At Fort Hood, Reaching Out to Soldiers at Risk
By JAMES DAO
Published: December 23, 2009
FORT HOOD, Tex. — The day after a gunman killed 13 people here last month, Lt. Gen. Robert W. Cone, the post’s commander, fired off an e-mail message to an unusual audience: local advocates for disaffected soldiers, deserters and war resisters. “I am told you may be able to help me understand where some of the gaps are in our system,” he wrote.
Last week, those advocates put General Cone’s offer to a test. A specialist who had deserted last year wanted to turn himself in. Would the general help the soldier, who has post-traumatic stress disorder, get care?
The general said yes.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said James Branum, a lawyer representing the specialist, Eric Jasinski. “It is very unusual for the commanding general to get involved.”
For years, Fort Hood has been an emblem of an overstretched military, with long deployments and combat-related stress contributing to rising numbers of suicides, divorces, spousal abuse and crime, mental health experts say.
Now, after the Nov. 5 shootings, the post is trying to show that it has another side, one that can care for its frailest and most battle-weary soldiers.
For the last month, the Pentagon has dispatched scores of psychologists, therapists and chaplains to counsel soldiers and their families, and bolster the post’s chronically understaffed mental health network. It has overseen the creation of a new system of trauma counseling. And it has pledged to speed the hiring of dozens of permanent new mental health specialists.
But the stepped-up efforts, while welcomed even by critics of the Army’s record in dealing with combat-related stress, are also seen as a test of its resolve to break with the past. Making change stick remains a challenge not just for Fort Hood, but the entire Army, as it struggles to improve care for its rising tide of deployment-strained soldiers.
Already, many of the therapists newly dispatched here have left; when all are gone, the post will need at least 40 more, General Cone said. Over all, the Army is short about 800 behavioral health specialists, Pentagon officials say.
Even more daunting will be fighting the ostracism and stigma faced by many soldiers who admit problems.
Although most of his commanders support their troubled soldiers, the general said, “Occasionally what you get is a leader who fails.”
In Specialist Jasinski’s case, one of his commanding officers told the soldier’s mother recently that he did not believe Specialist Jasinski had P.T.S.D., Mr. Branum and the mother said. Since then, doctors have checked the specialist into Fort Hood’s mental ward, concerned that he was suicidal.
Getting soldiers to use Fort Hood’s expanding array of support services — most of which opened not long before Nov. 5 — can be difficult. Many soldiers remain unaware of the family therapy and round-the-clock chaplain counseling in a “spiritual fitness center,” a chaplain said.
A three-week soldier “reset” program uses cranial massage, yoga and acupuncture to alleviate the hyper-vigilance that accompanies the stress disorder, but the program is limited to 16 soldiers at a time.
And General Cone, a West Point graduate who took command here in late September, has maintained a policy started by his predecessor that requires commanders to let their units go home by 3 p.m. on Thursdays and prohibits weekend training, unless he approves it. But complaints abound about extended hours and duties that require soldiers to bring work home.
It is too soon to say whether more soldiers are taking advantage of Fort Hood’s expanded services. But several said the programs helped them cope with the shootings.
“There are a lot of things the Army did to get us through this,” said Lt. Col. Pete Andrysiak, commander of the 20th Engineering Battalion. The battalion, which leaves for Afghanistan early next year, lost more soldiers, four, in last month’s rampage than any other unit.
Specialist Jasinski, 23, who enlisted after high school in 2005, spent 15 months in Diyala Province north of Baghdad. The experience changed him, his family said. A friend was killed; another lost a limb. While serving in an intelligence unit, he said, he collected data used in airstrikes that killed many Iraqis, perhaps including civilians.
After returning home in late 2007, he struggled with depression, excessive drinking and bouts of anger and crying. A doctor told him he had P.T.S.D. and, records show, prescribed antidepressants. Still, he thought he could make it to February 2009, when he was eligible for an honorable discharge.
But in the fall of 2008, Specialist Jasinski learned that the Army had involuntarily extended his tour, scheduling his unit to return to Iraq in 2009. And despite his having the stress disorder, the Army expected him to go.
On the day he was to return to Fort Hood from leave last December, he spent 14 hours in his parents’ living room staring out a window and muttering, “I’d rather die than go back.” His parents told him to stay.
“It’s not about Eric being a coward,” said his mother, Laura Barrett, 46, a counselor’s assistant at a high school in Jonesboro, Ark. “He’s a strong man. And he was intelligent enough to know he could not do it again. He would hurt himself. He might hurt someone else.”
This November, after he spent a year stacking inventory at a big box store, his parents urged him to return to Fort Hood, and he agreed. “The stress of being away without leave and not knowing if I was going to be picked up was an extreme mental drain, every day,” Specialist Jasinski said in a recent interview.
Officials at Fort Hood declined to discuss his case.
Dr. Adam Borah, chief of the resilience and restoration center at the post’s Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, said soldiers with P.T.S.D. are occasionally deployed when their illness seems under control. But some people are deployed because the disorder is not spotted.
“There are still holes in the system,” he said.
General Cone has helped other troubled soldiers, as well as Specialist Jasinski, said Chuck Luther, the founder of an advocacy group, Disposable Warriors. But the general is to deploy to Iraq in March, leaving behind his deputy to oversee Fort Hood for a year. Mr. Luther and other advocates worry that mental health programs will suffer.
General Cone insisted that would not happen. He noted that by the time he leaves, 85 percent of Fort Hood’s soldiers would be home from war, the highest percentage in years. “It happens at a good time for us because, frankly, we need that kind of positive environment,” he said.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 25, 2009
An article on Thursday about mental health services for soldiers at Fort Hood, Tex., in the wake of killings there misstated the given name of a soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder who deserted the post last year. He is Specialist Eric Jasinski, not Chris.
I SALUTE LTG Cone for his leadership on getting help for his troops, and I am sure he will monitor from overseas what is happening on "his base" he may be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan but he will remain the Commander of Fort Hood, his deputy will be in charge but he won't "command" and that is what many people do not understand, while General Cone will not be physically present on Fort Hood he is still the "Commander" of Fort Hood, the deputy in charge if he is good will do only what the Commanding General wants him to do, and if he has doubts about what the Commander wants then it would behoove him and his career to either get on the phone or computer and find out what the Commander wants, it is just that simple. The military is not that hard to figure out, if you are dealing with people that understand the "Command" is exactly that the Commander can go by the "book" if he wants to it is there for guidance, but to actually command means it is "your decision" on what happens, to many military officers confuse what the term to "command" means, and they are the ones who should never be given a command.
Command is a lonely place, it is your call on what you do at times sometimes the Commander makes the right choice and sometimes they make the wrong choice, and history remembers them that way. Custer will always be remembered for failing in such a big way, Patton will always be remembered for his command of tank divisions he was the best, it was his interactions with people that got him in trouble.
I like LTG Cone and I hope he is on the short list of those being considred for his 4th star, I would think he would make a great Chief of Staff of the Army in the next decade.
Thursday, December 31, 2009
At Fort Hood, Reaching Out to Soldiers at Risk
Monday, December 21, 2009
INVESTIGATION: Veteran's Battle for Benefits
For seven months CBS 6 has investigated the harsh reality more than one million Veterans face everyday. Many are having the hardest of times battling for their benefits they feel their owed after they put their lives on the line for their country.
Chauncey Robinson who you met in September has been battling the Veteran's Adminstration at all levels for 17 years and continues to get no where with his case. If you recall he was an Army private during the Gulf War. An assault inside his barracks left him with a permanent heart condition. He has extensive medical documents that ties that assault to his heart condition but insists the V.A. keeps delaying his case.
In our intial report back in September both the N.Y. Regional Office of Veteran's Affairs and the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs only released statements to CBS 6 regarding Chauncey's case. While CBS 6 offered to drive down to New York City for a one on one interview, this time around they agreed to talk but only by phone.
Diana Rubens the V.A.'s Associate Deputy Under Secretary for Field Operations admits that there is plenty of room for improvement inside their system. She says changes have been made to the process but when CBS 6 e-mailed them later asking what those changes have been, they never responded.
Since Chauncey has been unable to get anywhere with his case, we decided to invite him in on our interview with Diana Rubens. Chauncey asked specific questions about his case in which Rubens couldn't answer and asked that he submit his questions in writing. Not getting anywhere his 17 years of frustration came out. "Why is the Regional Office not taking accountability for their administrative error. Don't sit there and tell me that this is on me! It's on that office!
CBS 6 was only granted 15 minutes for the interview. When our time was up we asked for more time for Chauncey but were declined. The Press Person Sue Hopkins stayed behind. That's when Chauncey spoke again. "How in the world can you say you're trying to help me! 17 years! How, How How! Do you know how I feel right now. You don't care about me at all. There's no compassion there maam. I'm sorry but that's the way I feel!"
Many Veterans say their call for help hasn't been answered by local leaders as well even though they answered the call for duty. So CBS 6 made a call to Senator Kirsten Gillibrands office. The Senator agreed to speak with us via satellite from her Washington D.C. office. Our first question was about Chauncey and when he might finally get an answer. "I will place calls to the VA and I will find out what the status of his case is. We'll talk to him today" says Senator Gillibrand.
Senator Gillibrand's office did call Chauncey. Her office also says they are waiting for a call back from the VA so they can walk through his case line by line with them".
Sue Frasier has been battling for her benefits for more than 34 years. We introduced you to her back in September. She too has medical records that ties PCB water and air contamination on the base she served in the 1970's to her many diseases. Since our investigation nothing has changed on her case either. "There are one million cases in the backlog, one million. It's about chronically underfunding the VA. It's always about not enough resources, caseworkers and not enough people to answer the phones" says Senator Gillibrand.
Which is why she says her colleagues in Washington are working to change that.
"One of the bills we're actually debating right now on the Senate Floor is the VA bill. There's money put in that bill to help with the backlog. Money set aside specifically for hiring people and getting the backlog reduced on a timely basis" says Senator Gillibrand. Gillibrand adds that any Veteran battling for their benefits should call her office if they need help.
Both Chauncey Robinson and Sue Frasier aren't so sure that will work but one thing they do know for sure. They're not going away and neither are the one million veterans caught up in the backlog of claims.
I see that Congress has given the money to the VA to hire almost 2000 new claims processors, the problem with that is it takes almost 2-3 years before they are trained to the point of being able to adjudicate the claims, the CFR 38 is huge and it takes a long time to learn what is needed to approve or deny claims according to the VA rules. Sue Frasiers claim deals with toxic exposures and Chauncey's is 17 years old I don't know if his circumstances are similar to mine where I got my PTSD service connected to a robbery and attempted murder at Fort Wainwright Alaska back in Feb 1975 and my cardiologists showed how the early onset of cardiac disease was secondary to my SC PTSD. With the VA the doctors need to play connect the dots and show exactly how the PTSD is related to the cardiac symptoms. I think that with Chauncey trying to get back pay to the Gulf War, that is one of the reasons the VARO is denying the claim, 17 years of back pay is roughly 425,000 dollars if his PTSD is 100% and he is trying to get the cardiac secondary to PTSD then that would be at a level the VA calls SMC S a difference of about 300 a month and for 17 years that would be a difference of 61,200 dollars approximately, a lot of it depends on if Chauncey is service connected for PTSD from the assault in the barracks, if not, then he has a lot of problems.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
An Officer and a Creative Man
By MARK MOYAR
Published: December 19, 2009
Leadership Survey Responses AS President Obama and his advisers planned their new approach to the Afghan war, the quality of Afghanistan’s security forces received unprecedented scrutiny, and rightly so. Far less attention, however, has been paid to the quality of American troops there. Of course, American forces don’t demand bribes from civilians at gunpoint or go absent for days, as Afghans have often done. But they face serious issues of their own, demanding prompt action.
The American corporals and privates who traverse the Afghan countryside today are not at issue. They risk life and limb every day, with little self-pity. Despite the strains of successive combat deployments, they keep re-enlisting at high rates.
The problems lie, rather, in the leadership ranks. Although many Army and Marine officers in Afghanistan are performing well, a significant portion are not demonstrating the vital leadership attributes of creativity, flexibility and initiative. In 2008, to better pinpoint these deficits, I surveyed 131 Army and Marine officers who had served in counterinsurgency operations in Iraq or Afghanistan or both, asking them each 42 questions about leadership in their services.
The results were striking. Many respondents said that field commanders relied too much on methods that worked in another place at another time but often did not work well now. Officers at higher levels are stifling the initiative of junior officers through micromanagement and policies to reduce risk. Onerous requirements for armored vehicles on patrols, for instance, are preventing the quick action needed for effective counterinsurgency. Of the Army veterans I surveyed, only 28 percent said that their service encouraged them to take risks, while a shocking 41 percent said that the Army discouraged it.
The climate of risk aversion begins in American society at large, which puts a higher premium on minimizing casualties than on defeating the enemy. It continues with American politicians and other elites who focus on the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Haditha in Iraq, but rarely point out the far more numerous instances of American valor.
It doesn’t need to be this way in the Army. After all, the Marine Corps has succeeded in inducing its officers to operate independently. More than twice as many Marine survey respondents as Army respondents — 58 percent — said that their service encouraged risk-taking. Marine culture is different because the career Marine officers who shape it are, on average, less risk-averse than career Army officers.
Researchers have found that the leadership ranks of big organizations are dominated by either “sensing-judging” or “intuitive thinking” personality types. Those in the former category rely primarily on the five senses to tell them about the world; they prefer structure and standardization, doing things by the book and maintaining tight control.
In the late 20th century, the Army gravitated toward standardization, as peacetime militaries often do, and consequently rewarded the sensing-judging officers who are now the Army’s generals and colonels. But this personality type functions less well in activities that change frequently or demand regular risk-taking, like technological development or counterinsurgency. Organizations that thrive under such conditions are most often led by people with intuitive-thinking personalities. These people are quick to identify the need for change and to solve problems by venturing outside the box.
Today, the Army has more intuitive-thinking people among its lieutenants and captains than at the upper levels. Too many of these junior officers continue to leave the service out of disillusionment with its rigidity and risk aversion. To their credit, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Army chief of staff, Gen. George Casey, have been trying to fix this problem, directing promotion boards to value creativity and initiative. But more drastic treatment is required.
The military should incorporate personality test results into military personnel files, and promotion boards should be required to select higher percentages of those who fall into the intuitive-thinking group. Many highly successful businesses factor personality testing into promotion decisions; the military, with far more at stake, should be no less savvy.
More immediately, our generals should repeatedly visit the colonels who command brigades and battalions to see if they are encouraging subordinates to innovate and take risks. Commanders who refuse to stop micromanaging should be relieved. The change may be disruptive and painful, but in the long run it will save lives and shorten wars.
Mark Moyar is a professor of national security affairs at Marine Corps University and the author of “A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency From the Civil War to Iraq.”
I served in another era innovation was encouraged by the Army, the old ways did not work, it was especially encouraged after Vietnam. The training programs seemed to be based on tactics that were not seen as effective in the mid 70s. We wer getting new weapons and new weapon systems, we are also transforming from a draft army to an all volunteer Army. Supposedly the troops were more motivated to learn. Going outside the "box was encouraged" instead of being told how to do it step by step, we were given an objective and told to "do it" and as the junior officers and NCOs we would be held accountable for the success of the mission.
You had leeway to try new tactics, to forget the manuals, you just better be prepared to explain it, when it went wrong, and sometimes things went wrong in every which way they could, but that also was useful we learned what was not possible or feasible and what the true cost would be if reality was on the line. ( do not order 150 yards of rope to scale down cliffs in the dark when it is 200 yards to the bottom, it gets ugly quick).
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Agent Orange's lethal legacy: Defoliants more dangerous than they had to be
By Jason Grotto and Tim Jones
December 17, 2009
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Part 5 of a Tribune investigation unearths documents showing that decisions by the U.S. military and chemical companies that manufactured the defoliants used in Vietnam made the spraying more dangerous than it had to be. Complete coverage >>
As the U.S. military aggressively ratcheted up its spraying of Agent Orange over South Vietnam in 1965, the government and the chemical companies that produced the defoliant knew it posed health risks to soldiers and others who were exposed.
That year, a Dow Chemical Company memo called a contaminant in Agent Orange "one of the most toxic materials known causing not only skin lesions, but also liver damage."
Yet despite the mounting evidence of the chemical's health threat, the risks of exposure were downplayed, a Tribune review of court documents and records from the National Archives has found. The spraying campaign would continue for six more years.
Records also show that much of the controversy surrounding the herbicides might have been avoided if manufacturers had used available techniques to lessen dioxin contamination and if the military had kept better tabs on levels of the toxin in the compounds. Dow Chemical knew as early as 1957 about a technique that could eliminate dioxin from the defoliants by slowing the manufacturing process, according to documents unearthed by veterans' attorneys.
Since the Vietnam War, dioxin has been found to be a carcinogen associated with Parkinson's disease, birth defects and dozens of other health issues. Thousands of veterans as well as Vietnamese civilians were directly exposed to the herbicides used by the military.
Debilitating illnesses linked to defoliants used in South Vietnam now cost the federal government billions of dollars annually and have contributed to a dramatic increase in disability payments to veterans since 2003.
Documents show that before the herbicide program was launched in 1961, the Department of Defense had cut funding and personnel to develop defoliants for nonlethal purposes. Instead it relied heavily on the technical guidance of chemical companies, which were under pressure to increase production to meet the military's needs.
The use of defoliants led to massive class-action lawsuits brought by veterans and Vietnamese citizens against the chemical firms. The companies settled with U.S. veterans in the first of those suits in 1984 for $180 million.
Since then, the chemical companies have successfully argued they are immune from legal action under laws protecting government contractors. The courts also found that the military was aware of the dioxin contamination but used the defoliants anyway because the chemicals helped protect U.S. soldiers.
A 1990 report for the secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found that the military knew that Agent Orange was harmful to personnel but took few precautions to limit exposure. The report quotes a 1988 letter from James Clary, a former scientist with the Chemical Weapons Branch of the Air Force Armament Development Laboratory, to then- Sen. Tom Daschle, who was pushing legislation to aid veterans with herbicide-related illnesses.
"When we initiated the herbicide program in 1960s, we were aware of the potential for damage due to dioxin contamination in the herbicides," Clary wrote. "We were even aware that the 'military' formulation had a higher dioxin concentration than the 'civilian' version due to the lower cost and speed of manufacture. However, because the material was to be used on the 'enemy,' none of us were overly concerned."
Military scientists had been experimenting with herbicides since the 1940s, but funding cuts in 1958 left few resources in place to fully evaluate the chemicals for use in Vietnam.
"I was given approximately 10 days notice to come to Vietnam to undertake 'research' in connection with the above tasks," wrote Col. James Brown of the U.S. Chemical Corps Research and Development Command in an October 1961 report to top brass just as the defoliation program was ramping up. "Thus, a large order was placed on a very poorly supported research effort."
The military launched a limited herbicide program in 1962 that involved 47 missions. At the time, relatively little was known about the health effects of dioxin, in part because cancer and other illnesses can take decades to develop and the herbicides had only been in wide use since 1947.
But documents uncovered by veterans' attorneys show the chemical companies knew that ingredients in Agent Orange and other defoliants could be harmful.
As early as 1955, records show, the German chemical company Boehringer had begun contacting Dow about chloracne and liver problems at a Boehringer plant that made 2,4,5-T, the ingredient in Agent Orange and other defoliants that was contaminated with dioxin.
Unlike U.S. chemical companies, Boehringer halted production and dismantled parts of its factory after it discovered workers were getting sick. The company studied the problem for nearly three years before resuming production of 2,4,5-T.
In doing so, the company found that dioxin was the culprit and that they could limit contamination by cooking the chemicals at lower temperatures, which would slow production.
In response to questions from the Tribune, Dow said it didn't purchase the proprietary information on the technique until 1964 and didn't start using it until 1965. Records show it did not inform other manufacturers or the government about the technique until the military began planning construction of its own chemical plant to make herbicides in 1967.
By that time, Dow also had developed a procedure to test dioxin levels in batches of 2,4,5-T. The company provided that technique to other companies in 1965 but not to the military until 1967, the company said.
Earlier in the decade, nearly two dozen military officials and chemical industry scientists met in April 1963 to issue a "general statement" about the health hazards from 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. No one raised concerns about using the chemicals in Vietnam, according to minutes from the meeting.
Evidence focused largely on the fact that more than 300 million gallons of the compounds had been used domestically since 1947, even though the formulations for Vietnam would be far more concentrated and contain more dioxin.
"The committee concluded that no health hazard is or was involved to man or domestic animals from the amounts or manner these materials were used in aforementioned exercise," the minutes show.
Nonetheless, Dow told the Tribune it had been sharing information about health issues with the military. "In fact, the chemical manufacturers, including Dow, were in dialogue with the U.S. government regarding the potential hazards of chloracne in production workers beginning as early as 1949 and continuing through the 1960s," Dow spokesman Peter Paul van de Wijs said in a written response.
In 1965, the chemical companies involved in producing the defoliants met at Dow's headquarters in Midland, Mich., to discuss the contaminant's threat to consumers.
"This material (dioxin) is exceptionally toxic; it has a tremendous potential for producing chloracne and systemic injury," Dow's chief toxicologist, V.K. Rowe, wrote to the other companies on June 24, 1965.
But none of the companies informed the military personnel charged with overseeing the defoliation contracts of the safety concerns until late 1967, according to depositions from the lawsuits.
Internal documents from multiple companies indicate they were worried about the specter of tighter regulation.
Only after a study for the National Institutes of Health showed that 2,4,5-T caused birth defects in laboratory animals did the military stop using Agent Orange, in 1970.
Alan Oates, a Vietnam veteran who chairs the Agent Orange committee for Vietnam Veterans of America, said veterans have had little luck in their legal fight for compensation since the 1984 settlement.
Veterans have argued unsuccessfully in court that the settlement was insufficient because it came too early for thousands of people whose illnesses did not develop until after all the settlement money had run out.
One unresolved issue, Oates said, is whether chemical companies can be held liable for health costs associated with birth defects seen in the children of Vietnam veterans. "Now that it's starting to show it has an impact on future generations, what is the recourse for those folks?" Oates said.
Regardless of the "Feres Doctrine" and "government umbrella's" to protect the manufacturers of "poisons" that were sprayed on areas where American soldiers would be operating in, and the fact that the half lifes of these toxins appears to be decades, that it is now causing medical defects and cancers in children being born yet today, of American veterans and the children of Vietnam, shows that the American government should show some compassion to the affected people, this is NOT how compassionate people react, they accept responsibility for the damage they cause.
Part of the PROMISE made to America's young men and women when they enlisted or were drafted is if any thing related to your military service causes harm to you or your death, this nation will care for you and your family, financially and medically, yet for decades they have literally ignored the birth defects except spina bifida, and have spent decades fighting in court to stop from having to pay compensation for medical conditions caused by the toxins of Agent Orange, despite the admission by DOW how dangerous they knew this stuff was fifty years ago.
We can send billions of dollars to Africa to help the people there deal with AIDS yet we ignore the people of Vietnam we know we poisoned, does this make sense? What about our own veterans, General Shinseki just gave presumptive status to ischemic heart disease, and 2 other conditions that slip my mind at this moment, veterans of Vietnam have been demanding help for the high percentage of their veterans that have died from heart disease, suspecting but never able to prove the relationship due to the fact that scientists ignored heart disease in the official "Ranch Hand study" of air force crews that handled aerial spraying of agent orange. I guess if you ignore it then it never happened.......
Friday, December 18, 2009
'It's a rotten deal': Rent at veterans home to go up by as much as 37 percent
DOVER - Gary Forst moved into the Veterans Home at Union Grove about four years ago. Soon after, Harold Yonker moved in too.
The two men, veterans of different wars, have been friends ever since they moved into Gates Hall, one of the assisted living facilities on the Union Grove campus.
It won't be long before Yonker, 87, moves out. At least he hopes to. That's been his plan ever since he and his fellow residents learned in November that the Department of Veterans Affairs will increase their rent by as much as 37 percent.
The rate hike takes effect Jan. 1. That's when the daily rate of $83 jumps to a little more than $114 per day, at least for Yonker. That's an increase of nearly $930 each month. The rates vary for different residents, depending on the level of care they need. Many say they can't afford the increases.
"I really figured when I moved here this would be it, I would be here the rest of my life, but they are pricing me right out of here," said Yonker, a World War II veteran. "The staff bends over backwards. I've never had a nicer bunch of people. I'm not unhappy here. It's strictly a monetary thing."
Yonker said his monthly rent of roughly $2,500 will jump to nearly $3,500. It's more than he can afford, which is why he plans to move.
Forst, 66, has no choice. He has been nearly confined to a wheelchair since he broke a hip. The Vietnam veteran needs the kind of assistance that prevents him from living independently. So the veterans' home is an ideal place to live.
Residents and their families are concerned about the hike in rates and they're disappointed by what they say is the lack of explanation as to why the increases are so steep. There have been increases annually, but not this large, they said.
"It's a rotten deal. I'm partially disabled. I can't move out of this place, no way in hell, and I sure as hell can't afford to live here. It's just unbelievable," Forst said. "I'm sure that there are veterans in the state Legislature and the VA. How can these veterans treat fellow veterans this way?"
Both Forst and Yonker have been happy with their experiences at the veterans home. They're concerned about decisions being made at the state level.
Officials say the increases are needed to meet the costs for caring for residents at the veterans' home. A spokeswoman for the department could not provide specifics, and Commandant Randy Nitschke could not be reached for comment.
Union Grove is one of two homes run by the state's Department of Veterans Affairs. There are no planned rate increases at the Veterans Home at King. The Veterans Affairs Board has been discussing the rate increases since they were first notified in November 2008. Residents weren't notified until a year later.
Richard Bayer, Racine County's Veterans Services Officer, has responded to a handful of calls from indignant veterans ever since the rent increases were announced. They're upset about the increase. They think it's outrageous, Bayer said.
"‘Who can I talk to who can do something about this?' That is the universal question," Bayer said.
There is little he can do. So he has been telling veterans who have called to contact their state legislators.
"Whoever holds the purse strings for the Department of Veterans Affairs is ultimately the Legislature. It's their constituents who are calling me," Bayer said. "It kind of puts me in the position ... the only way I can advocate for the veteran is to send them to the legislators."
Kathy Lehsten was surprised when her father, Ray Lafferty, called about a month ago saying he had to move out of the veterans home. He's happy there. He's been happy ever since he moved to the home four years ago.
Lehsten and her father agreed that it was a good place to move. Lafferty had lived at much more expensive facility in Greendale, where his daughter lives. Lehsten thought the veterans home was going to be more affordable and she and her father have made accommodations for past rent increases. The most recent increase is too much, she said, and it comes without any explanation from officials as to why it is needed.
"The whole fact that they are even doing this to the veterans is appalling. This is about the most disrespectful thing I've heard of being done," Lehsten said. "These people fought for our freedom and they're treating them like this."
How much money do the state legislators think veterans have to pay veterans home's fee's, even the federal governments veterans homes take the veterans social sceurity checks and gives the veterans back 150.00 a month for personal needs, there is no set dollar amount, it's based on their income. I myself would never consider moving into one of these facilities based on my income I refuse to pay the governemtn 4500 or 5000 a month in fees to live in a small one room and a bath, I will stay in my home and find someone that needs a place to live on SS or a veterans pension and in exchange for their driving and grocery shopping if it comes to that point, I like my house, hopefully I will be accompanied by my wife until I pass, but just in case I refuse to be financially raped by a state nusring home.
Posted on Tue, Dec. 1, 2009
Ex-N.J. veterans' official pleads guilty in tax case
By Barbara Boyer
Inquirer Staff Writer
Vietnam veteran William Devereaux says he has never gotten over seeing
his best friend killed during a rocket attack on the 82d Airborne
"I only found the top of his head and his boots with the feet in
them," Devereaux, 64, wrote in a statement he released yesterday
morning. "I was never the same AGAIN!"
Minutes earlier, in Superior Court in Camden, Devereaux appeared more
humble as he pleaded guilty to theft related to tax payments.
Devereaux, a former official with the New Jersey Department of
Military and Veterans Affairs, apologized for what he called
"delusional" and "paranoid" decisions, and for embellishing his
military disabilities so he could avoid paying local property taxes.
Assistant Camden County Prosecutor Leslie Dicker said Devereaux
applied for benefits related to war injuries only after he began his
job of helping other veterans apply for benefits in 2002.
Devereaux pleaded guilty to theft under an agreement with prosecutors,
who will recommend a 30-day jail sentence that he can serve under
house arrest. If the deal is accepted by Judge Irvin J. Snyder, who
set sentencing for Jan. 29, Devereaux also will serve five years'
He has surrendered his job, can never work for the state again, and
has paid $54,142 in taxes he owed to Laurel Springs for 2002 through
2008, when he improperly claimed the military exemption, said his
attorney, Dennis Wixted.
Additionally, Devereaux may not work with veterans in any capacity for
at least five years. Had he gone to trial and been convicted, he could
have faced up to five years in prison.
"I'm very, very sorry for what has happened," Devereaux told the judge
at yesterday's hearing, after arriving in a black jacket emblazoned
with the 82d Airborne emblem in red stitching. He asked for
"compassion and forgiveness."
His troubles, however, are not over. Camden County Prosecutor Warren
Faulk said federal authorities were continuing the investigation.
Devereaux was arrested a year ago, when he worked as the director of
veterans programs for the state.
Devereaux first worked for the Camden County Office of Veterans
Affairs, in 2001. In 2004, Gov. Jim McGreevey appointed him director
of veterans' programs. In that position, Devereaux helped soldiers
suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
It was at that time, prosecutors said, that Devereaux learned how to
work the system, applying for the tax exemptions and claiming he was
100 percent disabled from the war.
Devereaux, in attending numerous military functions, wore a decorated
uniform that included high military honors, including a Purple Heart,
a Soldier's Medal, and a Bronze Star. He also received $34,000 in
military benefits federal authorities are reviewing, officials said.
He claimed he was injured as a paratrooper and artilleryman in Vietnam
and later used incorrect military records to qualify for property-tax
exemptions in Laurel Springs.
"It's outrageous that someone who worked for the Veterans
Administration would be engaged in this type of behavior," said Faulk.
Devereaux never received any of the medals he claimed, officials said.
Devereaux agreed, calling his behavior "despicable," but said he never
faked being in combat or his war-related disabilities when he served
with the 82d Airborne.
"Our unit arrived in Vietnam on Feb. 13, 1968, at Chu Clai," Devereaux
wrote in his statement. "Within three hours of landing, we took
incoming 122mm rockets and were attacked by Viet Cong from the
southeast and were pressed into fire fights. I had been
administratively trained and was completely unready to face this type
of action, however I did then and for the next five months."
During this time, he wrote, his best friend was killed 50 feet from
the spot where Devereaux took cover during the rocket attack.
Authorities said it was possible Devereaux had seen combat; according
to military records, he joined the Army in May 1967 and was honorably
discharged in May 1970. The records show he was assigned as a payroll-
distribution specialist to Vietnam for four months in 1968.
Devereaux's lies make it difficult to believe any of his story,
Initially, Devereaux said, he never told anyone about war-related
problems. He said he started treatment for post-traumatic stress
disorder in 1989 and was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000, which
he said was related to Agent Orange.
Although the military never gave him a 100 percent permanent
disability, which entitles him to additional benefits, Devereaux said
he had applied for one and still was waiting for a determination.
He knew, he said, it was wrong to apply for the tax exemptions and
claim medals he never received.
"I hated how the VA was treating me and the thousands of other Vietnam
vets in like situations," Devereaux wrote, adding, "I apologize
profusely for my irrational and despicable behavior in this case.
However, I can assure you that it was not done with a clear heart or
The saddest part of this is the man had "honorable service" in the Army during war, he distorted that to make himself into a "hero" without that he would have been the same as the hundreds of thousands of other war veterans, his stressor of seeing his friend killed should have been a legitimate sressor for a PTSD claim, his falsely claimed medals, his claim for property tax exemptions that he is not entititled to, this is what makes him a dispicable veteran and hurts the image of honrable veterans with PTSD......I hope he is ashamed of his behavior but his wearing of the 82nd Jacket indicates he isn't, why else shame the 82nd while in court for sentencing? His claim that the VA wasn't treating him properly is bull otherwise how does he explain the compensation checks he is receiving? Has the VA failed VietnamWar veterans, yes, just like they have other war veterans, veterans of classified experimental programs involving nuclear materials, chemical weapons and drugs from WW2 - 1975, biological experiments at Fort Detrick, SHAD/112, Dugway Proving Grounds, Utah, Fort Greeley, Alaska, toxic substances at every military base in the nation, after closure all of them have ended up on the EPA Superfund clean up sites, yet when veterans file claims related to the exposures the government claims that nothing was dangerous enough to harm the veterans at these bases. It baffles the mind that toxic substances can require superfund clean up yet the contaminated water wells are declared "safe" by the VA and DOD.
Kucinich Wins $8 Million Dollars for Gulf War Illnesses Research
Washington, Dec 17 -
Efforts by Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) to continue to help ailing veterans of the first Gulf War paid off yesterday when he won the inclusion of $8,000,000 for Gulf War Veterans Illnesses (GWVI) in H.R. 3326, the Defense Appropriations spending bill.
“One in four veterans of the first Gulf War suffers from Gulf War Veterans Illnesses. We absolutely cannot allow the research to be stopped. That is even more true recently as research has advanced dramatically in the last few years,” said Kucinich
Congressman Kucinich has consistently led the bipartisan Congressional effort to maintain this critical research. His most recent letter was signed by 26 Members of Congress including the bipartisan leadership of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and Health Subcommittee as well as members of the Appropriations Committee and Armed Services Committee.
“We have a responsibility to find treatments for the soldiers who continue to pay a heavy price for their service over 15 years later. We cannot leave them behind,” added Kucinich
Last year, the 454-page report by the Congressionally-mandated Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses concluded that the extensive scientific evidence now available yields three conclusions: Gulf War illness is real, was caused by toxic exposures during the war, and there are no currently effective treatments.
This does NOT indicate where the money will bespent and what research it will focus on, so is this a relevant victory or another "we are doing something" show? After almost 20 years and the bogus March 2003 Sarin report and the failure to even look at low level mustard agent exposures, DOD limited the IOM's research on the Sarin study to a very narrow margin and it ingored a 1994 NIH report on low level exposures to Sarin which indicated far more health issues than the IOM concluded, the main purpose of the DOD funded research is to limit the governments liabilities to veterans of the Gulf War, if they have to ignore the 75% disabled or deceased Edgewood Arsenal (test group) in order to achieve this they will, most of the 7120 Edgewood veterans (those knowingly exposed to chemical weapons and drugs. by the Army between 1955 - 1975) will this 8 million do any good?
Military: Burn pits could cause long-term damage to troops
By Adam Levine, CNN Pentagon Producer
December 18, 2009 8:36 a.m. EST
Washington (CNN) -- The military is backing off its previous position and acknowledging that some troops exposed to the burning of refuse on military bases could be susceptible to long-term health effects.
Since the issue first arose two years ago, Pentagon health officials have insisted that, based on its analysis, troops who were near burn pits at Joint Base Balad in Iraq -- the largest base in that country -- faced no long-term health hazards. That covered most of the troops who passed through the base.
The Department of Defense found that the burn pits, which are used instead of incinerators on some bases and outposts in Iraq and Afghanistan, could cause effects in the short term -- including irritated eyes and upper respiratory system problems -- that can lead to persistent coughing. But the department said "it is less clear what other longer-term health effects [there] may be."
But one of the top military health officials, Dr. Craig Postlewaite, signaled in a recent interview with the Salt Lake Tribune that certain troops, who have other medical conditions, may be at risk for long-term effects.
"Over time, we have come to recognize that certain individuals may be more susceptible to the effects of burn-pit smoke than others because of genetics and pre-existing health conditions and that some of these personnel may be at risk of more serious health effects following prolonged smoke exposure, and possibility to other inhalational exposures, such as tobacco smoke and possibly high levels of air borne particulate matter," Postlewaite said this week in a statement provided to CNN.
Certain individuals may be more susceptible ... because of genetics and pre-existing health conditions.
--Dr. Craig Postlewaite, military health official
U.S. Department of Defense
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
The military now suspects that exposure to burn-pit smoke combined with other factors -- such as smoking, proximity to the pit, certain genetic factors or pre-existing conditions -- could lead to longer-term effects.
After an outcry from veterans concerned that burn-pit exposure was not being acknowledged by the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs, both agencies have begun a larger study of troops to determine what other health effects there could be.
Service members have complained of symptoms ranging from chronic bronchitis, asthma, sleep apnea, chronic coughs and allergy-like symptoms to more severe issues including heart problems, lymphoma and leukemia.
A senior master sergeant with the Air Force, who did not want his name used because he is still in service, said that he now has a growth on his lungs and that his doctors think the burn pits were a contributing cause.
He deployed to Iraq in October 2004 and worked there for six months as a contract supervisor for the Army. His daily routine included driving past the burn pits at Balad as he ferried Iraqi contractors around the massive base.
As he drove by, the master sergeant could see the refuse being burned, from trash to concrete to sides of tin buildings and sheet metal.
"You just held your breath, because if you breathed, it would burn," he told CNN in a phone interview.
He slept about a mile from the pit, but, depending on the winds, the burning could create a "fog" over his compound.
"You could tell when the trash was burning," he said. "You could smell if it was really heavy and feel it burning in your nostrils and lungs."
The master sergeant was in good health before he left for Iraq. Earlier in his military career, he had worked with hazardous materials, but a predeployment scan in 2004 showed his lungs were in fine shape.
In 2006, after finding he would get easily winded and feel discomfort in his chest, the sergeant underwent testing, and a military doctor discovered a nodule on his lungs. A biopsy showed it was benign, but he needs to be tested every year. His doctors are concerned that his family history of cancer makes him more susceptible to further problems.
But his case illustrates just how difficult it is to link symptoms to cause.
As he said, he had worked with hazardous materials before he deployed. After Iraq, he was stationed in Naples, Italy, where the base also had trash disposal problems. Still, he knows that his lungs were clear before he was in Balad and that within a year of returning, he had the growth.
The Disabled American Veterans organization has been keeping a database of troops who report problems related to the pit. In one year, nearly 500 service members or their families have come forward, said the DAV's John Wilson.
That registry is "very narrow," Wilson said, because it relies on self-reporting. Rep. Tim Bishop, D-New York, has proposed legislation to have the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs create a registry of all service members exposed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congress already passed legislation, which the president signed, to prohibit the use of burn pits for hazardous waste unless there is no alternative.
A study that compared Iraq veterans with those who served stateside found that those who were in Iraq were diagnosed with new-onset adult asthma at twice the rate of stateside troops.
The head of the allergy section of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in North Port, New York, told Congress that since 2004, he has clearly seen an effect on previously healthy and athletic service members.
"Now these individuals suffer from a variety of respiratory illness, including asthma and difficulty breathing during exertion," Dr. Anthony Szema told a policy hearing in November.
That's what happened to Reservist Michelle Franco, who was a nurse at Balad from September 2006 through January 2007.
"What I saw was the smoke. What I felt was the smoke. What I smelled was the smoke," Franco said of her time at Balad. After she left, she started having breathing problems.
"When I came back, I couldn't climb stairs without problems breathing," she said. Tests by pulmonologists found asthma-like conditions, but her condition wasn't asthma. A private doctor and a military one told her it probably was caused by exposure to contaminants in Iraq.
Getting that diagnosis was a struggle for her. When she returned, burn pit exposure was not a recognized issue. She was told to lose weight, which she did, and it didn't help. She also exercised regularly and said she took all types of medicine, but medications didn't help, either.
As a nurse, Franco knew that she didn't just have asthma. But she said others may not realize they have greater problems.
"Because nobody knows, it seems to me the military member needs to be given the benefit of the doubt. I feel badly for the young men who don't understand this isn't asthma," Franco said.
Franco has had to prove to the military that her service caused her illness.
The military is trying to help that by better recording where people served, according to a Pentagon spokeswoman. Before 2006, at best, the records showed what country people served in. Now they can be tracked to the "ZIP code," the spokeswoman said.
There are just to many cases of cancer and other problems involving exposures coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan there has to be a link, the burn pits are one of the main culpits, but I am not one who will believe it is the only cause, their are other causes such as the spilt chemicals that KBR knew about at the water treatment facilities that the National Guard troops were guarding. Whose responsibility was it to notify the military chain of command that the chemicals on the ground were dangerous and toxic?
Regardless of what is causing it, this nation the military and VA officials have a responsibility to keep the "PROMISE" we make to all of those who serve, if your service causes you to become ill or dead we will take care of you and or your family, nothing more and nothing less.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Lifting the Silence
December 11, 2009
When soldiers come home with invisible injuries — traumatic memories of things they have seen and done — professional therapy should help them heal. Far too many soldiers are unwilling to seek it and many others, as James Dao and Dan Frosch reported in The Times, are keeping too tight a lid on what they reveal in therapy.
Veterans and Post Traumatic Stress DisorderThat is not just because of the stubborn belief that real warriors can’t show doubt or weakness. There is a strong and legitimate fear that a soldier who confesses horrible things to a therapist faces a serious risk of career damage, disciplinary action or even prosecution.
The military has rules governing the privacy of soldiers in therapy, but they contain more exceptions than the federal law protecting civilians. Experts told The Times that confidentiality doesn’t exist. A former military lawyer noted that the rules allow confidences to be breached to ensure the success of “a military mission” — which could mean almost anything a unit does.
This is a serious problem, especially as more troops coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan struggle with post-traumatic stress. There is no easy answer.
The privilege that allows soldiers to consult chaplains in absolute confidence cannot be applied wholesale to their relationship with medical professionals. Commanders have a right to know whether a soldier is fit to serve. Therapeutic secrecy should not be a hideout for soldiers who pose a danger to themselves or others.
Still, rules should be more carefully drawn so that not every painful discussion opens a psychiatric file or medication list to the eyes of a commanding officer. Therapists could find creative ways to make treatment more effective for reticent patients. The military needs to keep chipping away at the stigma of therapy.
The Pentagon is trying harder to identify soldiers with emotional problems before and after deployment. More aggressive screening and evaluation — for everyone who deploys — could help reduce the historical phobia about psychiatric care. If counseling and other mental-health services became the rule, more soldiers would know that therapy was available and useful.
No soldier should struggle alone, without a plan for treatment, the right medication, a professional’s guidance. A soldier needs to know that emotional problems need to be dealt with before they do lasting damage.
Lifting the Silence
as a ex SSG 11B3M I agree totally with this article, I wish I had sought treatment in Feb or March 1975 for couseling to help with the issues I was having after having 7 fellow soldiers beat me unconcious and stuffed me into a snow bank at Fort Wainwright in early Feb 1975 after robbing me, the Army did general court martial 4 of the men, they charged them with attempted murder and robbery, the other 3 were usedas government witnesses in exchange they only got Field Grade Article 15s and Bad Conduct Discharge the 4 men court martialed got 15 years in leavenworth.
If I had sought help then or after some of the other incidents that occurred like Operation Paul Bunyan in August 1976, my best friend getting hit and killed by a driver in Schweinfurt Germany in May 1979, my friends son drowning at Fort Irwin or some of the numerous training accidents that I witnessed at Fort Irwin, NTC, watching a man get decapitated when he was caught between 2 of the bases Sherican tanks that were mocked up to look like Russian BMP's the fiberglass fenders caught him right under the chin, and when he was pushed into the back of the other tank it was like watching someone pop a zit. I lost my lunch and now have a memory that will never go away. There are also to many places at Fort Irwin that are named after people I knew, for those of you who are not aware, the military names places after people that normally are killed on duty.
Seeking mental health should be mandatory so the stigma will be removed, I hurt myself and my ex wives and my family by not admitting I had problems back then, and they paid the price for it, I can't change that but I hope my admission now will help keep some of these new soldiers or veterans from making the same mistake I and too many other veterans did, think by ignoring it, the mental problems would go away, I learned there isn't enough booze or drugs to make them go away either.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Military: Burn pits caused illnesses
Health » Open burning has since been banned but many may face long-term effects.
By Matthew D. LaPlante
The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 12/15/2009 12:41:38 AM MST
Backing away from steadfast official denial, the U.S. military's senior health protection official said Monday that some service m embers might suffer long-term medical problems as a direct result of exposure to smoke and fumes from open-air burn pits scattered throughout Iraq and Afghanistan.
Physician Craig Postlewaite, director of Force Health Protection and Readiness Programs, said that while scientific evidence has yet to prove the link, the personal stories of veterans coming forward to report long-term health problems have convinced him of the connection.
"We feel at this point in time that it's quite plausible -- in fact likely -- that there are a small number of people that have been affected with longer-term health problems," Postlewaite said Monday in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune.
As recently as last month, Postlewaite had maintained the Defense Department's years-old position on the issue, telling Stars and Stripes that "only minor, temporary effects have been identified with the burn pit smoke." In July he told the Military Times that an assessment of the burn pit at the largest U.S. facility in Iraq, Joint Air Base Balad, found "no indication of any long-term health risks in personnel."
It was the sight and smell of the Balad pit that led an environmental engineer from Hill Air Force Base to write a memo calling the acres-large inferno "an acute health hazard."
In the memo, Air Force officer
Darrin Curtis warned that dozens of toxins, including arsenic, formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide, were going up in smoke at the Balad pit. U.S. service members and contractors were burning hundreds of tons of weapons, chemicals, plastics -- and even amputated limbs from the nearby theater hospital -- each week.
Curtis' memo set off widespread speculation that smoke from the Balad pit, and possibly others, was to blame for myriad health problems faced by returning veterans. But Curtis, who has since separated from the Air Force, told The Tribune he didn't intend to be a whistleblower -- he only wanted to help loosen the bureaucratic purse strings holding back money for a long-promised incinerator.
"It wasn't one of those 'God and country' things," Curtis said. "I wasn't trying to sacrifice myself. It was 2006. We'd gotten there in 2003. It had been forever and these things weren't getting fixed. My understanding was that there were different allowances for money depending on whether something was a health issue or wasn't a health issue, and I wrote the memo just so that everyone would know it was a health issue."
Relying on air and blood samples taken in early 2006, however, the military contended it had no reason to believe service members exposed to the Balad pit would suffer anything more than short-term respiratory problems and irritated eyes.
That position ran contrary to the contention of hundreds who had served at Balad and were dealing with long-term respiratory illnesses and other more serious problems.
Last month, Jill Wilkins began collecting such stories on a Facebook page devoted to those exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wilkins' husband, Kevin, served his first tour of duty in Balad in 2006. He died of a brain tumor in 2008. Dozens of others who have posted on Wilkins' site have told of loved ones who suffered or died from rare forms of blood disorders and cancer, including leukemia.
"It can't all be coincidence," said one of the site's members, JoAnne Och, whose son Steven is one of several people named on the site who died of Acute myeloid leukemia shortly after returning from Balad. "For one thing, you don't send sick troops over there, so for all of these people to be coming home with these very serious problems, there's something causing that."
The change in the military's position on the issue comes shortly after President Barack Obama pledged that health concerns related to burn pits would not become another Agent Orange.
"Nobody is served by denial or sweeping things under the rug," Obama told a roundtable of military reporters in August.
Regardless of past denials, the military has taken steps to clean up its waste disposal operations. Since 2006, it has purchased and installed dozens of incinerators for use in Iraq, including at Balad. In October, Obama signed a law prohibiting open-air burning of medical and hazardous waste except in which the secretary of defense deems there is no alternative.
Postlewaite declined to say what diseases he believed were most likely tied to burn pit exposure, saying it "would be premature for me to comment."
But he said studies are under way to try to determine the most likely related illnesses. "You've got to do some preliminary studies to generate the hypotheses that then you would test with larger studies," he said.
Postlewaite said he doesn't know how long it will take to test his new suspicions. Complicating matters, he said, is the possibility that exposure to smoke from the pits wasn't the only factor making people sick -- it may have been a combination of exposure and other causes that led to long-term illnesses.
"Our best guess is that there are some individuals that have an increased susceptibility to the smoke," he said. "It could be genetic or some pre-existing health condition... and it also could have been based on combined exposures."
At this point, he said, "we really don't know."
Military: Burn pits caused illnesses
This has become one of my pet issues since I was first contacted by Jill Wilkins about the VA claims process, what happened in Balad AFB, and other open bit burning sites, in Iraq and Afghanisatn is dangerous to military and civilians both contractors and the public that live down wind from the "burn pits" we also have a responsibility to the Iraqi and Afghani people exposed to these toxic soups besides our soldiers, Air Force Personnel, Navy Marines and Coast Guard assigned to these areas.
These people getting cancers, and rare blood disorders, have NO familty history of these type of medical issues. There appears to be a simple cause and effect, open burn pits people get sick, incinerators used no health problems, a simple math problem. I am one happy to see we have a President that is not willing to allow the DOD sweep this issue under the carpet as they have done in the past with Agent Orange, nuclear test victims, human experiments done during WW2 and the Cold War using chemical weapons and drugs, or biological weapons that were covered up first by National Security Act violations, if the soldiers talked about them they WOULD be prosecuted and sent to Leavenworth Prison for 25 years. That kept mouths shut for decades, but like all secrets involving tens of thousands of people, it came out, even SHAD/112 with about 6000 people.
My only surprise is that DOD was able to keep it a secret or at least maintained denialability for decades, until the late 80s,the 90s and finally the early 2000's when SHAD/112 finally was admitted to and DOD started releasing the dates and names of the ships involved in the open sea tests, the worst part of SHAD/112 was that none of the Navy personnel were even volunteers for experiments they were ordered by ship assignment to particpate in these open sea trials, and most never even knew what they were exposed to, why, or told what possible health problems they might face.
Edgewood Arsenal, Dugway Proving Grounds and Fort Detrick, the perseonnel used in these experiments at least volunteerd to be there, in most cases they were not told what they were being exposed to like LSD, or Sarin, mustard agents or any of the other substances they used from 1955 - 1975 in all 254 different substances were used on 7120 men, most will argue that we signed consent forms, yes we did, but we were never giving all the information we should have been told, we did not give "informed consent" which is required for all human experimentation, as required by the Nueremburg Codes of 1947, that we were prominent in establishing so we could prosecute the germans after WW2.
The DOD has used the IOM to do a few studies after the tests became public, but the contracts they wrote specifically construed the studies to only focus on one substance per se, like Sarin in March 2003 and ignore all other substances, despite knowing that mustard agents were also present at Kamisayah Iraq in march 1991 when they destroyed the Iraqi ammunition dumps. They also ignored other known health studies by the national Institute of Health that showed most body systems could be affected by Sarin exposure, they used the Edgewood Veterans as a control group for their Sarin Study that would be used to either grant or deny GW1 veterans, compensation claims.
The Edgewood veterans have a 75% death and disability rate as of FY2000 when they gathered the last long term health effects for that march 2003 Sarin study. They ignored all other exposures the other 253 substances, there is a group of veterans that are suing the DOD, Army and CIA over the Cold War experiments and this group has almost 100% disabled partially and 50% are totally disabled, what is the total of the 4022 men they found in FY2000? I doubt if DOD even wants to learn. Maybe the lawsuit will force them to.
I am glad the military of today has a Commander in Chief that is not going to allow this to Burn pit issue to be "buried" by bean counters at the Pentagon, 7 years into a war they should not have been using open pit burning still, it was a known health issue, yet they chose to continue doing it, now they have personnel sick, dead and families asking why? This did NOT have to happen for this long.
I am sure Major Wilkins would be proud of the work his wife Jill has done to bring this to the publics attention and to Congress's and the White House, she is a true patriot. I am sure she wished she was not at the lead in this battle, nor had to have the motivation she did to get into this issue, she and her children paid a high price over this, the loss of her husband and their father.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Soldiers Forced to Go AWOL for PTSD Care
Soldiers Forced to Go AWOL for PTSD Care
Sunday, 13 December 2009 15:54
Inter Press Service
By Dahr Jamail
MARFA, Texas, Dec 11 (IPS) - With a military health care system over-stretched by two ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, more soldiers are deciding to go absent without leave (AWOL) in order to find treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Eric Jasinski enlisted in the military in 2005, and deployed to Iraq in October 2006 as an intelligence analyst with the U.S. Army. He collected intelligence in order to put together strike packets - where air strikes would take place.
Upon his return to the U.S. after his tour, Jasinski was suffering from severe PTSD from what he did and saw in Iraq, remorse and guilt for the work he did that he knows contributed to the loss of life in Iraq.
"What I saw and what I did in Iraq caused my PTSD," Jasinski, 23-years-old, told IPS during a phone interview, "Also, I went through a divorce - she left right before I deployed - and my grandmother passed away when I was over there, so it was all super rough on me."
In addition, he lost a friend in Iraq, and another of his friends lost his leg due to a roadside bomb attack.
Upon returning home in December 2007, Jasinski tried to get treatment via the military. He was self-medicating by drinking heavily, and an over- burdened military mental health counsellor sent him to see a civilian doctor, who diagnosed him with severe PTSD.
"I went to get help, but I had an 8 hour wait to see one of five doctors. But after several attempts, finally I got a periodic check up and I told that counsellor what was happening, and he said they’d help me… but I ended up getting a letter that instructed me to go see a civilian doctor, and she diagnosed me with PTSD," Jasinski explained, "Then, I was taking the medications and they were helping, because I thought I was to get out of the Army in February 2009 when my contract expired."
As the date approached, a problem arose.
"In late 2008 they stop-lossed me, and that pushed me over the edge," Jasinski told IPS, "They were going to send me back to Iraq the next month."
During his pre-deployment processessing "they gave me a 90-day supply of meds to get me over to Iraq, and I saw a counsellor during that period, and I told him "I don’t know what I’m going to do if I go back to Iraq."
"He asked if I was suicidal," Jasinski explained, "and I said not right now, I’m not planning on going home and blowing my brains out. He said, ‘well, you’re good to go then.’ And he sent me on my way. I knew at that moment, when they finalised my paperwork for Iraq, that there was no way I could go back with my untreated PTSD. I needed more help."
When Jasinski went on his short pre-deployment leave break, he went AWOL, where he remained out of service until Dec. 11, when he returned to turn himself in to authorities at Fort Hood, in Killeen, Texas.
"He has heavy duty PTSD and never would have gone AWOL if he’d gotten the help he needed from the military," James Branum, Jasinski’s civilian lawyer who accompanied him to Fort Hood told IPS. "This case highlights the need of the military to provide better mental health care for its soldiers."
Branum, who is also co-chair of the Military Law Task Force, added, "Our hope is that his unit won’t court-martial him, but puts him in a warrior transition unit where they will evaluate him to either treat him or give him a medical discharge. He’d be safe there, and eventually, they’d give him a medical discharge because his PTSD symptoms are so severe."
He’s turning himself in "because he is not a flight risk and wants to take responsibility for what he’s done," Branum stressed.
"It’s been a year, I want to get on with my life and go to college and become a social worker to help people," Jasinski said of why he is turning himself in to the military at this time. "I want to get on with life, and I don’t want to hide."
Kernan Manion is a board-certified psychiatrist, who treated Marines returning from war who suffer from PTSD and other acute mental problems born from their deployments, at Camp Lejeune - the largest Marine base on the East Coast.
While he was engaged in this work, Manion warned his superiors of the extent and complexity of the systemic problems, and he was deeply worried about the possibility of these leading to violence on the base and within surrounding communities.
"If not more Fort Hoods, Camp Liberties, soldier fratricide, spousal homicide, we’ll see it individually in suicides, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, family dysfunction, in formerly fine young men coming back and saying, as I’ve heard so many times, ‘I’m not cut out for society. I can’t stand people. I can’t tolerate commotion. I need to live in the woods,’" Manion explained to IPS. "That’s what we’re going to have. Broken, not contributing, not functional members of society. It infuriates me - what they are doing to these guys, because it’s so ineptly run by a system that values rank and power more than anything else - so we’re stuck throwing money into a fragmented system of inept clinics and the crisis goes on."
"It’s not just that we’re going to have an immensity of people coming back, but the system itself is thwarting their effective treatment," Manion explained.
According to the Army, every year from 2006 onwards there has been a record number of reported and confirmed suicides, including in 2009.
There has also been an escalation of soldier-on-soldier violence, as the Nov. 5 shooting spree at Fort Hood by Major Nidal Hassan indicates. In 2008 there was also a record number of suicides for the Marine Corps.
Jasinski’s case is representative of a growing number of soldiers returning from the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan who are going AWOL when they are unable to get proper mental health care treatment from the military for their PTSD.
A 2008 Rand Corporation report revealed that at least 300,000 veterans returning from both wars had been diagnosed with severe depression or PTSD.
Jaskinski’s experience with the military has inspired him to offer advice for other soldiers who need PTSD treatment but are not receiving it.
"Do not, do not let a 5-10 minute review by a military doctor determine if you go to Iraq," he told IPS. "Even if you have to pay out of pocket, go civilian to a doctor… the military mental health sector is so overwhelmed, they won’t take care of you. Go see a civilian, and hopefully that therapist will help you… even then I’m not sure that will help… but you have to take that chance."
When asked what he feels the military needs to do in order to rectify this problem, he said: "A total overhaul of the mental health sector in the military is needed… we had nine psychiatrists at our centre, and that’s simply not enough staff, they are going to get burned out, after seeing 50 soldiers each in one day. We need an overhaul of the entire system, and more, good psychiatrists, not those just coming for a job, but good, experienced mental health professionals need to be involved."
Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist, is the author of "The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan," (Haymarket Books, 2009), and "Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq," (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from occupied Iraq for nine months as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last five years.
As a NCO I do not see the reasons to go AWOL to get help, sometimes I understand it is hard to get the right person to listen to you, I had the occasion a year ago to help a soldier that was in a similar position, he was being forced to train for a redployment to Iraq desoite being diagnosed with PTSD from his previous combat tour, his Commander told him that he would go to training while they processed him out on a medical, the entire time misleading him on what was happening. He got in trouble due to self medicating with alchohol, missing formations, they busted him from SP4 to E1, and then they were instead of discharging him on a medical with benefits they were going to give him a bad discharge with no veterans benefits, I contacted some people I know, they in turn contacted some people that could do something.
Within a week he was put into the Warriot Transition Unit, his rank was restored and all the disciplinary paperwork that had been slapped on him was revoked. He was medically discharged and is now 100% disabled thru the VA. This is when the system works right, not all soldiers are treated like the person in this article, but I will grant the system is not working right, and hasn't since this set of wars started.
Bottom line is financial to the DOD, to many medical discharges at 50% or greater as is required in a PTSD affected veteran that can not stay in service due to their symptoms of PTSD and soon the DOD will have billions tied up inmedical retirements for decades to come. The 3 trillion dollar war that Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Blimes wrote about, the cost of caring for the wounded and yes PTSD is a wound, just an unseen wound. Many times far worse than those that leave scars, and missing limbs.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
2 studies: PTSD is chemical change in brain
By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Dec 9, 2009 11:08:33 EST
Two new studies seem to provide more evidence that post-traumatic stress disorder is a chemical change in the brain caused by trauma — and that it might be possible to diagnose, treat and predict susceptibility to it based on brain scans or blood tests.
In one study, Christine Marx, of the Duke University Medical Center and Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, wondered why PTSD, depression and pain often occur together.
Researchers already knew that people with PTSD show changes in their neurosteroids, which are brain chemicals thought to play a role in how the body responds to stress.
Previous animal studies showed that blood neurosteroid levels correlated to brain neurosteroid levels, so Marx measured the blood neurosteroid levels of 90 male Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. She found that the neurosteroid levels correlated to symptom severity in PTSD, depression and pain issues, and that those levels might be used to predict how a person reacts to therapy as well as to help develop new therapies.
Marx is researching treatment for people with traumatic brain injuries using the same kind of brain chemical, and early results show that increasing a person’s neurosteroid level decreases his PTSD symptoms.
Marx’s work was funded by the Veterans Affairs Department, National Institutes of Health, the Defense Department and NARSAD, an organization that funds brain and behavior researcher.
A second study, conducted by Alexander Neumeister of Yale University School of Medicine, found that veterans diagnosed with PTSD along with another syndrome, such as depression, alcohol abuse, substance abuse or suicidal ideation, had different brain images on a CT scan than did those who had been diagnosed only with PTSD.
Neumeister became curious after realizing that veterans dealing only with PTSD responded differently to treatment than did those with PTSD and another diagnosis.
He said the finding is important for two reasons.
First, these differences “can have huge implications for treatment,” he said in a statement issued by the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, which released the two studies during its annual meeting this week.
For example, he said, treating a person with antidepressants addresses only the depression diagnosis — not the PTSD or the substance abuse issues. All of the issues need to be addressed, he said.
His second reason addresses the stigma behind seeking help for PTSD. Service members have said they fear being perceived as weak or cowardly, or their military careers will be hurt, if they seek help for mental health issues.
“Once veterans see this is a neurobiological disorder in which their brain acts differently in terms of circuitry and chemical function, oftentimes it motivates them to seek treatment,” he said.
In his report, Neumeister also said that depression with trauma is “biologically distinct” from depression without a history of severe trauma.
In other words, PTSD, depression and substance abuse can all be seen as a physical, chemical injury to the brain that occurs when the brain is exposed to trauma. As researchers work more with PTSD, they may be able to determine why some people are more susceptible to this chemical change than others, researchers said.
Neumeister’s work was funded by VA, NIH, NARSAD, the National Center for PTSD and the Patrick and Catherine Weldon Donaghue Medical Research Foundation.
2 studies: PTSD is chemical change in brain
If they have found it is a chemical change do they know the right chemicals (drugs) to help us change back to the way we were before we (PTSD) affected veterans became the people we are now? Will they be able to help us get back our lives that we had before PTSD destroyed them, jobs with security, great benefits, our retirement security back? I have given up in ever becoming "whole" in total, just as long as my family is taken care of when I die, that is all I ask of the VA now, the past 35 years has been a living hell.......and nothing can make that "whole" no matter what they do
I still believe the sooner people affected by trauma seek help for their mental health the greater the chance they can avoid a life of "avoidance, denialand self destruction" learning coping methods and getting counseling is essential to easing the impact of PTSD telling victims of trauma to "man up" "men don't cry" "carry your load" do nothing to help the people at risk for PTSD, if nothing else all it does is bottle it up, the soldiers fear that asking for mental health care is an end to their career in the military or any prospect of a decent job with law enforcement, fire departments, any type of government jobs etc, if they are perceived as being weak, by asking for help dealing with the stress of war.
War is an abnormal act, stress of it is normal not abnormal and the sooner the military culture realizes this and mandate mental health visits for all soldiers at the 3rd month, 6 month and one year anniversary dates of returning home, then the military will be in a better position for themselves and their troops, Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guardsman or women deployed to a hostile area.
Eustis Woman Is a Crusader against Burn Pits
posted by eric on 7th, 2009
Story By: Michael Harris
Photo By: Anthony Rao
Jill Wilkins talks freely about her loss with anyone within earshot – and that may be over a cup of coffee in her dining room, sitting in her study and conversing with people over the Internet or in front of Congress if that is what is to be.
The Eustis resident calls the last year and a half an “adventure,” a ride that started in a tiny Veteran’s Administration office in Tavares where she felt absolutely sick after leaving that office just several months after her husband, USAF Major Kevin E. Wilkins, RN died of a brain tumor.
Her cause is one where she helps families of other Iraqi War soldiers make sure they collect their benefits and what is entitled to them as a possible result of exposure to toxic chemicals. The toxic chemicals are caused by burn pits – a waste-disposal system of KBR, the company contracted to provide services to the military bases overseas.
According to a lawsuit by the Washington law firm Burke O’Neil; their clients have seen batteries, unexploded ordnance, gas cans, mattresses, rocket pods, and plastic and medical waste (including body parts). The fumes contain carcinogenic dioxins, heavy metals and particulates, according to an Army–Air Force risk assessment, and they flow freely across bases.
It is believed that Kevin Wilkins died as a result of these toxins.
“When he died from the brain tumor, the Lt. Colonel Johnson who was there (at the hospital) really didn’t talk about anything because it happened (Kevin going into the hospital and his passing) in like five days,” Jill says. “Afterward, while I was signing the paperwork, I was chatting with the two (administrative assistants) from Patrick Air Force Base and they were the ones who said Colonel (Lewis) Neace had questioned them on when Kevin’s headaches started. I remember the doctor in the emergency room at Waterman asked if Kevin was around any toxic chemicals and he said, ‘oh yeah all kinds.’ And then Kevin started talking about the burn pits.”
In the end, Jill has received her benefits and what she was entitled to by the military by shear luck. A little-known statute by the VA states that if a soldier dies within a year of his or her tour, the family is automatically entitled to the benefits. Major Wilkins’ second tour ended on April 3, 2007, yet he died on April 1, 2008.
It is yet to be determined if the burn pits were the cause of Major Wilkins’ death and, like him, there are many other soldiers who suffered from chronic or unusual medical complications that never remotely had them prior to going to Iraq.
“My whole thing now is what else can I do to help other people?” she says. “I only got this far because other people helped me. I mean if all of these people didn’t help me, I would have given up after that first appointment at the VA office.”
Bound and determined
After Colonel Neace questioned how Major Wilkins had passed, Jill applied for her benefits through the VA citing his death as a possible result of the burn pits. The woman behind the desk turned her down without so much as a kind word, claiming she didn’t have enough evidence.
“It was a horrible experience,” Jill says. “She said I didn’t have enough information. I was just sick when I left there.”
Through research and making friends on the Internet, she began making headway through the VA office in St. Pete. Her story is the main subject of talks given by Deborah Crawford from Oregon aka Ms. Sparky. Ms. Sparky is a former KBR employee, who has returned and speaks out vehemently about the contracting company. Ms. Sparky and Jill have become very good friends.
But it was one of her Internet friends, who asked about the dates of Major Wilkins’ tour, which helped Jill the most. It was her friend Mike that pointed out that the Major had passed within a year of his tour ending and mentioned that Jill was entitled to benefits.
“It’s weird because nobody else knew about that and of course I didn’t know,” she says.
It was also about that time that Wolf Blitzer of CNN heard of Jill’s story about the burn pits and asked her to be on the show. That was last December and Jill did tell her story.
Three weeks later, she received her benefits from the VA.
As she states, it could have ended at that point. But it didn’t – what of her friends she had made on the Internet? What about the other families who have come down with complications?
“My purpose now is to help other people,” Jill says. “Because really if some those people didn’t have a Web site and I wouldn’t have found it, then I wouldn’t have been connected to this other lady, Cheryl Harris, whose son was electrocuted in one of the showers over there which KBR did the wiring for. She’s still waiting on her benefits.”
It was earlier this year Jill was contacted by the Washington law firm of Burke O’Neil to help speak on a lawsuit against KBR.
“What scared me is when they said, ‘if you’re willing’ they would fly down that week and talk to me,” Jill recalls. “I wasn’t familiar with law firms and I was having trouble getting some health benefits. I said this is something I can’t do right now. Some of my friends on the email were showing me the lawsuit. But I had one friend who said I shouldn’t feel guilty about coming forward in the lawsuit. Really, he said ‘they need you and need your story because your husband already died and you had been through the VA department and he said they need you on this case.’ He said, ‘by you not joining the case would be weaker for others.’
“I ended up doing it because my case would help all of the other soldiers,” she added. “It seems like there are about 200 soldiers who were in this lawsuit.”
According to the Burke O’Neil Web site, the lawsuit is still going on.
In a Newsweek article from June, linked on the Burke O’Neil Web site, KBR won’t discuss burn pits while it reviews the suits. The article continued by saying a KBR spokeswoman e-mailed that KBR isn’t responsible for the Balad pit (Burke alleges it is) and that “any burn pit operated in Iraq or Afghanistan is done pursuant to Army guidelines.”
The article also mentions that Kevin Robbins, a former KBR employee who ran a pit near Al Kut, says he had no guidelines on what could be burned when he arrived.
A Hobby that’s More Than a Hobby
For Jill, with the loss of her husband always on her mind, the whole scene has been “a learning adventure.”
For the soldiers continuing a battle with the VA and through the lawsuit, it’s a financial burden. One example had Burke O’Neil’s suit carried onto Congress and one soldier couldn’t afford to get to Washington to speak on his behalf.
That’s another area where Jill has come in; she sponsored the soldier’s trip to Washington.
“It wasn’t that expensive. They already had a place to stay, so I flew him and his wife there, and his speech was awesome,” Jill says. “He included Kevin in it. So that was another thing I could do to help.”
She tells the story of the young soldier who was there as a weatherman who stayed in a tower. According to Jill, that soldier, Tony, has a blood disorder and has to take a chemotherapy pill every day.
She wants to keep in this fight for others because Jill came very close herself to being in the same boat as other soldiers and their families.
It’s not been determined if Kevin’s brain tumor was caused by the burn pits, but the fact he died within one year of his last tour made Jill very fortunate. If it had been as much as three days later, she wouldn’t have been.
“You know it’s not that I wouldn’t have got my benefits down the road, but it would have been a longer battle. I would have been with everybody else right now in the same group fighting.
“But I never got something that wasn’t (owed). I’m receiving everything that I can get.”
It was through friends that kept her going. She owes that to them and others, who will be returning home. In the future more and more cases, like Major Wilkins’, will be coming and challenges will occur, but Jill is ready to fight at home for our soldiers.
“I’ve already surpassed what I thought I could do because I put my story out there on CNN,” she says. “But then it started a snowball effect, because now people are questioning the burn pit, who was subjected to it and what’s happening now.
“You think after you get your benefits that you’re done, but then your Internet buddies get on there and they start talking about how you need to do this and speak out. I figured God gave me this ability to be comfortable in front of TV and it’s an adventure for me to do this. If they called me right now and said ‘will you speak in front of Congress?’ Oh yeah – in a heartbeat.”
For more information on Jill and her cause see:
To see Jill on The Situation Room with Wolf Biltzer:
To see burn pit photos go to:
Okay I am cheap and sleazy the bold part is about me this wonderful lady contacted me last year and asked me some questions, and all I did was share some information about how if a military person gets sick or dies within a year of service, that is related to something that happened while on active duty, the spouses and children are entitled to all of the benefits as if the person was 100% service connected at the time of their death, or if they become totally disabled.
It covers stuff like cancer, heart attacks, strokes, respiratory issues etc.
Jill going on CNN and the newspaper articles that was all her and she is my hero, she is still taking it to the military about the burn pits and I salute her for that.
Medical Malpractice Lawsuit: Veteran had cancer, denied colonoscopy
Veteran with cancer sued hospital for denied testing
Legal news for New York Medical Malpractice attorneys–A war veteran was denied a colonoscopy when he had colon cancer, which caused him to file a lawsuit against hospital.
Buffalo, NY (NewYorkInjuryNews.com) – A local war veteran is suing a New York VA hospital after being denied a colonoscopy, when he had a history of colon cancer, according to WIVB, on December 3, 2009.
The veteran, David Cohen, found out later that the hospitals rejection may have put him in a situation where cancer may claim this man’s life. The patriot, who proudly fought for his country in the U.S. Navy, now fights a personal battle of colon cancer.
Cohen was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer in August 2009 in Buffalo’s VA hospital. He said that his history of colon cancer began with his grandmother, along with several other family members. Cohen, knowing that this deadly type of cancer ran in his bloodline, requested a colonoscopy and was denied several times.
Cohen’s prognosis states that he only has 26 months to live, but he plans on surpassing that time frame. He now shares the simple message with all people he meets that they should not take no for an answer and to go with your gut. Cohen filed a lawsuit against the VA hospital.
Veteran with cancer sued hospital for denied testing
There is something just wrong about this, the VA hospital where I go insists I have a colonscopy and I do not have a famiy hostory of colon cancer, I did serve in areas where Agent Orange was used, but none of the blood tests show any elevated rates, I think the test they use for pre colon cancer screening is called a PSAT and I have never raised any warning flags and I don't see any reason to go thru the colonoscopy. Why would this VA hospital deny a person who has a family history of it? Is it possible that he is not service connected for any medical problems to military service and his income is to high for him to be considred low income and thus eleigible for VA health care. Many people assume just because you are a veteran that you can go to the VA for healthcare, this is not true and thereare many obstacles to getting all of your health care from the VA.
In most cases the veteran has to have a service related medical problem rated higher than 50% or higher, the medical problem you are seeking treatment for is already service connected, or you have been under poverty level income for the previous year. This story sounds bad on the basis of this article but there are many questions not asked or answered here. I will not get upset until I learn more of the facts. I have received excellent treatment from the VA, and I am just a regular veteran, I have nothing in my past that makes me eligible for special treatment from the VA.