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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Fox News Delivers Strong Combat PTSD Piece

FOX News delivers a great piece of reporting on PTSD this week. I want to thank reporter Kelley Beaucar Vlahos for her efforts in presenting PTSD to the FOX News audience. She wrote a solid piece any veterans health advocate should be glad to be associated with. And she eased my worries (this was the first time I was approached for an interview on the subject).

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

From the article:

Blaming what they say is a shortsighted, under-funded system that does not learn from past mistakes, some advocacy groups say they are concerned that the federal government is unprepared to help the wave of troops returning from Iraq seeking mental health care.

"We should have been ready for this," said Steve Robinson, director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, a veterans advocacy organization. "It's simple math: If there is an increase in demand, and there is not an equal increase in dollars to hire new people to buy more equipment or provide more services, the person who suffers is the returning veteran."

Vlahos goes on to share some veteran mental health stats that come from a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in March.

She refreshingly included my main criticism I have with the data: you simply can't use these statistics (which are from the first year of the war) to reliably conclude what the current mental state of our soldiers is. As ground-breaking as this study was (and it honestly deserved the credit and attention it received), today's Iraq battlefield is entirely different than the one that existed in 2003 -- and that difference has a direct bearing on the number and intensity of PTSD cases we're seeing today.

The numbers were based on screening and follow-ups of more than 300,000 troops returning from Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia from May 2003 to April 2004, leading many to surmise that the number with mental health problems has increased since then, since the rate of battlefield casualties among U.S. service members has also risen.

"[The study] is only marginally relevant to what condition our troops currently find themselves in," said [the] editor of PTSD Combat: Winning the War Within. "A lot has changed since that time, including increased number of troop deployments ... and an escalation in [improvised explosive device] attacks."

She'd asked me if I believed that the nation is prepared to deal with the needs of our returning veterans coping with PTSD. I was glad to see that she included my response:

[A]n alarming rate of violent incidents, suicide, homelessness and unemployment among recent veterans has been documented, but the issue has not garnered much national attention. "We simply have not been the beneficiaries of that type of substantial coverage by the media these past three years," she said. "So, how exactly would the public be expected to be prepared for what's to come -- in fact, what is already here?"

Vlahos moves on to include a response by the VA, listing some of their efforts in providing the best health care possible to our returning veterans: the record-setting $80 billion set aside in Bush's 2007 VA budget is mentioned as is the addition of PTSD specialists in every VA facility.

The article concluded:

Republican Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said the government is already meeting the new demands. "The president has always made it clear that military veterans are among his highest priorities, and this budget demonstrates his dedication to all who have worked in uniform," he said.

In any case, advocates ... say they hope the government will stick to its promises. "How loudly we cheered them onward as they laced up their boots has no relevance once they've done their job. It's how well we took care of them when they return that really defines our true moral character."

Can I say that I'm humbled to have been the one whose words closed out this fine piece of reporting (not the least bit impartial at the moment, am I?). Although this one article is but a grain of sand in a sandstorm of spin and analysis in the modern media landscape, I welcome it (and I'll keep fingers crossed for more of its kind).

Bit by bit, hopefully people of all political stripes can come together on this of all issues. Can we all agree that our soldiers should be taken care of -- for their own good, as well as that of the society at large? Again, I'd like to personally thank Ms. Vlahos for writing this piece.

It personally gives me much to be hopeful for: the plight of our soldiers and Marines weighed down by PTSD is reaching a wider national audience, one that probably doesn't hear enough about this issue. Or, what it hears of the issue falls more along the lines of what's found in a recent Oliver North column -- that the mere public discussion of PTSD seems to be causing the high unemployment rates of our returning troops:

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the national unemployment rate is hovering around 4.8 percent. But for veterans of the Global War on Terror (GWOT), the unemployment rate is more than three times higher -- 15.6 percent. Why?

Part of the answer is found in the fact that so few corporate executives and personnel managers are veterans themselves. Couple that with a drumbeat of adverse publicity about the war, a mainstream media fixation on military "atrocities" and the constant harping about post-traumatic stress disorder -- PTSD -- and one has to wonder how any war veteran gets hired. On a recent flight to Texas, my seatmate, a corporate CEO, asked if "all the troops coming back from 'over there' were 'screwed up.'" He cited a study alleging that, "more than a third of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan needed psychological treatment." The actual number -- according to the American Medical Association -- is 35 percent -- a figure compiled by psychiatrists who have made diagnosing PTSD a self-employment program.

I have to say, I don't like this type of PTSD bashing attitude. Besides, 35% actually equals "more than a third" the last time I checked. And I've heard there's an organization that goes by the name of the Veterans Administration which has an entire website devoted to combat-related PTSD. An entire website!

Is the VA also merely trying to stay in business with its PTSD conspiracy ploy? What is someone like Oliver North trying to say when he makes light of PTSD, or blames its mere discussion for the woes of our returning troops?

So, I applaud Ms. Vlahos' solid reporting. A larger cross-section of people are learning more about combat-related PTSD tonight -- and, hopefully, a few more will rally around the cause as we have here. As great as it is for us to talk amongst ourselves, sometimes it's even better to have the opportunity to reach a wider audience -- and Ms. Vlahos' excellent piece allows us that opportunity.

And so, please:

Better late than never, say I! And keep it coming...

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