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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Top Notch War Reporting: A Review and ^5

The following commentary was posted on Monday at various online communities (the Daily Kos version received a lot of feedback). Reprinting it here to 'add it to the record' so-to-speak.

This week, Newsweek reported that between 500 and 1,000 OEF/OIF veterans are homeless and that "[military] families [are] sliding into debt as VA case managers study disability claims over many months, and the seriously wounded [require] help from outside experts just to understand the VA's arcane system..." Last week it was the Washington Post. In December it was NPR. And at various times last year it was the Hartford Courant, the San Diego Union Tribune, The Oregonian, the Colorado Springs Independent, Washington Post, or USA Today...

Each delivered exceptional news coverage. What follows is some of the best, along with an invitation to read the opening installment of a new series on combat PTSD appearing on General Wesley Clark's Clark Community Network blog.

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

As many of you know, I've been covering the story of troop reintegration and combat PTSD for a while now. I've noticed (as I'm sure many of you have) that some stories rise above the others, taking the issue to the next level.

Some reporting, like that done by Dana Priest and Anne Hull for the Washington Post last week, is literally life-changing for troops who have been neglected at Walter Reed. This kind of reporting leaves an impression and makes an impact -- and it gets the powers-that-be to stir from their usual institutional sluggishness.

Sure, there's a lot of lousy reporting. Sure, some of the complaints we lob at the media are valid and appropriate. But, every once-in-a-while some reporters and news organizations get it right. They set the bar higher, and their work acts like a marker in time. We can glance back on and guage our progress -- or realize how far we have yet to go.


January 3, 2006
'Marlboro Marine': Home Front Woes
CBS

This first entry isn't necessarily focused on courageous reporting; its focused on a courageous veteran.

After achieving legendary status as the 'Marlboro Man,' 'The Face of Fallujah,' or even Dan Rather's label of the 'Face of War,' Marine James Blake Miller came forward to speak about his PTSD following his tour of Iraq (he took part in the re-taking of Fallujah in November 2004 as well as serving down in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina).

Miller became the first returning vet to use his war experience and fame to try to educate the American people and shed light on their plight. From CBS:

In November 2004, a photo of a U.S. Marine made the front page of newspapers across the country. The picture is still one of the best-known images of the war. But the man himself has moved on, and is having trouble adjusting to civilian life.

Lance Cpl. Blake Miller of Jonancy, Ky., came to be known as the "Marlboro Marine" when his picture was splashed across the nation. The attention didn't get him any special privileges, and he served his entire combat tour before he and his unit were ordered home. ...

Miller knows he's not alone [in coping with PTSD since coming home].

"A lot of guys have had way worse incidents from being in Iraq," he said. "And I guess it just — it troubled me due to the fact that their incidents may have been more severe, and they weren't suffering from the same things I was. I just didn't understand how it could affect me so dramatically and not affect some of these guys. But a lot of them deal with different ways.

"The more and more I talk to (other guys), the more I found out there were a lot of Marines that are going through same or similar emotions. It's tough to deal with. Being in Iraq is something no one wants to talk about."

The first installment of CCN's Troops & Vets PTSD series has more on Miller's experience and conflict with the war that he fought in.


March 1, 2006
Veterans Report Mental Distress
Washington Post

Running on Page One in the weeks before the third anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, Shankar Vedantam (the same reporter who wrote of the VA's desire to review 75,000 PTSD cases because costs were going through the roof; the public backlash put an end to the idea right quick) shook things up a bit by reporting that 1/3 of our troops might come home with psychological injuries. It seems almost tepid this news by today's standards.

But, after following the combat PTSD story since the summer of 2005, this piece was the first to signal a shift. It became a bellweather of things to come. This was a clear attempt to report seriously on the effects of the war by one of the big media guns -- a war that had gotten a lot of passes, admittedly, up until that time:

More than one in three soldiers and Marines who have served in Iraq later sought help for mental health problems, according to a comprehensive snapshot by Army experts of the psyches of men and women returning from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places. ...

In questionnaires filled out after their deployment, more than half of all soldiers and Marines returning from Iraq reported that they had "felt in great danger of being killed" there, and 2,411 reported having thoughts of killing themselves, the report said. It did not have comparable data from earlier conflicts.

Earlier research has suggested that 12 to 20 percent of combat veterans develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which produces flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts that disrupt work and home life. The new study found that Iraq veterans are being diagnosed with mental disorders at the rate of 12 percent per year.


February 28, 2006
Zogby International press release

Although Zogby released the results of a first-ever opinion poll of our combat troops serving in Iraq the day before Vedantam's piece, it made the news the same day as the WaPo's front page story, delivering a one-two punch. The results were absolutely stunning:

- Le Moyne College/Zogby Poll shows just one in five troops want to heed Bush call to stay “as long as they are needed”
- While 58% say mission is clear, 42% say U.S. role is hazy
- Plurality believes Iraqi insurgents are mostly homegrown
- Almost 90% think war is retaliation for Saddam’s role in 9/11, most don’t blame Iraqi public for insurgent attacks
- Majority of troops oppose use of harsh prisoner interrogation


March 19, 2006
Wounded Lives
The Oregonian

But it would be a 'smaller' newspaper that would deliver a massive 12-page investigative piece on PTSD on the third anniversary of the launch of the Iraq War. Written by Julie Sullivan (assisted by Torsten Kjellstrand), we learned of the experiences of the Stout family, gaining a detailed view of the struggle some of our veterans -- and their families -- had to face as they coped with the post-traumatic stress disorder that now invaded their lives:

The 2-162 returned to Fort Lewis on March 17, 2005, to thundering cheers, flags and a Rogue "Sunset Ale" specially brewed for the homecoming of a unit that traces its history back to Oregon's famed "Sunset Division." Six months earlier, Bill [Stout] had arrived at Portland International Airport alone. On Sept. 20, 2004, Wendy and the girls waited at the gate holding signs: "I love you Dad!" They threw themselves into his arms. Bill's absence had transformed their lives.

He spiralled downward in the months that followed, writing in a notebook that his family had found:

"I used to feel normal. Since I've been to Iraq, and seen and done the things I did, PTSD has taken control of me. I can't be happy anymore. I can't stop the nightmares of losing Ken. It drives me crazy, thinking about it. I haven't slept for months, my stomach is always upset. No matter how hard I've tried, nothing goes right with my family. I can't put it together. I am always angry. I have to force myself to be social in any way. I hate myself and life now. No matter how hard I try, I just can't get it together. The calm ways of this life are making me crazy. I feel like I always have to be going 120 mph. I feel like I should constantly be in a firefight. Even with medication the doctor has given me, I feel like I can't control myself anymore."

It was more detailed than any other account at the time and made a big stir.


March 19, 2006
Some troops headed back to Iraq are mentally ill
San Diego Union-Tribune

Another third anniversary offering to come out of the west coast was Rick Rogers' piece on the practice of sending troops back to the combat zone with their own supply of antidepressant and anti-anxiety medicine; service members who had been having mental health issues were routinely sent into combat for a second, third or fourth tour. This was the precursor to the in-depth Hartford Courant investigation that was coming on strong on this report's heels.

The redeployments are legal, and the service members are often eager to go. But veterans groups, lawmakers and mental-health professionals fear that the practice lacks adequate civilian oversight. They also worry that such redeployments are becoming more frequent as multiple combat tours become the norm and traumatized service members are retained out of loyalty or wartime pressures to maintain troop numbers.

Sen. Barbara Boxer hopes to address the controversy through the Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health, which is expected to start work next month. The California Democrat wrote the legislation that created the panel. She wants the task force to examine deployment policies and the quality and availability of mental-health care for the military.

“We've also heard reports that doctors are being encouraged not to identify mental-health illness in our troops. I am asking for a lot of answers,” Boxer said during a March 8 telephone interview. “If people are suffering from mental-health problems, they should not be sent on the battlefield.”


May 14, 2006
Mentally Unfit, Forced To Fight
Hartford Courant

The Hartford Courant completed an exhaustive investigation based on Freedom of Information Act requests which concluded that "U.S. military troops with severe psychological problems have been sent to Iraq or kept in combat, even when superiors have been aware of signs of mental illness." After this initial investigation, reporters Lisa Chedekel and Matthew Kauffman continue cranking out one important report after another, delivering the best reporting on this issue:

The U.S. military is sending troops with serious psychological problems into Iraq and is keeping soldiers in combat even after superiors have been alerted to suicide warnings and other signs of mental illness, a Courant investigation has found.

Despite a congressional order that the military assess the mental health of all deploying troops, fewer than 1 in 300 service members see a mental health professional before shipping out. Once at war, some unstable troops are kept on the front lines while on potent antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, with little or no counseling or medical monitoring. And some troops who developed post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq are being sent back to the war zone, increasing the risk to their mental health.

These practices, which have received little public scrutiny and in some cases violate the military's own policies, have helped to fuel an increase in the suicide rate among troops serving in Iraq, which reached an all-time high in 2005 when 22 soldiers killed themselves - accounting for nearly one in five of all Army non-combat deaths.

The Courant's investigation found that at least 11 service members who committed suicide in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 were kept on duty despite exhibiting signs of significant psychological distress. In at least seven of the cases, superiors were aware of the problems, military investigative records and interviews with families indicate.


July 12, 2006
Stressed-Out Soldiers
CBS Evening News/Colorado Springs Independent

Michael de Yoanna for CSIndy and CBS' Armen Keteyian teamed together for the rumble in what would later be an earthquake of a December NPR investigation into the abusive treatment of soldiers at Fort Carson, Colo. They found that soldiers with PTSD and other psychological injuries were "saying members of the Army Command [were] simply paying lip service, at best, to PTSD — hindering their treatment and upending their careers:"

In the face of what some are calling an epidemic of PTSD in the military, nearly a dozen soldiers at Fort Carson told CBS News that their cries for mental health either went unanswered or they found themselves subject to unrelenting abuse and ridicule.

Kaye Baron is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Colorado Springs, Colo. Each week, she counsels up to 25 soldiers and their families who are either unwilling or unable to face their problems while on base. "I think it's a very big problem," says Baron. "They could potentially lose their promotion potential, or just feeling like they're not able to advance in their career. That it's kinda over for them."

Lt. Col. Eric Kruger, Commanding Officer of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team at Fort Carson, says he's concerned that soldiers aren't seeking help due to fears of fearing ridicule or reprisal. "It's a tremendous concern," he says. "You don't want a soldier not to seek help for anything. They're our No. 1 asset. Leaders have to engage that every day — and in my experience here, we do.


August 8, 2006
Center for war-related brain injuries faces budget cut
USA Today

OK. So, psychological injuries are one thing. They are harder to 'see' than physical wounds received on a battlefield. But what happens when reporter Gregg Zoroya files an article which reported that the House and Senate Appropriation Committees were poised to slash by half TBI funding used for research and treatment of war-related brain injuries in its 2007 Defense appropriation bill? Outrage. Traumatic brain injury is the signature wound of our nation's current wars. As of January 2006, 20% of those injured in Iraq had TBI. Cutting funding when it is most needed is reckless and immoral, and after this explosive piece hit the stands it wasn't long before the public backlash was sure and swift. Funding restored.

Congress appears ready to slash funding for the research and treatment of brain injuries caused by bomb blasts, an injury that military scientists describe as a signature wound of the Iraq war. House and Senate versions of the 2007 Defense appropriation bill contain $7 million for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center — half of what the center received last fiscal year.

Proponents of increased funding say they are shocked to see cuts in the treatment of bomb blast injuries in the midst of a war. "I find it basically unpardonable that Congress is not going to provide funds to take care of our soldiers and sailors who put their lives on the line for their country," says Martin Foil, a member of the center's board of directors. "It blows my imagination."

The Brain Injury Center, devoted to treating and understanding war-related brain injuries, has received more money each year of the war — from $6.5 million in fiscal 2001 to $14 million last year. Spokespersons for the appropriations committees in both chambers say cuts were due to a tight budget this year. "Honestly, they would have loved to have funded it, but there were just so many priorities," says Jenny Manley, spokeswoman for the Senate Appropriations Committee. "They didn't have any flexibility in such a tight fiscal year."


December 4, 2006
Soldiers Say Army Ignores, Punishes Mental Anguish
NPR

Prior to last week's Washington Post/Walter Reed shockwave, NPR held the title for creating the most significant tremors in the military reporting landscape. Daniel Zwerdling reported on conditions at Fort Carson, Colo., where officers were said to stand in the way of soldiers desperate to get help for psychological problems or PTSD; some had even been kicked out of the Army rather than given the help they needed. The story created such public outcry that Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Christopher Bond (R-MO) and Barack Obama (D-IL) immediately asked the Pentagon to open an investigation into the allegations.

[Some] soldiers who've returned to Ft. Carson from Iraq say they feel betrayed by the way officials have treated them. Army files show that these were soldiers in good standing before they went to Iraq, and that they started spinning out of control upon their return.

Since the war in Vietnam, military leaders have said that soldiers who are wounded emotionally need help, just like soldiers missing limbs. "The goal, first and foremost, is to identify who's having a problem," says William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. "Secondly, it's to provide immediate support. And finally, our goal is to restore good mental health."

The Army boasts of having great programs to care for soldiers. The Pentagon has sent therapists to Iraq to work with soldiers in the field. And at Army bases in the United States, mental-health units offer individual and group therapy, and counseling for substance abuse. But soldiers say that in practice, the mental-health programs at Ft. Carson don’t work the way they should.

And from these big news stories, we arrive back at the Washington Post and Newsweek pieces of the past two weeks. Both are making significant changes possible like good reporting should. Three cheers for the reporters whose work I've tried to briefly highlight here; they certainly deserve a ^5 from us.

Keep it coming...


Recon: The Wounds Within

From the Pentagon Channel, ~20 mins long:


Study: 'Prolonged Exposure' Therapy Superior Treatment for Female PTSD

From a JAMA press release:

Using a cognitive behavioral therapy called "prolonged exposure" appears more effective than "present-centered" therapy, a supportive intervention to treat female military veterans and active duty women with posttraumatic stress disorder, according to a study in the February 28 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

"Events such as the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the war in Iraq, and hurricane Katrina have focused attention on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder that can result from exposure to traumatic events like combat, rape, assault, and disaster. Posttraumatic stress disorder is characterized by symptoms of re-experiencing the traumatic event, avoiding reminders of the event or feeling emotionally numb, and a state of increased psychological and physiological tension. The disorder is associated with psychiatric and physical illnesses, reduced quality of life, and substantial economic costs to society", according to background information in the article. "Lifetime prevalence in U.S. adults is higher in women (9.7 percent) than in men (3.6 percent) and is especially high among women who have served in the military." There has been no prior study to evaluate treatment for PTSD in this group.

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

Continuing:

Paula P. Schnurr, Ph.D., of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Center for PTSD, White River Junction, Vt., and Dartmouth Medical School, Lebanon, N.H., and colleagues conducted a study to compare the effectiveness of two types of treatments for PTSD, prolonged exposure and present-centered therapy. Prolonged exposure is a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in which a patient is asked to vividly recount a traumatic event repeatedly until the patient's emotional response decreases and to gradually confront safe but fear-evoking trauma reminders. Present-centered therapy, a supportive intervention which is typically used by VA clinicians to address the problems of female veterans with PTSD, includes discussing and reviewing general daily difficulties that may be manifestations of PTSD.

The study found that prolonged exposure therapy decreased anxiety while quality of life was increased. More details at JAMA.


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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sen Patty Murray: Bush Gets an 'F' on Veterans Healthcare Leadership

From Newsweek:

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington has been a longtime advocate of veterans’ rights. The daughter of a disabled World War II veteran, Murray serves on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and is the author of the law that ensures that all veterans have the right to military funeral honors. She has been honored for her work by groups like the Vietnam Veterans of America, American Ex-POW’s, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and others.

She is also one of the leading voices in the Democratic Party speaking out against the Bush administration’s proposed budget for veterans’ health care—arguing that it fails to address the rapidly rising costs. The Department of VA predicts it will need to treat 5.8 million patients next year, including 263,000 Iraq and Afghanistan vets returning with serious injuries requiring expensive care. Murray and her Democratic colleagues believe the Bush budget will force new costs—such as increased prescription copayments and new enrollment fees—onto veterans themselves. Murray spoke with NEWSWEEK’s Eve Conant about the problem, and how to solve it.

H/t to smintheaus for pointing me to this interview. Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more grafs...

For educational purposes, the piece is quoted from extensively.

Continuing:

Earlier this month, you grilled Veterans’ Affairs Secretary James Nicholson about President Bush’s proposed veterans’ budget for 2008. Is the VA pushing for enough money?

Patty Murray: No. What I have seen over the last four years since the Iraq war began is an underestimation, on the part of the VA, of the number of soldiers that will be going into the VA system—from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and also from Vietnam. We have an aging population of Vietnam veterans who are having health problems for the first time and coming into the VA. They never looked at that and said, ‘Oh, because of the age of this population we’re going to have an increased number, and therefore we should ask for additional dollars.’ In addition, health-care inflation for everyone is going up by the double digits. You would expect that if you provided health care for people that you would take inflation into account, but I don’t believe the VA has realistically looked at that either.

How many vets does the VA project will be going into the system this coming year? And how far away is that from what you believe the real numbers are?

PM: The VA, last year, was underprojecting how many men and women would come into the VA system from Iraq and Afghanistan. They expected 45,000 and ended up with over 100,000. Now they are projecting 263,000 Iraq and Afghan vets next year. But we’re hearing from independent sources that the figure will be over 300,000. ...

But wouldn’t the leaders of an organization want that organization to get more money, not less?

PM: I’ve worked with the VA for a very long time and up until this point we have had the VA be very honest in their assessment of what is going to be needed, because they are the ones that turn around and serve the veterans. But I have found that over [the] past four years, for the first time, we have a VA that is just toeing the line on the numbers. I believe that the administration, from Day One with this war, didn’t want the American public to recognize the cost of war. They knew that it would generate a negative impact of their moving forward on it. So they have low-balled everything from how long the war was going to [take] to how much it was going to cost. They never told the American public that we will have thousands and thousands of men and women coming home who will have PTSD, who’ve lost legs and arms, who have long-term disabilities and we’re going to have to pay for this, it’s going to cost something. It’s symptomatic of an administration that has failed to tell the American public the cost of this war. What happens then is that the VA doesn’t have the money it needs. Then these men and women come home and are in long waiting lines, can’t get appointments, and don’t get the health care they need.

What are current problems within the VA system that require the most attention?

PM: Once you get into the VA there are excellent doctors. It is an excellent system, and by and large, once you get in you get good service. Where [VA Secretary] Nicholson and I don’t agree is whether or not you can get into that system. A great health-care system is not helping a veteran who is sitting at home and cannot get an appointment. That is where we have a huge problem. We have a backlog of patients that cannot get in. The VA likes to say that everyone gets an appointment within the first 30 days. Great, that’s better than it was. But I come home and talk to veterans who say, sure, after calling three times, 30 days into it, they get an appointment—for nine months later. That just doesn’t cut it. Many of them can’t start working until they’ve had their medical problems cleared. But they are sitting at home for nine months waiting to get into the VA.

What’s the difference between the VA’s projected budget, what the administration is signing off on—and what you think is needed?

PM: The administration is asking for two billion less than what the independent budget request is [the independent budget request is put together by four veterans’ service organizations: AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States]. These are the organizations working with veterans on the ground and they know what is needed. We in Congress need to get a budget request that is honest; otherwise, men and women are not being served. ...

How would you score Bush in terms of leadership on veterans’ health issues?

PM: F. It’s one thing to say you’ve been to a VA center and how everyone is so happy with their service. It is another thing to sit down with Iraq and Afghanistan and Vietnam veterans who are close to tears, with families in stress, because they can’t get the care they need. ...

What about mental health care? You say the VA is predicting fewer in-patient mental-health cases.


PM: I’m very worried. The number of mental health-care patients that the VA is projecting in the budget is less than what we currently have today. I was in Iraq a year and a half ago and I was told by Commander Casey [Army General George Casey Jr., who recently stepped down as the highest-ranking military official in Iraq] that this war is going to create a high number of patients who need mental health care because it’s what he called a 24/7 war. There is no front line to go back from, no place to get away from the intensity of IEDs [improvised explosive devices] going off next to you.…The VA itself has issued statements saying they do not have enough clinicians to see the people who need mental health care. There is no one within the lower echelons of the VA who predicts a lower number of mental-health patients; the only people predicting this are the president and secretary Nicholson. My perspective is they are doing it so they don’t have to ask for money and show what the cost of this war is.

Please email Sen. Murray today and let her know we appreciate her being straight with the American people on these important issues.


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Monday, February 26, 2007

ABC News Tuesday: Bob Woodruff Returns

A timely and much-anticipated return to ABC News by Bob Woodruff, the embedded Iraq reporter and anchor who was gravely injured when an IED struck the vehicle he and his cameraman were riding in last year, takes place Tuesday night.

"To Iraq and Back" airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET and promises to be especially significant in view of recent reporting by both the Washington Post and Newsweek revealing deep institutional problems at both the VA and DoD -- organizations entrusted with the safety, care and rehabilitation of our returning troops:

Amid highly personal stories of tragedy and triumph, Woodruff delves into the crisis of care faced by so many injured soldiers and their families, uncovering important new information about veterans suffering from brain injuries and the care the U.S. government provides. Woodruff meets soldiers who, after fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, must fight bureaucratic red tape before receiving the treatment they need, and others who may not even know they're injured, as traumatic brain injury can go unrecognized.

Catch an early glimpse of Woodruff on Good Morning America on Tuesday morning in an interview with Diane Sawyer. Send video questions to Woodruff, and then visit the hourlong documentary's main page for much, much more coverage.

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



From ABC News:

The Human Cost of War

Later in Tuesday night's hour, Woodruff returns to Bethesda once again — this time in a more-familiar role: that of a journalist. It's there he meets Army Sgt. William Glass, who, like Woodruff, was struck by an insurgent's roadside bomb in Taji, Iraq, and suffered traumatic brain injury. When Glass' wife, Amelia, asks Woodruff how long it took him to recover, the reporter says, "It's still going on."

Many of the families Woodruff met with across the country express frustration at the lack of care TBI patients receive once they leave specialized rehabilitation centers and return home. Woodruff asks Secretary of Veteran's Affairs Jim Nicholson about the ability of local VA hospitals to care for brain-injured servicemen. "We have organized the VA with this priority for these combatants returning back," Nicholson says.

But following brain-injured Army Sgt. Michael Boothby from Bethesda back to the soldier's hometown of Comfort, Texas, Woodruff watches Boothby's condition quickly deteriorate as he awaits the arrival of the paperwork that would allow him to continue his treatment.

While the U.S. Department of Defense says that there have been about 23,000 nonfatal battlefield casualties in Iraq, Woodruff discovers — through an internal VA report — that more than 200,000 veterans have sought medical care for various ailments, including more than 73,000 diagnoses for mental disorders. Nicholson plays down those figures, telling Woodruff, "A lot of them come in for dental problems. … We're providing their health care."

Woodruff reports that even these numbers may not tell the whole story: According to unreleased data from the Department of Defense, at least 10 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans may have sustained a brain injury during their service.

The ABC News anchor reports: "That could mean that of the 1.5 million who have served or are now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 150,000 people could have a brain injury that may be undiagnosed and unrecognized by the casualty numbers from the Department of Defense."

While everyone with symptoms of a brain injury may not need extensive treatment, Woodruff learns that the Department of Defense is not screening all returning soldiers, despite recommendations from the Defense Department's own Defense and Veteran's Brain Injury Center.

Welcome back, Mr. Woodruff, and thank you for your fine reporting. We'll be watching!


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CCN's Troops & Vets Series on Combat PTSD, Society and the Soldier

An invitation to be the first to read the opening installment of a new series on combat PTSD appearing this morning on General Wesley Clark's Clark Community Network blog. You may remember this team for their gripping traumatic brain injury (TBI) series on the 'signature wound' of the Iraq War.

I'm pleased to have been invited to write with CCN's Troops & Vets team for this special look at the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on 'Society and the Soldier.' Today's offering is a preview of sorts. Many of the grafs were cuts made from my upcoming book, Moving a Nation to Care, due to size limitations. Let me -- and CCN -- know what you think...

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for related posts...


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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Newsweek Expands Walter Reed Story to Include Veterans Administration

Following last week's Washington Post Walter Reed investigation, Newsweek ratchets up attention on the treatment of our returning troops with a cover story that broadens the scope of the problem to include the VA. What Newsweek adds to the mix is damning:

A NEWSWEEK investigation focused not on one facility but on the services of the Department of Veterans Affairs, a 235,000-person bureaucracy that provides medical care to a much larger number of servicemen and women from the time they're released from the military, and doles out their disability payments. Our reporting paints a grim portrait of an overloaded bureaucracy cluttered with red tape; veterans having to wait weeks or months for mental-health care and other appointments; families sliding into debt as VA case managers study disability claims over many months, and the seriously wounded requiring help from outside experts just to understand the VA's arcane system of rights and benefits. "In no way do I diminish the fact that there are veterans out there who are coming in who require treatment and maybe are not getting the treatment they need," White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto tells NEWSWEEK. "It's real and it exists."

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

Newsweek explores the problem of homelessness:

Already, nearly 200,000 veterans—many from the Vietnam War—sleep on the streets every night, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. But young warriors just back from the Mideast—estimated around 500 to 1,000—are beginning to struggle with homelessness too. Drinking or using drugs to cope with PTSD, they can lose their job and the support of family and friends, and start a downward spiral to the streets. Their tough military mentality can make them less likely to seek help. Advocates say it can take five to eight years for a veteran to exhaust their financial resources and housing options, so they expect the number to rise exponentially in a few years. "Rather than wait for the tsunami, we should be doing something now," says Cheryl Beversdorf, president of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

The problem is mainly a lack of resources, advocates say. There are only about 15,000 beds available in VA-funded shelters or hospitals nationwide, and nearly every one is taken. In some smaller cities there simply aren't many places for a homeless veteran to go. And as affordable housing units shrink nationwide, veterans living on a disability check of, say, $700 a month, (which means a 50-percent disability rating from the VA), are hard-pressed to find a place to live. Most shelters require veterans to participate in a rehabilitation program, but a "fair amount" of veterans just go back to the streets once they leave, says Ed Quill, director of external affairs at Volunteers of America, the nonprofit housing group for veterans that helped Felty.

The March 5 issue should be on newsstands tomorrow. Read the offerings online or be sure to pick up a copy for full coverage. Submit questions to reporter Dan Ephron. He is going to be available for a Live Talk about the broken state of health care for injured veterans returning from Iraq, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, at noon, ET

Cast your vote:


Click over to a smattering of the discussion going on today on the issues raised by the Newsweek piece here and here. But more importantly, let's contact our elected representatives and tell them we are no longer going to avert our eyes.


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NBC Nightly News Update on Walter Reed Story



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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Resources for Communities, Counselors and Vets: ONE Freedom

People often ask me, "Where can I go to learn more about ways to help our troops or where can I send returning soldiers for help?"

I think I've found one answer. Called ONE Freedom Inc., the nonprofit is already delivering services in cities and towns around the country. Its aim is to "train the trainers" in local communities to assist veterans with their reintegration, in combination with training the soldier before they go to war so that they can be prepared to cope with their experience right out of the gate:

ONE Freedom is a Colorado-based 501(c) 3 research and education organization delivering services and programs to returning OIF and OEF veterans and their families on issues regarding reintegration while supporting research on ground-breaking techniques for trauma recovery. ONE Freedom’s community-based programs focus on de-stigmatizing stress and post-trauma by educating audiences on the brain and body’s natural response to stress and what can be done to mitigate the impacts. The programs promote skill-building and self-management for the rebalancing of the central nervous system, regulating emotions and thought, and discharging stress from the body.

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

Please visit ONE Freedom for more information, email them directly to get personalized attention, and if you have a mind to, please consider donating to this important organization.

More details:

ONE Freedom—Research and Education for the Advancement of Human Potential
PO Box 7418 Boulder, CO 80306
303-444-1221 / 1-888-334-VETS

Challenge
Today’s call is to find an intelligent solution to veteran reintegration, for warriors and families, that will set the stage for future national reintegration efforts. To date, the V.A. is overwhelmed by the demand of returning OIF and OEF veterans and does not have the capacity to serve the numbers seeking care. As well, substantial numbers of veterans needing assistance from the V.A. will not seek it due to a myriad of complicated conditions including stigma, institutional distrust, and the probability of pharmaceutical solutions.

Due to the recent conflicts, US service members and their families have paid dearly. With over 600,000 already returned, communities will also pay a price. For some, it will be the direct costs of care for the service member. For others, it will be the opportunity costs of non-participating citizens. For others still, family structures will disintegrate, relationships will be lost and children dislocated. Some of these impacts are inevitable, many are not. Now is the time for a continuum of care that starts where the rubber meets the road—in the communities where America’s veterans are coming home.

Vision
ONE Freedom’s long-term vision is to serve a nation in the midst of a stress epidemic. Every part of society, from healthcare to education, the private sector to the military, is experiencing this profound stress. Through educational campaigns, direct trainings, lectures, skill-building, interactive media and more, ONE Freedom intends to be a national resource for the understanding and transformation of stress and trauma thereby becoming a national response for healing.

Mission
ONE Freedom is presently 100% committed to serving OEF and OIF service members and their families by providing a wide range of services, resources and solutions. Most of the skills are self-applicable and self-manageable putting the healing and recovery process more directly in the hands of the person thereby empowering meaningful change. ONE Freedom’s message focuses on the naturalization of the stress-response as opposed to the “mental-behavioral health” response which helps rid stigma as a complicating obstacle to seeking assistance.

Deliverables
ONE Freedom is currently offering community-based programs along the Colorado Front Range including 2-hour introductory classes that are a precursor to weekend intensives and outline the core curriculum. Once the prototypes of these programs are established and evaluations have been reviewed, ONE Freedom will launch the trainings nationally traveling to key installations and states with high veteran populations offering the weekend intensive and day-long models. ONE Freedom programs are facilitated by former military personal, stress experts, traumatologists, and human performance specialists and are free to veterans and families.

Call to Action
ONE Freedom needs assistance in addressing the critical issues of reintegration after combat, of peace after war, of wholeness after shattering, of growth from suffering. America’s veterans and families deserve to have meaningful solutions for their service and sacrifices. Call today to find out how you can be part of the solution.

Helplessness is the hallmark of trauma; empowerment is its anecdote.

I spoke with Ms. Hawkins, executive director of ONE Freedom, today and am very excited about the work that this organization is doing. They have been laying the groundwork quietly, slowly putting their programs and resources together in preparation for their big debut.

She tells me their website is on tap for an update in the next month and will have a lot more to offer including online training and self-help resources. Please take a peek at the information available right now, bookmark it, and but be sure to check back in a month or two to see what new offerings they have for us this spring.

Their community-based approach is exactly the kind of program I think our returning veterans and our larger society as a whole will benefit greatly from.


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Government Contractors: Hidden Casualties, PTSD

Stunning figures reported yesterday:

In a largely invisible cost of the war in Iraq, nearly 800 civilians working under contract to the Pentagon have been killed and more than 3,300 hurt doing jobs normally handled by the U.S. military, according to figures gathered by The Associated Press.

Exactly how many of these employees doing the Pentagon's work are Americans is uncertain. But the casualty figures make it clear that the Defense Department's count of more than 3,100 U.S. military dead does not tell the whole story. "It's another unseen expense of the war," said Thomas Houle, a retired Air Force reservist whose brother-in-law died while driving a truck in Iraq. "It's almost disrespectful that it doesn't get the kind of publicity or respect that a soldier would."

Employees of defense contractors such as Halliburton, Blackwater and Wackenhut cook meals, do laundry, repair infrastruture, translate documents, analyze intelligence, guard prisoners, protect military convoys, deliver water in the heavily fortified Green Zone and stand sentry at buildings - often highly dangerous duties almost identical to those performed by many U.S. troops. The U.S. has outsourced so many war and reconstruction duties that there are almost as many contractors (120,000) as U.S. troops (135,000) in the war zone.

And contractors also get PTSD.

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

Another couple of grafs to aquaint ourselves with some of the data before we take a look at the issue of PTSD as it relates to our civilian contractors:

If the contractor deaths were added to the Pentagon's count of U.S. military casualties, the number of war dead would climb about 25 percent, from about 3,000 as of the end of 2006 to nearly 3,800. If the contractors injured badly enough to be off the job for at least four days were added to the nearly 14,000 U.S. troops requiring medical air transport because of injuries, the injury total would rise by about the same percentage.

Early in the war, most of the casualties on the coalition side were military. But with the fall of Saddam Hussein, contractors flowed in behind the troops, and the number of deaths among the contract workers has been increasing each year.

Contractor deaths are less costly politically, said Deborah Avant, a political science professor at George Washington University. "Every time there's a new thing that the U.S. government wants the military to do and there's not enough military to do it, contractors are hired," she said. "When we see the 3,000 service member deaths, there's probably an additional 1,000 deaths we don't see."

Last week, NPR Day to Day had a program about their experiences in Iraq and in folding back into society once they return home. In some aspects, they have a rougher time because they don't have as good of a support system as the military does.

From a November article:

No one knows how many of them have been injured and killed. No one keeps track of how many contractors there are in Iraq. And when they come back, many find themselves abandoned. "Nobody ain't doing nothing for us," said Thompson, 43, who for six months in 2004 drove a supply truck in Iraq for Halliburton subsidiary KBR, the largest corporate contractor in Iraq.

Thompson was paid $1,850 a week while he was there -- far more than he had been earning before the war. "And I'll tell you right now, it wasn't worth it," he said. Thompson said he survived several roadside bombs, mortar and rocket attacks, and countless small-arms firefights as he transported supplies for U.S. troops along Iraq's perilous roads. He returned from Iraq without physical injuries.

But his war wounds are evident in the cocktail of prescription medications he takes every day -- for hostile behavior, hallucinations, depression, insomnia, anxiety, anxiety-related tics and spasms, and hypertension, all symptoms he says he developed during his time in Iraq.

Two doctors in North Carolina have independently diagnosed Thompson with post-traumatic stress disorder, a psychological ailment with symptoms that typically include anxiety, loss of sleep and flashbacks. The government has acknowledged that he is disabled, and he receives a $1,224 monthly Social Security payment.

But Thompson says his claim for treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder was denied by American International Group Inc., or AIG, the insurance company for KBR, on the grounds that there was not enough medical evidence of his trauma.

This from the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

"They've lost their livelihoods, their integrity, their families," said Jana Crowder, a Knoxville homemaker and mother of four who organized the conference. She started a Web site for contractors while her husband, a former contractor, was in Iraq in 2004. He wasn't injured, but her Web site, www.americancontractorsiniraq.com, attracted the attention of a number of contractors looking for help. She now spends as much as 12 hours a day contacting therapists, attorneys and medical professionals on behalf of injured workers.

E.C. Hurley, director of the Center for Stress and Combat Trauma near Fort Campbell, Ky., held a session for the contractors on post traumatic stress disorder, similar to the debriefing soldiers get when returning from war. He said that 18 percent to 24 percent of combat soldiers experience PTSD, and the percentage can be higher for contractors. "What they are experiencing is the same," Dr. Hurley said. "(Contractors) are more open to talking about it than soldiers are. The military has a mentality that it's a weakness, that it's a career-stopper."

Some contractors noticed problems after they came home and had their first nightmare or lost a job or a girlfriend because of mood swings or a newfound temper. "I would cry and cry, and there were days when I didn't understand what was wrong with me," said Steve Thompson, a 43-year-old from Asheboro, N.C., who said he has been fired from several jobs since coming home from Iraq, lives in his car because he can't afford rent, and believes he has PTSD.

He said the doctor his insurance company pays for him to see is trying to prove that his problems today are caused by an anger problem that existed before he went to Iraq, not PTSD.

Where have we heard this before?

But while soldiers and contractors may share some common experiences, frustrations and traumas, that does not make them natural allies. Fox News ran a four part series in the summer of 2005 exploring this issue [ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 ]. A few key grafs:

[T]he contractors' profile sometimes isn't seen as being as honorable. Many hold the view that contractors are only in Iraq to make a profit, often stepping on the toes of the military and causing more chaos in regions that already are on shaky ground. In the contractor corps, many civilian workers are former military personnel who say they're trying to make a difference while making a better living. ... Most military personnel are deployed on yearlong missions and some have been deployed two to three times already. Many contractors, on the other hand, get more flexible rest and relaxation (R&R) time and often do get to see their families more often.

These disparities, added with the high intensity found in a combat zone, can result in anger and animosity, as seen in this well-publicized incident from May 2005:

For three days, a group of 16 American contractors in Iraq feared they had stumbled into a different world — one where the U.S. military viewed them, and not Islamic extremists, as the enemy.

The ordeal began May 28 when a group of Marines suspected the contractors for Zapata Engineering (search) of shooting at them and Iraqi civilians in Fallujah. The Marines allegedly bound and roughed up the contractors, who were given orange jumpsuits to wear. They also received a prayer rug and a copy of the Koran (search) and were placed in a cell next to Iraqi insurgent suspects.

The contractors, eight of whom are former military men, wondered how the Marines supposedly could throw the idea of "Semper Fi" out the window and treat fellow Americans so poorly. "If we were terrorists, they would have extradited us so they could have charged us … once they cleared us, they should have let us go," Pete Ginter, one of the Zapata contractors, told FOXNews.com in a recent interview. "I think it's some personal vendetta they had against us."

Several of the contractors told FOXNews.com the gripe appeared to be financial, stemming from jealousy over the belief that contractors make more money. "How do you like your contractor money now?" one Marine barked, according to those contractors interviewed. ...

Among the contractors are about 20,000 who work for private security companies, some of whom have come under criticism for bad behavior. Witnesses have been quoted telling stories about caravans of intimidating contractors driving fast through Iraqi streets in their SUVs with guns hanging out the window.

Marine Col. John Toolan, who was the military commander of the area that included Fallujah when four private security contractors employed by Blackwater were ambushed and murdered last year, told PBS' "Frontline" that the part of the problem is that the military and contractors have different motivations in a dangerous environment.

"We have a tendency to want to be a little bit more sure about operating in an environment," he said. "Whereas I think some of the contractors are motivated by the financial remuneration and the fact that they probably want to get someplace from point A to point B quickly, their tendency [is] to have a little more risk. So yes, we're at odds. But we can work it out."

From Congressional testimony given by the four widows of the Blackwater contractors who were killed in Fallujah, we glimpse the reality of life as a civilian contractor. Here's one wife's story, find the others here.


See Private Warriors, a Frontline special, for more.

[UPDATE June 30 2007] Dan Rather Reports did a segment on HDNet worthy of viewing called "Civilians at War":

Part 1


Part 2


Part 3



 Related Posts


Friday, February 23, 2007

Mental Health Parity Act of 2007

The Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 [pdf], a bill aimed at improving mental health care insurance coverage, took a big step forward last week when it cleared the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Next step? A vote by the full Senate. The Diane Rehm Show offers a solid introduction [audio] to this bill:

Senators Pete Domenici, Edward Kennedy, and Mike Enzi have introduced legislation that requires health insurers who cover mental illnesses to offer benefits on par with those provided for physical ailments. We'll talk about the implications of parity for mental health benefits and prospects for this legislation.

Guests
Senator Pete Domenici, R, New Mexico
Paul Dennett, vice president for health policy, American Benefits Council
Andrew Sperling, director of federal legislative advocacy, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Keith Dixon, president, Cigna Behaviorial Health
Senator Edward Kennedy, D, Massachusetts

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more including an action item...

From the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) today introduced breakthrough mental health legislation to ensure greater health insurance parity for persons with mental illness. The Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 represents the culmination of more than a year’s negotiations involving lawmakers, mental health, insurance and business organizations to craft compromise legislation. The new policy would build on the landmark 1996 Mental Health Parity Act, a law authored by Domenici and the late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone that began the process of ending health insurance discrimination against people with mental illness.

The bill does not mandate group plans to provide any mental health coverage, but it does require health insurance plans that offer mental health coverage to provide that coverage on par with financial and treatment coverage offered for other physical illnesses. “One in five Americans will suffer from mental illness this year. But unlike in the past, we know today that mental illnesses are treatable – more treatable than many physical illnesses. Yet, only one third of those facing mental illnesses will receive treatment,” Kennedy said. “The bill we introduce today will begin to right these wrongs. It represents an agreement, after seven long years of stalemate, not only between Democrats and Republicans, but also with the mental health community, businesses and the insurance industry. And it provides new hope to millions of our fellow citizens.”

“We are here today after years of hard work,” Domenici said. “Simply put, our bill will provide parity between mental health coverage and medical and surgical coverage. No longer will a more restrictive standard be applied the mental health coverage and another more lenient standard be applied to medical and surgical coverage. This is a matter of fairness and I am genuinely excited that we may finally make progress to build on the 1996 law and offering this much-needed help to those with mentally ill and those whose care for them.”

“This carefully crafted, balanced compromise bill could only be reached by bringing together employer, insurance and mental health communities and asking them to set aside partisanship and find a common ground. By bringing everyone to the table to air concerns and determine areas of agreement, we have finally overcome years of legislative paralysis to make progress for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness,” Enzi said.

See the 6-page release for more specifics.

The bill appears to be receiving broad support from various groups including insurers, employers and mental health professionals and organizations that represent them.

Aetna's response:

Aetna (NYSE: AET - News) today announced its support for the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 (S.558) proposed by U.S. Senators Pete V. Domenici, Michael B. Enzi and Edward M. Kennedy. The legislation establishes parity between mental health benefits and medical/surgical benefits with respect to financial requirements and treatment limitations for consumers. As a leading health insurer that provides the full spectrum of health benefits to more than 35 million Americans, Aetna believes that this legislation will promote timely and appropriate care for mental health, which is an essential component of effective health care. Aetna said the federal legislation will create a national solution to inconsistent behavioral health care regulation, inconsistencies that can be a threat to Americans' overall health.

"Aetna supports this legislation and will work with Congress to see that it is enacted without modifications that undermine the compromise forged by Senators Kennedy, Domenici and Enzi," said Mary Fox, head of Medical Related Products, which includes the behavioral health and pharmacy businesses. "Aetna is supportive of the principles and approach embodied in this legislation. If passed, we believe our members will benefit by being better able to achieve their optimal health through more integrated health and behavioral programs, benefits and services."

Tha National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) offers an easy-to-use online action form to throw our support in S 558's direction:

Action Required

Support the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 (S 558)
Senators Introduce Mental Illness Parity Legislation – Senate Committee Set for Immediate Action on Bill Ending Insurance Discrimination

On February 12, a bipartisan group of senators, led by longtime NAMI allies Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Mike Enzi (R-WY), introduced legislation to require employers and health plans to equally cover treatment for mental illness. This legislation, known as the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 (S 558), would expand an existing 1996 federal law and prohibit employers and health plans from imposing durational treatment limits and financial limitations on coverage for mental illness that do not apply to all other medical conditions.

Advocates are strongly encouraged to contact their Senators and urge them to support and cosponsor S 558. It is critically important that strong and immediate bipartisan support be demonstrated for this legislation.

When contacting Senate offices, it is critically important to remind them that:

*Mental illnesses are real
*Treatment works
*There is no justification for a health plan to impose limits or conditions on coverage that do not apply to all other illnesses, and
*After nearly 15 years of delay, it is time for the Senate finally pass parity legislation.

Please lend your support to this important new bill.


Join IAVA's Paul Rieckhoff on TPM Cafe Today

Paul Rieckhoff is tireless and a straight-shooter.

He's posted another great response to the Walter Reed scandal brought to light this week (if you missed his response to the near media blackout of the Iraq War in favor of nonstop coverage of the death of Anna Nicole Smith, that's worthy of a read, too).

Here's a quick taste from today's commentary:

Severely wounded Iraq veterans struggling to find their rooms, get appointments, or get their paperwork to the right offices. Families unable to communicate with doctors or find housing near the hospital. Mold, rodents and cockroaches in patients’ rooms.

At Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the premier Army hospital in the country, wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are facing inexcusable conditions. The Army and the Department of Defense saw no need to fix these problems until they were embarrassed by a series of reports in the Washington Post. (Learn more about the issue, and hear IAVA’s response to the Walter Reed scandal on NBC Nightly News or Hardball.)


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

Continuing:

Luckily, some members of Congress are taking the lead on this issue. Senators McCaskill and Obama have proposed legislation to improve the ratio of caseworkers to recovering veterans and establish timelines for repairing substandard facilities. We hope we can count on all other lawmakers to support this bill.

But problems at Walter Reed are just the tip of the iceberg. When these same veterans leave Walter Reed and return to their local clinics and hospitals, they will be entering the chronically underfunded and understaffed Veterans Affairs system -- where these very same veterans will again face the long wait times, aging facilities, and inadequate staffing.

Join Rieckhoff over at TPM Cafe today; he's replying to comments.


 Related Posts


Moving a Nation to Care: Tour Dates/Related Events

Join me and share your knowledge at the following events...

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for tour dates...

VietNow - Rockford Charter Chapter 5Lets explore ways to get 'Moving a Nation to Care' about and for our returning troops. Let's come together for a solid discussion and learning experience on both ends.

Coming events...

Ilona will be participating in and photographing the following NIU Veterans Day events:

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THURSDAY | Nov 5
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6:00 p.m. / Holmes Student Center / Room 405
"NIU Veterans Club Community Roundtable" - The first such public gathering convened by the NIU Veterans Club, facilitated by Ilona.

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FRIDAY | Nov 6
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2:00-7:00 p.m. Open House, 7:30 p.m. Formal Ceremony / Holmes Student Center / Regency Room
"Department of Illinois Military Order of the Purple Heart Movable Memorial Wall remembering Illinois’ Fallen Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) Veterans"

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SUNDAY, Nov 8
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7:00 p.m. / Holmes Student Center / Sandburg Auditorium
"Vet Art Project-NIU Presents New Art About War & Service -- a public performance and viewing"

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WEDNESDAY, Nov 11
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11 a.m. / NIU Veterans Memorial / Castle Dr. & College Ave.
Veterans Day Remembrance

Last updated on November 1, 2009.

Additional updates at the Moving a Nation to Care: Latest News page. Sign up to receive a once daily dose of PTSD Combat (as long as something new is posted) to stay on top of all the latest news and info as we push forward.

And please email me if you'd like to suggest a stop. All aboard!

Past events...

* May 10, 2007 - Waltham, MA: Back Pages Books [notes]
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* May 16, 2007 - Philadelphia, PA: Robin's Bookstore [notes]

* May 18, 2007 - New York City, NY: Barnes & Noble-Greenwich Village [notes]
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* May 20, 2007 - Sunday Book Salon at firedoglake, 5pm ET [notes]

* June 5, 2007 - Berkeley, CA: Moe's Books [notes]
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* June 6, 2007 - Tempe, AZ: Changing Hands Bookstore [notes]
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* June 9, 2007 - Oceanside, CA: Barnes & Noble [notes]
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* June 12, 2007 - St. Louis, MO: Left Bank Books [notes]
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* June 20, 2007 - Boulder, CO: Boulder Book Store [notes]
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* June 21, 2007 - Denver, CO: Tattered Cover Bookstore [notes]
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* July 12, 2007 - Seattle, WA: University Book Store [notes]
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* August 3, 2007 - Chicago, IL: YearlyKos Convention appearing on the panel The Military and Progressives: Are They That Different?, 9:15 am. [notes]
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* August 23, 2007 - Chicago, IL: In the Valley of Elah screening followed by combat PTSD Q&A (Ilona appears on panel) [notes]
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* September 1, 2007 - Decatur, GA: Atlanta Journal Constitution Decatur Book Festival Moving a Nation to Care signing, 3pm. [notes]
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* September 2, 2007 - Decatur, GA: Atlanta Journal Constitution Decatur Book Festival Moving a Nation to Care reading and signing, 12:00 pm. [notes]
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* September 6, 2007 - Chicago, IL: In the Valley of Elah screening followed by combat PTSD Q&A. Ilona appears on panel. [notes]

* September 21, 2007 - Chicago, IL: Ilona appears on 'Issue Forum with Frank Avila' on CAN-TV, 9:30 p.m. CDT. [notes]

* September 27, 2007 - Online: Second Life interview with Ilona, 6pm PST/9pm EST [details]
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* October 16, 2007 - Amherst, MA: Food for Thought Books presentation and signing, 7pm. Kevin and Joyce Lucey, Kevin Bowe, and many other special guests. [notes]
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* November 13, 2007 - Dixon, IL: Ilona delivered the Veterans Day Dinner keynote address at Dixon Elks Lodge #779 [notes]
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* December 12, 2007 - Washington, D.C.: Ilona testifies at House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Hearing, Stopping Suicide: Mental Health Challenges Within the Department of Veterans Affairs. [testimony | notes]
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* May 21, 2008 - Nashville, TN: "Healing the Hidden Wounds" veteran caregivers symposium sponsored by Nashville Public Television and NAMI-TN. Ilona delivered the afternoon keynote. [notes]
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* September 9, 2008 - Park Ridge, IL: Ilona participated in a veterans' issue town hall meeting at "Illinois' friendliest VFW post" alongside IL Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth and State Senator Dan Kotowski. [notes]
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* October 31, 2008 - Kansas City, MO: Ilona delivered the closing keynote at the "When the War Comes Home: Advocacy and Treatment for Returning Veterans" conference held at the National World War One Museum-Liberty Memorial. [notes]
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* December 13, 2008 - Carol Stream, IL: Ilona attended a Vet Art Project exploratory community outreach/orientation workshop (part of the Chicago Cultural Center Incubator Series)led by Vet Art Project's Lisa Rosenthal. [notes]

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* January 26-27, 2009 - Washington, DC: Ilona was honored to participate in the Survivor Corps Community Reintegration Summit at the Carnegie Institution. [notes]
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* February 13, 2009 - Chicago, IL: Ilona led the discussion, Renaissance by Fire: Returning Veterans, Society and the Forging of a New Enlightenment, as part of the month long Vet Art Project series. Held on the eve of the first anniversary of the NIU shootings, members of the NIU Veterans Club participated. [notes]
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* February 23, 2009 - Chicago, IL: Ilona attended and photographed the Chicago Cultural Center Incubator Series/Vet Art Project showcase performance of collaboratively created art about war. The project was led by VAP's Lisa Rosenthal. [notes]
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* March 27-28, 2009 - Fall River, MA: Ilona spoke at the 3rd Annual Female Faces of War Conference, which included an overnight stay on the Battleship Massachusetts for all attendees.

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* April 3-4, 2009 - Hammond, IN: Ilona presented her NIU Senior Honors Capstone paper, "Combat Veterans, Mass Media and the Advancement of Social Consciousness: An Historical and Contemporary Review," at the 17th Annual Clement S. Stacy Undergraduate Research Conference.

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* August 10, 2009 - Poplar Grove, IL: OIF vet and author Tyler Boudreau's "The Other Side: Cross-Country Cycling Tour Summer 2009" stop at Poplar Grove Airport Wings & Wheels Museum. Ilona (and husband) hosted Boudreau and facilitated the community discussion, "Joining Forces: A Dialogue on Forging Military and Community Bonds w/Tyler Boudreau," which also included members of the NIU Veterans Club.

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