Iraq and Afghanistan," Feingold said. "Service members who serve at the base for more than a year could still be in jeopardy as a result of exposure to the fumes."

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VA Urges Vets to Sign-up for Direct Deposits

VA Urges Vets to Sign-up for Direct Deposits

WASHINGTON (December 15, 2008) -- Every month, 730,000 veterans or
survivors look for their compensation, pension checks or educational
assistance payments in their mailboxes. Nearly all receive them, but
theft and mail delays cause problems for some veterans, which can be
prevented by direct deposits.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is urging those veterans and
family members now receiving paper checks to join nearly 3.1 million
others whose VA payments are safely deposited electronically.

"VA is teaming up with the Treasury Department in a new campaign to
protect government beneficiaries against the theft of funds and of their
identities," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake.
"Veterans earned -- and rely on -- the financial support we send them
every month. I urge them to help VA ensure they get those funds
reliably and safely by signing up for direct deposit."

Peake cited several easy ways to sign up for direct deposit -- calling
VA toll-free at (800) 333-1795 or enrolling online at
Veterans, and family members who receive VA payments, also can sign up
by contacting a VA regional benefits office or their financial
institution. Information about direct deposits will be included in VA's
monthly compensation and pension envelopes throughout 2009.

The VA Secretary urged veterans to remember that direct deposits relieve
worry about mail delivery being delayed by severe weather or natural
disasters. The deposits also eliminate trips to banks or credit unions
to deposit checks, while providing immediate access to money at the same
time each month.


I have to say I spent 17 years at the Postal Service, I even had my pay check direct deposited rather than worry about it every 2 weeks. I first started direct deposit in the Army decades ago, and I learned the safety and security of having the check auomatically deposited and most banks don't charge you for having a checking account if you have direct deposit, like they do if you take your monthly checks in and deposit them. I have never missed a check or lost one in the past 30 years.

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Former Ranger on cross-country trek for Tillman He is currently just East of Little Rock on US 40

the approx route:

current location is available on-line.. Virginia Beach, Va., to Hermosa Beach, Calif.,
Former Ranger on cross-country trek for Tillman

By Kendall Owens - Times-Herald via AP
Posted : Sunday Dec 14, 2008 14:37:57 EST

FORREST CITY, Ark. — The story of Pat Tillman is well known. He’s the former professional football player who walked away from a multi-million dollar contract and career to join the Army and become a Ranger before being killed in Afghanistan.

A 31-year-old former Ranger is now walking across the country to raise money for Tillman’s foundation and to share his own personal story about Tillman.

Rory Fanning, a Chicago native, began his trek in September, walking a circuitous route from Virginia Beach, Va., to Hermosa Beach, Calif., in hopes of bringing more awareness to Tillman’s foundation and seeking to raise $3.6 million in the process.

Fanning served with Tillman in the 2nd Ranger Battalion, and said that, while Tillman may be known for his crushing hits on the football field and his service to his country, he was much more than that.

“I served with Pat at Fort Lewis in Washington when we were going through Ranger training,” Fanning said in an interview as he passed through Forrest City. “He was an all-around good guy.

“Most folks remember him for hitting receivers as they came across the middle on a football field and that strong will of his, but he was so much more,” Fanning said. “He was one of the most well-read men I’ve ever met. He was a great listener and a great leader.”

Fanning said 80 percent of those who go to Ranger school don’t finish.

“Pat would always take those guys to the side and put his arm around them and reassure them and tell them how he didn’t make the cut when he first went to the NFL. That’s the kind of guy he was,” said Fanning.

Fanning said money raised during his cross-country walk will provide scholarships for students along with leadership training. He said that he averages about 100 miles a week and has followed a route along area railways.

“I average about 100 miles a week and have met some interesting people along the way. I’ve slept outside 90 percent of the time behind a Waffle House or another business in the towns I come to and cook my meals over a fire most of the time,” he said.

“The amazing thing that I’ve encountered along the way, by far, is the people that I’ve met. In this day and age, I’ve been invited into several people’s homes,” Fanning said. “It’s a testament to the generosity and trust that we as Americans still have to this day.”

In Forrest City, Fanning was met by Jerry England, also a former Army Ranger. England escorted Fanning through town and said he was impressed by Fanning.

“Being a former Ranger, I was very impressed with what this young man is doing and proud of what he’s doing in honor of his friend by walking across the country,” said England.

England offered Fanning a place to lay his head while he was in town as temperatures dropped.

“He told me that he would be okay and even called ... just to check in and let me know that he had made it all right,” England said.

England, Forrest City and Arkansas have impressed Fanning, who is detailing his stops on his blog site at During the interview this week, Fanning said that Forrest City was a refreshing site in his travels.

“I’ve been within 10 feet of a bear in Alabama, and I’ve been chased by pit bulls as I’ve walked,” he said. “When I walked off of the tracks in Forrest City there was just something about this town I liked. It was nice to see a town that still had shops in the downtown area and wasn’t just a Walmart.

“The people here have been just wonderful and helpful and made me feel welcome. It’s been that way since I got into Arkansas. It’s really made an impression on me,” he said.

Fanning left Forrest City headed for Little Rock. He said that his journey would take him to Hot Springs later this month.

Asked when he hoped his travels would end, he said, “I’m not really certain, I’m not rushing, and this is all about bringing awareness to the foundation. I’ve been stopping talking to the kids and talking at schools and high schools and, if it takes me a little longer than I expected to do this, then so be it. It’s just been great so far, and I’m in no hurry.”

Fanning said he intended for his pilgrimage to be as low-tech as possible. He carries only his backpack, a walking stick, a Blackberry cellular phone and a GPS.

“I bought a pair of $10 leather shoes from Walmart, and they’ve lasted me through the first four months,” he said laughing. “I had someone in Birmingham insist on buying me a good pair of shoes, but I’m fine with what I have. I had my laptop when I started out so that I could post my blog entries every night, but I’ve sent that home and now just use my Blackberry to update the site. I have my GPS to give me directions in case I get a little lost,” he said.

Sent: Monday, December 15, 2008 6:20 AM
To: Jim
Subject: Walking for Pat.......

Former Ranger on cross-country trek for Tillman
The story of Pat Tillman is well known. He’s the former professional football player who walked away from a multi-million dollar contract and career to join the Army and become a Ranger before being killed in Afghanistan.
A 31-year-old former Ranger is now walking across the country to raise money for Tillman’s foundation and to share his own personal story about Tillman.

Walk For Pat:

Read Rest Here:

“What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight… is how we behave. In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect. While we are warriors, we are also all human beings”
-- General David Petraeus
May 10, 2007


Pat Tillman is a hero and they did not need to dishonor him by making up the bogus stories to award him the Silver Star when he died. He was a true patriot and showed it by walking away from a multi million dollar football contract to join the Army and to become a Ranger. Pat Tillman will always be remembered as a hero by military personnel not because of his death, but because of his life, and his selflessness and his love of his country.

I have worked with a lot of men awarded medals and called "hero's" Pat truly is a hero, and he really did live he lived large.

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Veterans in need return to a nation in the red

Veterans in need return to a nation in the red

In Baltimore and across the nation, officials are bracing for new waves of war veterans to return home - amid worries that federal and state budget cuts will threaten programs that offer a lifeline for those facing health and career problems.

Demand for jobs and mental health services among veterans is swelling as public and nonprofit organizations struggle to build and maintain a support network to address issues that might not emerge for months or even years.

More than 1.8 million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, creating a need for veterans' services not seen since the World War II generation came home six decades ago.

There are 480,000 veterans in Maryland, and their ranks are growing as troops return from the two battlegrounds.

Yet after several boom years for veterans, there are just barely enough services to care for their needs. And trouble is brewing.

"I anticipate we are going to have difficult times," said James A. Adkins, Maryland's secretary of veterans affairs.

At first caught unprepared, federal and state veterans departments have responded in recent years with a smorgasbord of new and expanded programs for tuition assistance and financial aid, employment counseling, and physical and mental health programs.

The demand for mental health services is especially troublesome, and officials are warily awaiting what might be a tidal wave of new claims.

According to a Defense Department Mental Health Advisory Team study released earlier this year, as many as one in three of the troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been exposed to blasts from roadside bombs, rockets, mortars or suicide bombers.

About 590,000 such soldiers reported outright injury, short-term memory loss or being in a dazed or confused state that prevented them from completing their mission.

One of them was Aliyah Hunter, 27, who grew up in Baltimore before she joined the Army. Her base in northern Iraq in 2004 was hit almost daily with mortars and rockets. Car bombs exploded outside the walls. She was terrified, with reason. One day, a suicide bomber got into the mess tent and detonated his charge.

Her world turned orange. She was flung away through a jumble of bodies and smoking wreckage. Friends and tent-mates were killed outright. Their bodies were set aside while the wounded were taken away. Hunter staggered out with perforated eardrums, a concussion and back injuries.

Her troubles really started when she got home to Baltimore after completing her tour. It seemed that nobody understood or appreciated what she'd done, what she'd gone through, what she'd lost. Life for others went on as before. She felt betrayed for being unprotected.

She didn't have the words to make people feel what she felt.

You return from that experience, she said, "speaking a foreign language."

After two years of spasmodic white-hot anger, broken friendships and family bitterness, Hunter sought help for post-traumatic stress disorder.

At the VA Medical Center in Baltimore, she got it, working through long and intense sessions with mental health professionals. Still in therapy, she is working as an outreach counselor for homeless veterans.

"We speak the same language," she explained.

"I'm OK. I'm contributing," she said in a soft voice. "Maybe I was a little greedy before. Everything was about me. My life now is dedicated to giving back."

But, she added, "I think I'll be in transition for five years."

Other veterans have spiraled downward for years and even decades before they hit bottom.

Vietnam, 1968: Dwight Lamar flew in medevac helicopters under fire, "bagging and tagging" American dead and lifting the wounded from bloody battlefields. Back home, deeply disturbed and angry, he turned to drugs.

Lamar lost 40 years to cocaine before he realized he'd be gone if he didn't grab a lifeline. So last spring he turned up on the steps of a former paper cup factory in downtown Baltimore, a red brick building that houses the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training.

"I don't blame anybody for my drug problem," said Lamar, a handsome, rangy 57-year-old. "The most important thing for me was to be honest about what I was doing to destroy my life."

Now he is clean, drug-free and learning to manage life's sometimes bumpy path without narcotics. Soon, he will graduate back out into the world with a new confidence and a good job.

"I came to the Vets Center crying for help," he said. "They answered."

MC Vets, as it's known informally, operates on a $3.3 million budget, providing an intensive continuum of care for the most needy veterans: those who are homeless, jobless, addicted to alcohol or drugs or both, and suffering from chronic mental and physical complications like schizophrenia, major depression, hypertension, diabetes and HIV.

"People come in who need an overhaul - a tune-up just won't do," said Larry Smyth, a VA clinical psychologist and Vietnam veteran who works at MC Vets.

The center is not a shelter; its goal is to return vets to society as productive citizens, and it claims a 75 percent success rate, with graduates earning an average of $13 an hour in full-time employment.

"This is one of the very, very few places where you can get an overhaul," Smyth said.

Veterans taken into the program here must be clean - detoxed. Once inside, they live in a structured military environment and are provided counseling, vocational education, medical and dental treatment and other services from state and federal agencies as well as the University of Maryland, the Johns Hopkins University and other organizations.

According to its most recent annual report, the center receives 78 percent of its funding from government sources.

"Right now, we're pretty safe," said Charles Williams, the center's executive director and a Vietnam veteran.

But he sees potential trouble ahead as the veterans' population swells and as other nonprofit organizations cut back their services because of shortfalls in financial support. "Some programs not as secure as us will have to cut back, and we will see those people here," he said.

Maryland Lt. Gov Anthony Brown, an Iraq war veteran, has fought to increase services for veterans, winning approval earlier this year for increased spending that includes a three-year national pilot program to locate veterans and connect them with such state and federal services as family counseling, substance abuse and financial counseling.

Adkins, the state veterans chief, is hiring three full-time counselors to help veterans file claims to benefits they have earned and to help veterans not eligible for benefits find other assistance.

These counselors will help Maryland veterans navigate the bewildering maze of U.S. Veterans Affairs regulations and procedures. About half of them now attempt it on their own, and as a result, the Maryland veteran's average compensation is one of the lowest in the country, about $7,654. In West Virginia, where veterans get better assistance from claims counselors, the average government compensation is $11,348.

Adkins says he hopes his department can make progress despite the storm clouds he sees ahead.

"We have not had to cut any support yet, but I've asked my staff to prepare just in case things get worse," he said in an interview last week. "I hope I don't have to deal with anything that cuts to the bone."

That's a worry shared by Williams, the director of MC Vets. With veterans like Hunter and Lamar not seeking services until months or years after they leave active duty, he knows that it is difficult to plan ahead.

"We have to get to them before drug and alcohol abuse becomes a pattern," he said. "If we can get them in here, we can work with them."

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Military Turns Health Care into "Warrior Care"

Military Turns Health Care into "Warrior Care"

By Jeff Hess @ December 15, 2008 3:31 AM Permalink | Comments (0)
The Department of Defense and Veteran's Affairs remake their health services to prevent another Walter Reed.
Michael Dominguez with the DoD says they were rattled by the Walter reed scandal.

"Bluntly, we failed. We let our service members down," Dominguez said they learned a lot from the mistakes that led to Walter Reed.

They have changed health care to warrior care. This represents a change in their approach to health care in response to the lessons of Walter Reed.

He said they are working much more closely with the VA to ensure a smooth hand off for soldiers who are badly wounded.

"They're cared for. The VA knows they're coming. There's a smooth hand off," He said they are also simplifying the program so that warriors just get one injury number that they can use with DoD and VA, instead of two.

They are also trying to make the health care less contentious.

"We have tried to take the adversarial nature out of it. We have tried to push a lot more customer care forward," He said they needed to make the health care more focused on the person instead of getting hung up in the process.

To do this they are working in a command structure to help soldiers focus on the goal of getting well.

"So they have a squad leaders and battalion commanders and people who advocate for them in their mission to get well," he said that includes support for those officers so they can focus on their soldiers as well.

He says they VA and DoD still provide some of the best health care on earth, as evidenced by the fact they send the worst injuries there and not somewhere else. The failure of Walter Reed, according to Dominguez, was structural not with the doctors or patients.

"WE needed to do better on that. WE weren't paying attention to that costumer care challenge. And again, it wasn't the docs. The medics were doing superb," Dominguez said.

He said they still have a lot of work to do and plan to keep the warrior care project around to continue to improve the program. He said they are trying to expand coverage and access to areas that had been hard to reach before. He also points to recent investment in research into brain trauma and PTSD as evidence that they are preparing for the unique health challenges that soldiers are incurring during the Iraq war.

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Fighting On Two Fronts

Fighting On Two Fronts

By Daniel Stone | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Dec 10, 2008

When Sharlet Lynn found out she had breast cancer last January, she was alone. Sitting in a hospital room in San Antonio, Texas, a doctor told her that she had ductal carcinoma, a fairly common and treatable type of breast cancer. The road ahead would require surgery, chemotherapy and a hefty bout of radiation. As devastating as the news was, Sharlet couldn't share the news with anyone just yet. Her husband was more than 7,000 miles away, having been deployed with the Army to Afghanistan for a full year. And she didn't think her teenage daughters, already struggling with their dad's absence, were ready to hear that their mom was seriously ill.

When the couple did talk a few days after the diagnosis, Sharlet, 52, and her husband Lt. Col. Chip Lynn, 44, wrestled with a question facing roughly 1,600 military families each year. What to do when one spouse is serving abroad and the one back home is faced with a life-threatening condition? The military makes some accommodations for unexpected situations on the home front, but some families say it's almost impossible to compensate for the absence of a spouse in times of real family crisis.

A long war-zone deployment is a trying psychological experience even without any complicating factors. A 2006 study from the University of Virginia found that more than 20 percent of all Iraqi veterans are diagnosed with psychological disorders, many with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Add to that the anxiety of being absent from a high-stakes health crisis back home, and the difficulties are unimaginable. "The fear abroad that you may lose a family member, or concern that you aren't there when they need you is enormously traumatic," says Col. Kathy Platoni, a psychologist with the Army. "Talk about a psychological overload of catastrophic stressors."

Meanwhile, on the home front, families are also in a war zone—trying not to worry too much and to keep the household functioning on their own. While PTSD is a condition the military normally uses only with the service members themselves, Platoni says that family members can be affected by similar symptoms, like anxiety disorders. The dark cycle of each spouse worrying about the condition of the other can lead to deeper and deeper depression, in some cases alienating the two from each other, which can exacerbate the PTSD symptoms upon a soldier's return. Chip says that being so far away, he sometimes felt emotionally removed from his family, not being there to help when he could tell they needed him.

The military does have a safety net to help families. The Department of Defense helps coordinate what they call Family Readiness Groups (FRGs) that consist of military families, volunteers and military officials to provide assistance on the home front. Officially, they lay the framework for communication among families in a particular unit, like drafting a phone tree to spread news, good or bad. But less structured is the community that FRGs create. With access to families in similar situations, military families often help one another with neighborly tasks, too, like coordinating errand runs or help finding a babysitter. Banding together is something you find often among military communities. "People come together in times of crisis or just to help each other out," says Platoni, "I've seen it happen in many resource groups."

In the face of a crisis like the one that the Lynns were facing, the obvious solution is to ask that the deployed member come home; aborting the national mission in order to enlist in a more personal one. The military has guidelines in place for such occasions, like when an accident occurs or a child is in immediate need of parental care. The policy states that since "most soldiers are mature and responsible individuals," emergency-leave requests can be "considered on their merits." In many cases, the Red Cross is called on to verify the need for a sudden trip home and to help with logistics. (The military declined to release statistics on how often this occurs.)

Chip requested leave in February, just a few weeks after Sharlet's diagnosis, but he didn't get the OK. The colonel above him who made the decision encouraged him instead to wait until April when he'd be eligible for the regular two-week leave that's granted to anyone who has been deployed for six months. Chip, a calm, quiet man seemingly out of place in a war zone, politely explained that his wife was fighting cancer, and that regular leave was for rest and relaxation, which there would be little of in going home to help care for Sharlet.

The request was denied again and Chip decided not to pursue it any higher. (A military spokesman wouldn't comment on the decision of a particular officer, but said that members of the military who need to take leave in extraordinary circumstances are usually granted it.)

Telling Sharlet he couldn't be with her for this ordeal was the hardest part for Chip. "He denied me," Chip explained in February when he managed to get a rare call through.

Sharlet stayed silent for a moment, "So you'll be here in April?" she asked him.

"It'll have to be April, then home for good in September," he said.

Aiming to let Chip know that she was staying strong, Sharlet answered carefully: "Just come home when you can."

With even a brief visit out of the question, there was no getting around the fact that during some of the toughest moments for Sharlet, like when she fought chemo nausea and her hair began to thin, she couldn't have her husband at her side or hear his voice. So the two created some unconventional ways to keep in touch. Phone access is sparse in battle areas and the military often filters and delays e-mail messages for security reasons. But they found a free Web site run by a nonprofit group called Caring Bridge which allows loved ones to connect during an illness.

Caring Bridge estimates that almost 10 percent of its 130,000 personalized pages were created by military spouses as a way to keep in touch with loved ones abroad. Founder Sona Mehring started the site in 1997 to help a friend communicate during premature-birth complications. "Helping people go through any type of health condition or crisis is very powerful," Mehring said. "The last thing they want to worry about is keeping in touch with everyone." One military family used the service to keep in touch during a full-term pregnancy. Another stayed connected while several members recovered from a car accident.

The site allows a family administrator to post photos and write journal entries and messages; visitors can leave thoughts by signing a guest book. Chip says this was the primary way he kept up with how Sharlet was doing. And Sharlet took great comfort in the community she created with her personalized portal, which had more than 2,500 visits from friends. "I am so thankful your surgery has gone well," one friend wrote in late January. Two months later when her hair began to fall out, another visitor joshed, "I LOVE the new do!!!" At one point when Sharlet was unable, her sister took the reins of the site. "Sharlet is home and doing well," she told the community. "She is not in pain and is in good spirits."

By the time Chip got back on leave in June, Sharlet had just finished her last radiation treatment, after a rigorous round of chemotherapy. "He and I were both bald," she joked.

The one thing Sharlet didn't have to worry about was health insurance. Military families say that the silver lining for them is that if they are hit by an illness, every dime of treatment is covered if patients seek treatment at approved hospitals and medical centers in their region.

Under the military's current time parameters, Chip is now loosely afforded two years at home after his one year in the field, though with the fight against terrorism ongoing and a new president about to assume office, he knows he's on call. For now, he's working with the Army based at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

With Christmas on its way, the Lynns say that they're grateful not to be facing a new year like the last. And with Sharlet's cancer in remission, she and Chip and their daughters have had some time to reflect on how waging simultaneous battles tested their family. Despite moments of strain early in the process, Sharlet says they came out of it stronger than before. "This was something bigger than any of us," she says. "And yeah it was hard, but it brought us a lot closer, which was a blessing."


God help the families caught in situations like this.

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