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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

DoD's Millenium Cohort Study Tracking Health of 108,000+ Service Members

From the Air Force wire:

5/29/2007 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- When a landmark Defense Department-sponsored health study was launched six years ago, one of its goals was to evaluate the impact of future deployments on long-term health. The investigators did not know how timely the project would be.

Today, the Millennium Cohort Study has enrolled tens of thousands of participants who have deployed in support of the war on terrorism, said Navy Cmdr. (Dr.) Margaret Ryan, the study's principal investigator and director of the Defense Department Center for Deployment Health Research, part of the Naval Health Research Center, in San Diego.

The participants are voluntary, and will allow researchers to gain more insight into combat PTSD and its long-range implications.

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

Continuing:

The study was designed in the late 1990s "in the wake of the first Gulf War to answer some of the most difficult questions that couldn't really be answered retrospectively after that conflict," Commander Ryan said.

The joint-service study was established to evaluate the health risks of military deployments, occupational exposures and general military service, Commander Ryan explained, noting that about 108,000 servicemembers have signed up to take part since program enrollment began in July 2001.

Participants' health is evaluated over a 21-year period, Commander Ryan said, noting the size of the cohort -- the group participating in the study - likely will total more than 147,000 people. "About 40 percent of our cohort has deployed to one of the more recent operations, either in Iraq or Afghanistan or surrounding regions, in support of the global war on terrorism," she said.

Involvement in the study is voluntary and participants are selected randomly, Commander Ryan said. All information is secure and safeguarded, she added. Participants report their health status every three years and can fill out either paper or online surveys, Commander Ryan said. "We do strongly encourage people to use the online option," she said. "It's a very secure way to transmit information."

Dr. Tyler C. Smith will replace Commander Ryan as the study's principal investigator later this year, as the Navy physician is slated to take a new duty assignment at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

The study is providing valuable data that will help military epidemiologists understand possible cause-and-effect relationships between combat-zone deployments and problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, Doctor Smith said. "We have the ability to look at a large group of individuals who were deployed and not deployed," he said. "And we can see what factors predict new-onset PTSD, and how PTSD evolves over time. That's what we've been focusing on."

Evaluating the incidence of PTSD among servicemembers wasn't possible until recently, "simply because we didn't have a cohort in place like this that's large and population-based," Doctor Smith explained. "So we're learning things that we really haven't been able to investigate in the past," he said.

Source: USAF

If you're interested in being a participant in the Cohort survey project (you even get to choose a free gift when you register online), see the 2007 Questionnaire.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What Is It About Combat PTSD?

More discussion going on here on this post.

When I did my research last year for Moving a Nation to Care, one day it occurred to me that, depending upon the volume I had in my hands, what we call post-traumatic stress disorder never seemed to settle on one name. It's had at least 80 at last count, in fact (all are in Moving's Chapter Notes, p. 161-162).

But never one that sticks. What is it about PTSD?

I've been opening my book events by listing a few of these 80 out loud, asking what people think about having so many confusing names for the same thing (the second installment of Gen. Wes Clark Community Network's Troops & Vets series on 'Society and the Soldier' begins in the same way):

Traumatic neurasthenia. Railway spine. War syndrome. Gross stress reaction. Old sergeant syndrome. Neurocirculatory asthenia. Vietnam disease. Cerebro-medullary shock. Simple continued fever. Disordered action of the heart. Buck fever. Swiss disease...

When we speak of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, most of us are familiar with a handful of the labels given the after-effects of war. We’ve probably heard that it used to be called ‘nostalgia’ or ‘irritable heart’ during the Civil War. During World War I it became ‘shell shock’ in reaction to the arrival of powerful industrial weapons of war like the quick firing artillery piece, the machine gun and the magazine rifle. By World War II it became ‘combat fatigue’ or ‘battle fatigue.’ The second-to-last stop before arriving at the definition we use today was ‘post-Vietnam syndrome.’

While these are the more well-known of labels given to modern post-traumatic stress disorder, by merely repeating these more familiar terms, we lose sight of an important aspect of the history of PTSD: the human resistance to acceptance of the condition – no matter what it’s called. The fact that one generation after another has to ‘rediscover’ PTSD and give it its own name offers a glimpse into society’s desire not to have to own up to it, not to have to dig too deeply into the dark recesses of it, not to expand on our understanding of it, perhaps not even to believe it exists.

By this I mean to ask, why is that we have so many (80, and easily many more if we actually made it a point to look) different labels used througout the centuries for the same general malady? Do we have as many altering labels for other conditions, too? If not, why does nostalgia, or irritable heart, or battle fatigue, or PVS or now again PTSD never seem to 'stick'?

Continuing in the Troops & Vets piece:

Indeed, even today there is a rejection bubbling under the surface surrounding the use of post-traumatic stress disorder. Many doctors and counselors and soldiers believe the term falls short of the mark, saying that ‘psychological injury’ or ‘deployment-related stress’ or ‘combat-related stressors’ more accurately describe what’s going on here; others don’t like the term because it’s become ‘too political.’ Of course, whatever you call the aftereffects of war, it’s always been political, with a fixation on labels instead of the issue.

No surprise, then, that House VA Affairs Chairman Bob Filner made these comments at the open of last week's symposium on PTSD:



Description:

The House Veterans' Affairs Committee held a PTSD Health Care Symposium to discuss improved ways to provide mental health care services to veterans. Mental health care providers, medical doctors and researchers discussed how families, school systems, business owners, law enforcement and the community are affected and what every American should know about PTSD. Chairman Bob Filner gives opening remarks.

So, it's obvious we are still not at peace with the latest label for war trauma, PTSD. What is it about PTSD?


Monday, May 28, 2007

Glancing Back on Memorial Day

PTSD authors Ilona Meagher and Penny ColemanMost everyone by now has chimed in on their Memorial Day thoughts. I've wanted to wait a bit and have a chance to let the past few days soak in before adding mine.

I'm feeling very blessed to be with my family, and to have a nice break at long last this coming week. My husband and I drove alongside a handful of small town cemetaries yesterday, flags waving, many people visiting. It was a sunny day and yet always in the back of my mind was the knowledge that we are in the midst of a very sacred remembrance day...yet another year at war with so much more loss and pain.

Great losses have been paid. Many now funnel their griefwork into helping another generation returning home scarred by war. Penny Coleman and others like her are just such healers.

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

I've been planning a post on a special lady since my New York City book tour stop last weekend. Penny Coleman, whose Flashback: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide and the Lessons of War is now available in paperback and comes highly recommended (even withholding Penny's gracious penning of Moving a Nation to Care's foreword). To give a glimpse of Penny's work, a highly-coveted interview in Library Journal in which she describes what compelled her to write her book:

I wanted to hear how other women had survived their husbands' suicides and whether they blamed themselves, their husbands or the war. So I began interviewing other women whose husbands were also veterans of the war in Vietnam, who came home with what is now known as PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), and had subsequently taken their own lives.

The more I talked to other widows, the angrier I got. We all blamed our selves for not having loved enough, or noticed enough, or intervened appropriately. We had failed; we were abandoned. The government knew better and they didn't tell us. They exploited the stigma attached both to PTSD and to suicide that isolated and silenced us.

I was about two years into my research when the US invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq. What had been primarily an historical investigation was transformed into a cautionary tale.


Penny's work has been transformed and has been transforming.

It's becoming a tradition that I think of Penny and Daniel on Memorial Day, along with all of my other new military friends that have shared so much with me on this journey. From last year's post, just as appropriate today:


I...dedicate this Memorial Day to those who've worn the uniform, served in combat, yet go unrecognized on our KIA lists or memorial walls at their death. Penny Coleman's late husband, Daniel O'Donnell, became one such casualty of the Vietnam War when he took his life after battling something later referred to as posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD].

I had only weeks earlier been first contacted by Penny. She has since become a well-timed and much-appreciated mentor to me on my journey this past year exploring the topic of combat PTSD. Taking my hand (literally last weekend -- that's us in the picture above at my Barnes & Noble book signing in New York City on May 18), Penny answered my questions and listened to a novice's tales of woe like a soulful sage. After sending Cho and me at ePluribus Media a copy of Flashback -- our review -- she agreed to an exclusive interview.

A few comments that are especially compelling:

In a perfect world, a great deal more energy would be put into solving international problems other than with soldiers. The military keeps experimenting with prophylactic measures (pre-induction screenings, in-service therapies, deployment durations, unit organization, training variants, post-service questionnaires, etc.), and hoping they have finally solved the problem. They have not. But their optimism has consistently translated into a lack of preparedness, a lack of resources, and a lack of commitment to preventive rather than curative measures.

That said, all of the following would be an improvement--which is to say that the suggestions on this list are not currently being done. Deploying soldiers should be thoroughly screened for any sign of past or current mental or emotional problems. Soldiers in a combat zone who express concern about their mental state should not be shamed and ignored, but sent immediately for counseling, if not home.

Psychotropic drugs should never be used in a combat zone. Every effort should be made to protect troops from injury, either mental or physical, and that would include putting them in situations where civilians are routinely killed. When they come home, psychiatric evaluations should be mandatory and de-stigmatized, and there should be periodic follow-ups, perhaps for the rest of their lives.

Treatment for all war injuries, physical and psychiatric, should be absolutely free and compensation should be paid to those who can no longer work. Every candidate for the military, every soldier and every veteran should be thoroughly warned about the predictable incidence of PTSD and the statistical likelihood that it will end in suicide.

That is a wholly incomplete list, but it includes some of the true costs of war that are being currently ignored. If it seems prohibitively expensive, then perhaps we can no longer afford war.

I could go on and on about Penny -- and I do. She's worth every word and more. Thank you, Penny for sharing your journey and advice and friendship with me. A great pleasure to have met you last weekend. For anyone not familiar with Penny's work, head over to Flashback's companion website. And if you're fortunate enough, you may be able to catch another run of the play of the same name when it arrives on Broadway!

Flashback the play, is structured as an "argument" between two main characters, the widow of a Vietnam veteran suicide and a veteran who trained and served with her husband and remained a friend until his death. Woven through their efforts to sort feelings of guilt and responsibility, five other widows speak, with exquisite personal detail, about their attempts to cope with both psychic and social injuries before and after the deaths of their husbands.

Most Americans are unaware of the deep and lasting wounds suffered so predictably and frequently by combat veterans. These characters describe a commonality of symptoms that provide compelling evidence of the reality of combat-related PTSD and the predictable outcome of ignoring its lethal effects. Because they speak without conventional anti-war rhetoric or partisan accusation, their words are accessible to a broad cross-section of Americans, both those who support and those who disagree with our current military ventures, including military families.

To all of our military families, our nation is honored by your service.

My thoughts with you as always.


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Sunday, May 27, 2007

One Soldier's Story of Leadership and PTSD

The Seattle Times today offers an in-depth look at one soldier's story of commitment, leadership and PTSD:

By the end of his tour in Iraq, Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Adams was crushed by memories. Too many memorial services for dead soldiers. Too many visits to the wounded in the hospital wards. Too many innocents -- men, women and children -- blown up by insurgent bombs or killed inadvertently by his Fort Lewis brigade.

Adams, the highest-ranking enlisted soldier in his brigade, started taking tranquilizers to help him sleep. In an unusual step, he shared his struggles with the homeward-bound troops.

At a dusty desert base in Kuwait, Adams went from unit to unit, telling his fellow soldiers that he was not OK and would seek counseling when he returned. He urged others to do the same. ... Since his return, Adams has shown a different kind of fortitude, emerging as a powerful advocate challenging the Army to better confront the mental wounds of war. His efforts helped expand mental-health counseling at Fort Lewis for returning soldiers -- and improve training for Iraq-bound soldiers on the emotional hardships of combat.

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

Article quoted from extensively for educational purposes.

Continuing:

"I had all generals from all walks of life come down and tell us how good we are and sprinkle holy water on us," said Adams, referring to his pre-Iraq training. "But not one professional came and talked to us about what it's going to be like when we lose somebody for real." ...

A Defense Department task force, in recent draft findings, cited the mental-health threats to soldiers as "one of the most pervasive and potentially disabling" costs of war. The task force noted that 38 percent of soldiers report psychological concerns upon their return from deployment, and concluded the Army has insufficient staff and funds to adequately care for those soldiers.
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It's a challenge that was largely unforeseen by Pentagon leaders. Before 9/11, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld embraced a vision of push-button warfare, which emphasized long-range bombers, missile-defense systems and other high-tech equipment rather than a reliance on ground troops. [I write about what is termed the 'Revolution in Military Affairs,' or RMA, in the downloadable excerpt of Moving a Nation to Care: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and America's Returning Troops.]

The war in Iraq brought a different reality. The Army has been caught up in grueling urban combat that grinds on for months, and troop strength depends on the ability to maintain the emotional fitness of soldiers funneled back into repeat combat tours.

The piece goes on to explain that Adams returned home with PTSD and mild brain trauma (TBI). He suffered from blurred vision, forgetfulness, and deep depression after watching news reports. Often, he'd wished he'd died on the battlefield with his soldiers.

During a yearlong tour in Mosul, Iraq, Adams' Stryker brigade was subject to 1,387 attacks by roadside bombs, 84 assaults by vehicles packed with explosives, and daily threats from mortars, small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

The brigade lost 45 soldiers; 632 were wounded. By Adams' count, the brigade killed 550 insurgents. "What I'm telling you is that there's absolute carnage out there," Adams said. "We have to be ready for the trauma of today's battlefield."

Adams left for Mosul, Iraq, in 2004 with the 1st Brigade 25th Infantry Division Stryker Brigade. He served as command sergeant major, "the key liaison between enlisted soldiers and the commander." He fought for the best equipment and care for every single one of them -- and he didn't insulate himself from the fight or from the emotional needs of his troops.

"He was in the fight every day -- an absolute lead-from-the-front kind of guy," said Sgt. 1st Class Creed McCaslin, an expert marksman who helped protect Adams. For Adams, the hardest tasks came after the battles.

Three soldiers died in his arms after a December 2004 mess-hall bombing. In an almost daily ritual, he would visit the newly wounded at the Army hospital in Mosul. Some had lost an eye; others suffered severe burns or had legs and arms mangled by explosions. Adams would award a brass brigade coin stamped with the Stryker vehicles, while Col. Robert Brown, the company commander, handed out Purple Hearts to soldiers.

Back at the trailers, Adams counseled soldiers as they grieved over a lost buddy or agonized over a civilian death. During the course of the year, Adams tallied 186 men, women and children who fell victim to what he termed "the bad shoots," when civilian vehicles approached too close to a traffic checkpoint or families got trapped inside an insurgent position under assault from American troops. "You just can't imagine what that does to a soldier," Adams said. "What do you say to a guy that just blew away a woman and a kid because the enemy hid in that room with them and they all had to die? ... I wasn't prepared and I wish I was."

Adams shared his concerns with Lt. Gen. James Dubik, who as Fort Lewis commander made several trips to Mosul. Adams talked about the shortcomings in training and the monumental readjustments the soldiers would face upon their return.

Proving that committed, responsive leadership can move military culture stereotypes and stigma better than any legislation or decree can, Adams rolled up his sleeves once more when he and his brigade returned home in 2005:

By then, Dubik had worked with Madigan Army Medical Center to develop a screening program for brigade soldiers that included computerized surveys and at least one visit scheduled with a mental-health therapist between 90 and 180 days after their return.

Adams encouraged the soldiers to consider another option. They could call a military hotline to set up off-post counseling. Away from Fort Lewis, he believed, soldiers would talk more freely with less fear that their problems would filter back to their unit and hurt their career advancement.Then he made it easier to go. Soldiers would no longer have to clear the visits with squad leaders, platoon sergeants, platoon leaders and officers. He told soldiers in his brigade that they needed to confide only in an immediate superior, who would keep their confidentiality.

Adams also sought to change combat training. Soldiers already studied "in gum-bleeding detail" how and when to kill. Adams insisted they needed to know how they might feel after the act. "At a minimum, it should be a mandatory thing that we have to do. To discuss the real-world feeling, the emotions that you will go through -- unless you are some sort of psychopath -- when you kill another human being," Adams said.

Based on the ideas of Adams and others who had served in Afghanistan, Dubik said, Fort Lewis began "psychological preparation" for all soldiers headed into combat zones. Dubik also credits Adams with helping launch a senior leaders program, which brings together officers and top enlisted soldiers, as well as their spouses, to talk about the stresses of command.

But, of course, none of this arrived in time to help Adams himself.

Please read the entire piece to learn of Adams difficulties with reintegration following his time in Mosul. In a postscript, it was reported the Adams is now serving in Afghanistan, surely leading his troops once again as skillfully and compassionately as during his tour in Iraq. The man deserves our thanks for a job well done -- on the battlefield and on the home front as well.

Talk about the power of one. Adams embodies it in every way. Stay safe, be well, come home soon. We need you (and more like you) more than you might even know.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Study: Specific Brain Chemical Appears to Influence Individual Resiliency and Stress Reaction

From PoliceOne:

Researchers have now identified a specific brain chemical that appears to influence how well you’ll perform under stress and how emotionally resilient you’ll be after a critical incident. The more you have of this powerful ingredient, called neuropeptide Y (NPY), the better off you’ll likely be when your life is on the line. ...

One recent NPY research project, conducted by Dr. Charles Morgan, associate professor of psychiatry at Yale University, sought a better understanding of “how we regulate fear and anxiety in our bodies,” according to a report in Yale Scientific Magazine.

Morgan and colleagues tested NPY levels and cognitive functioning in soldiers before, during, and after exposure to the stress of survival training at Ft. Bragg, NC. They discovered a “positive correlation between elevated levels of neuropeptide Y and lucidity of mind.”

Specifically, special-forces soldiers, who averaged 33% higher plasma levels of NPY than general troops, “were found to possess clearer minds and to have out-performed other soldiers under stress. Likewise, soldiers in combat-dive training who released higher levels of NPY during stress “excelled in underwater navigation,” and hostage rescue team members with higher NPY levels also performed better under stress.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for details on a related study...

Continuing:

Another research team, headed by Dr. Rachel Yehuda of the Traumatic Stress Studies Program at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in NY, compared military combat veterans who developed PTSD to those who did not.

These researchers found a “significant” correlation between higher NYP levels, “a protective stress factor,” and “positive coping”; that is, “a biologic…resilience to or recovery from the adverse effects of stress.” In other words, Lewinski explains, “Neuropeptides are linked to healthy emotional recovery. The higher your level, the healthier recovery you have. ...

Much remains to be learned about NPY and its influence on performance and stress recovery. One area warranting further study concerns the impact of alcohol. According to Lewinski, animal tests suggest that alcohol consumption significantly impairs the production of NPY. “If this holds true for humans, this may present a difficult new issue for trainers and officers.”


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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Military Sexual Assault: 'The Other PTSD'

Sharing a couple of reports that I didn't have a chance to share earlier; want to ensure they're available here for future searches. First up, NBC Nightly News (May 4) explores what they call 'The Other PTSD:' military sexual trauma. Then grafs from a Salon piece that appeared back in March, The private war of women soldiers.



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

From Salon:

Comprehensive statistics on the sexual assault of female soldiers in Iraq have not been collected, but early numbers revealed a problem so bad that former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ordered a task force in 2004 to investigate. As a result, the Defense Department put up a Web site in 2005 designed to clarify that sexual assault is illegal and to help women report it. It also initiated required classes on sexual assault and harassment. ...

Unfortunately, with a greater number of women serving in Iraq than ever before, these measures are not keeping women safe. When you add in the high numbers of war-wrecked soldiers being redeployed, and the fact that the military is waiving criminal and violent records for more than one in 10 new Army recruits, the picture for women looks bleak indeed.

On the task force, from June 2004's APA Psychiatric News:

The eight-member Task Force on Care for Victims of Sexual Assault found a limited number of programs on sexual assault that address education and training, prevention, reporting, and victim support. These "pockets of excellence" contrast sharply with the military's policies and programs regarding sexual harassment, according to the task force report.

The task force defined sexual assault as alleged rape, forcible sodomy, assault with intent to commit rape or sodomy, and indecent assault or an attempt to commit any of these offenses. If the military finds the alleged perpetrator guilty of any of these charges, a commander can choose from several disciplinary actions including separation from the military resulting in a loss of pay and benefits and imprisonment for up to several years, according to the task force report [pdf].

The task force recommended several actions [pdf] to Rumsfeld including that he establish an office in the Department of Defense (DoD) to implement the task force's recommendations. Rumsfeld began initiating some of the more urgent recommendations last month when he met with the military commanders to discuss how they handle sexual assault complaints and what can be done to fix problems they discovered, according to a DoD press release.

But the Iraq War is proving to be a unique challenge for women and men serving side-by-side (collocating) in similar roles. Back to Salon:

Not everyone realizes how different the Iraq war is for women than any other American war in history. More than 160,500 American female soldiers have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East since the war began in 2003, which means one in seven soldiers is a woman. Women now make up 15 percent of active duty forces, four times more than in the 1991 Gulf War. At least 450 women have been wounded in Iraq, and 71 have died -- more female casualties and deaths than in the Korean, Vietnam and first Gulf Wars combined. And women are fighting in combat.

Officially, the Pentagon prohibits women from serving in ground combat units such as the infantry, citing their lack of upper-body strength and a reluctance to put girls and mothers in harm's way. But mention this ban to any female soldier in Iraq and she will scoff.

"Of course we were in combat!" said Laura Naylor, 25, who served with the Army Combat Military Police in Baghdad from 2003-04. "We were interchangeable with the infantry. They came to our police stations and helped pull security, and we helped them search houses and search people. That's how it is in Iraq." ...

All the women I interviewed held dangerous jobs in Iraq. They drove trucks along bomb-ridden roads, acted as gunners atop tanks and unarmored vehicles, raided houses, guarded prisoners, rescued the wounded in the midst of battle, and searched Iraqis at checkpoints. Some watched their best friends die, some were wounded, all saw the death and mutilation of Iraqi children and citizens.

Yet, despite the equal risks women are taking, they are still being treated as inferior soldiers and sex toys by many of their male colleagues. As Pickett told me, "It's like sending three women to live in a frat house."

Not that sexual assault in the military is anything new. What is new is that women are serving on those front lines -- and are served up a double dose of stress and trauma compared to their male counterparts:

Rape, sexual assault and harassment are nothing new to the military. They were a serious problem for the Women's Army Corps in Vietnam, and the rapes and sexual hounding of Navy women at Tailhook in 1991 and of Army women at Aberdeen in 1996 became national news. A 2003 survey of female veterans from Vietnam through the first Gulf War found that 30 percent said they were raped in the military. A 2004 study of veterans from Vietnam and all the wars since, who were seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder, found that 71 percent of the women said they were sexually assaulted or raped while in the military. And in a third study, conducted in 1992-93 with female veterans of the Gulf War and earlier wars, 90 percent said they had been sexually harassed in the military, which means anything from being pressured for sex to being relentlessly teased and stared at.

"That's one of the things I hated the most," said Caryle García, 24, who, like Naylor, served with the Combat Military Police in Baghdad from 2003-04. García was wounded by a roadside bomb, which knocked her unconscious and filled her with shrapnel. "You walk into the chow hall and there's a bunch of guys who just stop eating and stare at you. Every time you bend down, somebody will say something. It got to the point where I was afraid to walk past certain people because I didn't want to hear their comments. It really gets you down."

"There are only three kinds of female the men let you be in the military: a bitch, a ho or a dyke," said Montoya, the soldier who carried a knife for protection. "This guy out there, he told me he thinks the military sends women over to give the guys eye candy to keep them sane. He said in Vietnam they had prostitutes to keep them from going crazy, but they don't have those in Iraq. So they have women soldiers instead."

The Salon piece is quite long and well worth a read if you are interested in researching the subject further. One more snippet:

Having the courage to report a rape is difficult enough for civilians, where unsympathetic police, victim-blaming myths, and simple fear prevent 59 percent of rapes from being reported, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice. But within the military, reporting is even more risky. Military platoons are enclosed, hierarchical societies, riddled with gossip, so any woman who reports a rape has no realistic chance of remaining anonymous. She will have to face her assailant day after day, and put up with rumors, resentment and blame from other soldiers. Furthermore, she runs the risk of being punished by her assailant if he is her superior.

These barriers to reporting are so well recognized that even the Defense Department has been scrambling to mend the situation, at least for the public eye. It won't go so far as to actually gather statistics on rape and assault in Iraq (it only counts reported rapes in raw numbers for all combat areas in the Middle East combined), but in 2006 the DOD did finally wake up to the idea that anonymous reporting might help women come forward, and updated its Web site accordingly.

The Web site looks good, although some may object that it seems to pay more attention to telling women how to avoid an assault than telling men not to commit one. It defines rape, sexual assault and harassment, and makes clear that these behaviors are illegal. The site now also explains that a soldier can report a rape anonymously to a special department, SAPR (Sexual Assault Prevention and Response), without triggering an official investigation -- a procedure called "restricted reporting." And it promises the soldier a victim's advocate and medical care.

On closer scrutiny, however, the picture is less rosy: Only active and federal duty soldiers can go to SAPR for help, which means that neither inactive reservists nor veterans are eligible; soldiers are encouraged to report rapes to a chaplain, and chaplains are not trained as rape counselors; if soldiers tell a friend about an assault, that friend is legally obliged to report it to officials; soldiers must disclose their rank, gender, age, race, service, and the date, time and/or location of the assault, which in the closed world of a military unit hardly amounts to anonymity; and, in practice, since most people in the Army are men, the soldier will likely find herself reporting her sexual assault to a man -- something rape counselors know does not work. Worse, no measures will be taken against the accused assailant unless the victim agrees to stop being anonymous.

Please read the rest.


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NPR Offers Perplexing Update on Fort Carson's PTSD Handling Today

From the Rocky Mountain News:

All the talk about Fort Carson improving care for soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder may be just that - talk. That's the conclusion of a National Public Radio report to be aired today.

Reporter Daniel Zwerdling's story is a follow-up to a December 2006 report that revealed soldiers were being punished, and in some cases pushed out of the military, for seeking help for PTSD and other combat-related mental problems.

The 2006 report prompted investigations by the Pentagon and a bipartisan group of U.S. senators. It also brought much talk of change at Fort Carson, where officers now receive training on PTSD symptoms and leaders have sworn to investigate any cases of soldiers being wronged.

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

Continuing:

Zwerdling sat in on one of the much-lauded training programs, which he said consisted of a psychiatric nurse "racing through" a slide show and giving mixed messages about how to treat soldiers with PTSD. Several times she tells leaders to make sure soldiers get help, and she describes some symptoms: alcohol and drug abuse, marital problems, domestic abuse. But she also says that kind of behavior should not be tolerated.

Zwerdling apparently taped the training program he sat in on, and then played it for a handful of mental healthcare professionals who have extensive backgrounds in treating soldiers. They were not impressed. One said the program was "almost worthless" while another deemed it a failure.

The NPR story, Return to Fort Carson, also makes clear not every leader is on board with the military's promise of taking care of every soldier and soldier's family. It quotes a sergeant who calls PTSD "a big crock" and an excuse for troops to misbehave. "Suck it up and deal with it," the sergeant says. "It's just all these people who talk about this PTSD crap and make us go to these stupid lectures . . . who are driving me crazy."

The story also quotes a soldier diagnosed with chronic PTSD who said he was demoted because he was ordered to return to Iraq but sought psychiatric treatment instead. The demotion occurred after Fort Carson and other military officials pledged that the practice of punishing soldiers with emotional problems would end. The story will air today during All Things Considered, which runs from 3 to 7 p.m. on Colorado Public Radio.

[UPDATE]: Listen to the full NPR report. More here.


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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

In San Diego? Plan to Attend Public Wounded Warriors Commission Hearing on Thursday

From the North County Times:

President George W. Bush's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors will hold its second public meeting outside Washington D.C. [Thursday] at the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina, at 333 West Harbor Drive in San Diego.

The 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. meeting will focus on post-traumatic stress disorder, a malady that afflicts a growing number of veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Members of the public will be allowed to comment on some of the many issues to be discussed, including the identification of post-traumatic stress disorder, support benefits and case management.

Video report here. h/t Barbara

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for updated info on meeting...

[UPDATE May 25 2007] From AP:

The Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors, which President Bush appointed this year following revelations of poor conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, focused for the first time on PTSD. The bipartisan commission has been holding hearings on veterans care and will issue a set of recommendations this summer.

"The military system does not have enough resources, funding or personnel to adequately support the psychiatric health of service members and their families in peace and during conflict," Dr. Richard McCormick, a professor at the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, told the commission. "This creates a perfect storm of barriers to receiving care."

McCormick, who recently helped compile a report for the secretary of defense on the nation's mental health care for veterans, said there is insufficient training of family members and medical personnel about psychological issues, and patients' care is often disrupted when they transition from active duty to retirement. "Military treatment facilities currently lack the resources to provide a full continuum of psychological health care for active duty service members and their families," he said.

Speaking of the stigma of reaching out for care:

"There are natural stress reactions, it doesn't mean you are weak, it means you are human," McCormick said.

Miguel Delgado, a former Navy corpsman who returned from Iraq in 2004, said the constant stresses of seeing injured Marines led him to develop PTSD. As a medic who was himself trained to recognize signs of combat stress in his troops, Delgado still hesitated before he contacted doctors about his symptoms. "There is such a strong bond within our military units that to admit to combat stress or PTSD would label you as being weak or a non-team player," said Delgado. "PTSD has consumed my life. I no longer have the quality of life I once enjoyed."

According to Army psychiatrist Col. Elspeth Ritchie, 17 percent of soldiers who have seen combat in Iraq experience PTSD, a problem made worse by multiple or prolonged deployments. She said the rate could eventually increase further, as symptoms often take many years to manifest. PTSD effects about 4 percent of the general population.

Ritchie said that according to a recent study, the suicide rate of active duty soldiers increased to 17.3 per thousand last year, compared to the typical rate of about 11 per thousand. She recommended training more front-line counselors, including military chaplains, as one way to better recognize and treat PTSD.

This is perhaps the most shocking revelation of the day:

Dr. Nancy Andreasen, a professor in the Psychiatry Department at Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa, told the commission that the Department of Veterans Affairs currently looks for symptoms of PTSD using a psychological test that was developed to look for schizophrenia. "It is of little use, but widely used in the VA," Andreasen said.

Would any readers who are employed at the VA wish to toss in some comment on this -- anonymously, of course, if you wish? Would appreciate hearing views on the psychological test used at the VA, since it's the first time I've heard it described that way.


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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Army to Expand Efforts to Educate Officers on PTSD

From the Kaiser Network Daily Health Policy Report:

Representatives from Veterans for America on Wednesday said Army commanders have agreed to expand efforts to educate officers about post-traumatic stress disorder and to review the records of some soldiers with the condition who allege that Army physicians misdiagnosed them, the AP/Salt Lake City Desert Morning News reports. Some soldiers have said that Army physicians misdiagnosed them with personality or substance use disorders, rather than PTSD, and that, as a result, the Army dishonorably discharged them without health benefits.

According to Veterans for America representative Steve Robinson, Army commanders have agreed to take "corrective action" against individuals who have acted improperly toward soldiers with mental health problems. In addition, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond of the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson has agreed to review the records of about 40 soldiers who allege that the Army discharged them improperly, Robinson said.

Based on the review, the soldiers could have their records revised and their health benefits restored, according to Robinson. He said, "I believe the Army has made a dramatic turn. ... I think we're going to see a cultural sea change, and I think we just have to continue to monitor it to make sure that it happens" (Slevin, AP/Salt Lake City Deseret Morning News, 5/17).

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

A few more snippets from AP:

Soldiers working with [Veterans for America] who have PTSD say that they haven't been given enough one-on-one counseling to recover and that the Army has offered to diagnose a personality disorder to give them a quicker, honorable discharge.

But personality disorders are considered a pre-existing condition, cutting them off from military health coverage and possibly making it harder to find a job. Robinson's group claims that some soldiers have been criticized for their job performance, despite getting inadequate treatment. ...

Problems range from misdiagnoses of personality disorders to soldiers who were dishonorably discharged for substance abuse without being offered treatment first, [Robinson] said.


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Suicide Prevention Coordinators Assigned to Nation's Military Hospitals

From the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune:

Suicide prevention coordinators will be posted at the nation's military hospitals, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Nicholson said [earlier in the month], after an investigation into the death of Minnesota Marine veteran Jonathan Schulze found that more should be done to help potentially suicidal veterans.

Nicholson, who participated in a ceremony...at the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center for a new spinal injuries unit, also said in an interview afterward that the VA now plans around-the-clock acute psychiatric care to deal with the surge of combat veterans returning from Iraq.

"There is a heightened worry and awareness and concern universally on our part about suicide," said Nicholson, who oversees an agency of 240,000 employees. "We want to do everything we can do to prevent it and we're taking these steps posthaste."

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

Continuing:

Schulze's family said that five days before he died, he was turned away from the VA hospital in St. Cloud even though he told staff members twice that he was suicidal. But the VA investigators found that claim to be "unsubstantiated," and said records showed no evidence of those statements.

However, a report by the VA's Office of the Inspector General criticized a social worker for not intervening promptly the day that Schulze went to the St. Cloud hospital. One of the report's authors, Dr. George Wesley, said in an interview Friday that when the social worker tried to read Schulze's electronic medical records, which were kept at the VA hospital in Minneapolis, the computer wouldn't work.

Jim Schulze and his wife, Marianne, said they were pleased at the effort the inspector general put into the report. "If what we're doing is going to help other GIs, then it was worth telling our story," said Marianne Schulze, Jonathan's stepmother. "As we've both been saying all along, something had to get done, and hopefully the VA will follow through with other veterans that something gets done."

Proof that strength in numbers will be key to moving this issue forward so we can successfully care for our returning troops:

Two federal inspectors with the VA's Office of the Inspector General who investigated the Schulze suicide said Friday that they acted with urgency because Nicholson and several members of Congress requested the report, and because of a high level of national interest. "It was a very fast turnaround for a report of this scope," said Dana Moore, a deputy assistant inspector general. ...

Wesley said he and Dr. John Daigh, the Inspector General's Office's assistant inspector for health care inspections, briefed staff members of the U.S. Senate and House veterans affairs committees on Thursday. They said they will work to ensure that recommendations in the report will be followed.

Among them was that VA hospitals rethink their approach to suicide prevention and screen veterans more comprehensively for mental health treatment. It also said the VA should more fully document conversations with patients and take the lead in contacting them about their care instead of placing the burden on the patient.

The report said the VA hospital in St. Cloud should review its screening questionnaire to make it more comprehensive and detailed, and to adopt a "multidisciplinary" approach to screening, meaning that more clinicians should be involved to more fully assess a veteran's inclination toward suicide.


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Monday, May 21, 2007

'Until We Send Robots to Fight, We'll Always Have PTSD'

From the Asheville Citizen-Times:

Soldiers returning from World War I experienced shell shock, and veterans from World War II were said to suffer from combat fatigue. But a formal diagnosis for PTSD did not exist until the early 1980s.

According to the National Center for PTSD, people with the disorder have four major types of symptoms: They re-experience the event either while awake or asleep; they stay away from people, places and things that remind them of the trauma; they experience a loss of emotions; and they feel on guard, have trouble sleeping and are irritable.

To receive a formal diagnosis of PTSD, these symptoms must last for more than one month, cause significant distress and affect the person’s ability to function normally. The combat behaviors veterans learn in the military and the return to civilian life after being in a life and death situation can exacerbate some of these symptoms. But, [Bruce Purvis, a psychologist at the Asheville VA medical center] said these are normal responses to an abnormal situation. “It’s the way we’re put together,” Purvis said. “It’s the way we’re wired.”

Dr. Alan Krueger, a former psychiatrist at the Asheville VA Medical Center, said even if military personnel don’t develop PTSD or other mental health issues, war has some effect on everyone who is involved in it. “I don’t think anybody who goes into combat comes out unscathed,” Krueger said. ...

“Until we send our robots out to fight their robots, we’ll always have PTSD,” Purvis said.

Listen to an interview with Purvis, talking about the symptoms of PTSD and how a formal diagnosis for PTSD is made.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Expansion of GI Bill Set to Ease Burden of Returning Troops

From Military.com:

Military support groups on Wednesday hailed plans to expand military education benefits, VA home loans and small business grants for veterans under new legislation under consideration on Capitol Hill.

The measure was introduced in the Senate by presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and in the House by Iraq war veteran Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa. The lawmakers and their supporters said the Montgomery GI bill, passed in 1994, has been an invaluable tool but one that sorely needs updating.

“The aim isn’t just to get them to simply re-integrate into civilian society, but to give them the means to achieve positions of corporate, federal and private sector leadership,” said Dennis Cullinan, legislative director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Take Action: Tell your public officials how you feel about this issue.

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

A few more details:

The new legislation would eliminate the current requirement that servicemembers pay into the GI Bill program to receive educational benefits. Instead, any active-duty member who has served two consecutive years since 2001 would be eligible to receive eight semesters of tuition, based on the national average for college costs.

Books, room and board, and other associated fees also would be covered. Reservists and Guardsmen who have served at least two years total on active duty since 2001 could see the same benefits.

Those proposals mirror several pieces of legislation already under consideration in the House and Senate. However, the new bill also would expand the Veterans Microloan Program, designed to help former servicemembers start small businesses, by raising the maximum loan from $25,000 to $100,000 and capping interest rates at 2.5 percent.


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After We Fix the VA, Let's Set Our Sights on Building Community

Posted by PR Director at Soldiers Angels Network:

I am watching the growing furor over the shortcomings in the Veterans administration system and the fallout from Walter Reed Army Hospital with growing alarm. I am concerned that we are going to fix the crisis and forget the problem.

The problem is how to help warriors, and their families, successfully reintegrate back into our communities, and their homes, after combat. A portion of that problem is health care related. For a majority of combat vets, however, only a small part of their reintegration challenge has to do with health care for physical injuries. Behavioral and mental health are bigger issues. And for most, the biggest challenge is relational: rebuilding marriages, reconnecting with children, rejoining friends, rejoining the global economy, getting back to the communities of faith we left, etc.

The problem with focusing on the VA is we may well fix the VA only to convince ourselves that the reintegration of our combat veterans is a government program, not a community process. If we expect the government to take care of everything, we will have failed our combat veterans and their families as well as ourselves.

We have sent our precious men and women to war. The VA can't bring them home. Only we can. We have a moral obligation to insure that all of our combat veterans come all the way home to their families, their jobs, their schools and their communities.

A government program can't do that. A community can.

------------------
Major John Morris is a chaplain in the Minnesota Army National Guard. For more information about his and others' ground-breaking work on reintegrating returning soldiers, go to http://www.dma.state.mn.us/ and look for the "Beyond the
Yellow Ribbon" link.

Food for great thought.


Please Join Me at Firedoglake.com @ 5pm ET Today



I'll update this post through the day, so please check back later this afternoon for additional information on my appearance at Firedoglake.com's Sunday Book Salon. No need to register to leave a comment, so please join us at 5pm ET/2pm PT for an online discussion led by a good soul and friend Taylor Marsh:

[Moving a Nation to Care] is an amazing journey through stories of veterans and what ...war does to their lives and the lives of their families. I'm proud to host this event on Sunday. Please make some time in your schedule to spend time with Ilona. It will be an extraordinary discussion on PTSD, which I've talked about many times before.

It used to be called "battle fatigue." In fact, my uncle, who flew planes in WWII, ended up in a hospital a broken man. Flying mission after mission simply destroyed him. I'll never forget seeing him there with my mother when I was a very little girl. The once vibrant dandy of a man was no longer anywhere to be seen.

Ilona Meagher has captured the story of "battle fatigue," now called PTSD in her new book.

Firedoglake Book Salon
Sunday, May 20th
2:00 p.m. pacific - 5:00 p.m. eastern

Thanks to Jane Hamsher for having us in so we all could talk about Ilona's book and the important issues of PTSD, which some of us know so well. It's long past time that we brought this soldier's disease out into the light. It could help save some lives and the heartbreak of family members who are blindsided by what the Iraq war, with its continual redeployments, as well as the lack of planning and even equipment, has wrought.

Post coming on my PHL and NYC events.

For now, I'd like to share a few images with you. A great time all around; looking forward to others as I meet more of you.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Moving a Nation to Care Sample Chapter // Philadelphia, New York City Book Tour Stops

Last year Ig Publishing approached me to write a book on the issue of combat PTSD in our returning OEF/OIF troops. I'd been blogging for a few years, but had never written a book before.

As any writer I suppose I'd wanted to write a book eventually. Someday. When I had more time. When I knew what to say. And how to say it. I thought I'd write of my father, who fought on the streets in Budapest during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. I'd call it, "Revolutionary Daughter" or something lofty like that. I'd even started interviewing my parents and buying books on the topic to begin my research.

But did I think I'd ever really write a book in my life? Really?

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

Well, it's real. I've written a book. Just not that book.

No, my book is called Moving a Nation to Care: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and America's Returning Troops. Nothing lofty in that there title, eh?

Read about Thursday's Boston area signing in the full write-up. Or listen to a 15-minute interview I gave to Charlotte Crockford, 91.5 FM WUML. Tomorrow, I head out to Philadelphia for my second book event [Facebook invite]. On Friday, May 18, I'm at the Barnes & Noble in Greenwich Village [Facebook invite].

If you are in Philadelphia or New York City, please come!

Philadelphia

What
Book Signing/Community Gathering with Ilona Meagher, author of Moving a Nation to Care: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and America’s Returning Troops (Ig Publishing)
*Where*
Robin's Bookstore
108 S. 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
*When*
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
*Time*
6:00 p.m.
*Phone store for more information*
215-735-9600


New York City
What
Book Signing/Community Gathering with Ilona Meagher, author of Moving a Nation to Care: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and America’s Returning Troops (Ig Publishing)
*Where*
Barnes & Noble – Greenwich Village
396 Ave of the Americas at 8th Street
New York, NY 10011
*When*
Friday, May 18, 2007
*Time*
7:30 p.m.
*Phone store for more information*
212-674-8780

*Special Guests*
Author Penny Coleman, Flashback: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide, and the Lessons of War
IAVA member, Outreach Director Rob Timmins
Ig Publishing, publishers of Moving a Nation to Care


Meanwhile, as the tour moves forward, everyone else's preordered books are still waiting to be delivered. I am sorry about this, guys. Our days of delays, however, will soon be behind us! I'm told the books have been shipped from our distributor's warehouse; Amazon should have stock in the next few days as should bookstores that have ordered some.

(A pre-ordered copy at my local Borders store arrived a couple of days ago; and Barnes & Noble is now offering the book for sale, not preorder. So the books are finally winding their way through the system. YEAH!) Thanks for all of the patience on the delays.

It's been disappointing on this end, too; but, my publisher made sure all of our events are adequately stocked. Come out to a signing and get your book before everyone else! Those who participated in the Buy One, Get a Signed Copy Free promotion, your books went out via First Class mail today. May even beat Amazon.com!

But what does all of this have to do with The Rumsfeld Revolution in Military Affairs? Well, everything, of course. Tonight I present the debut of Moving a Nation to Care's sample chapter.

Please leave your thoughts on Chapter 6. More comments here.


Monday, May 14, 2007

CCN's Troops & Vets Series on Combat PTSD: Society and the Soldier - Part 2

An invitation to the second in a series of articles of my work appearing in General Wes Clark's Clark Community Network Troops & Vets series on PTSD: Society and the Soldier: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – Part II.

The story of combat-related PTSD is a saga steeped in both sociopolitical intrigue and medical maneuvering. Conflict, inspiration, frustration, and relentless determination to find understanding and healing have been the markers of the experience.

The reality is that combat PTSD – or whatever we once called it, or whatever we’re going to call it next – calls into question the human reliance on war to solve our problems.

While we may wish that our smart bombs and our superior military power will so overwhelm our enemies that our wars can be clean, quick and painless – and without any blowback on us or those we’ve sent to fight in them – there’s no debating that war trauma has always existed, and it will exist as long as we wage war. In many aspects, the war trauma of today can be more debilitating than that of previous eras for a wide variety of reasons, which we’ll look at in Part III of the Series. But a lingering shock to the system following combat has been a common thread that ties each generation to the next.

Read Part I if you'd like and then return to to Part II.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

4,000 Search for Missing GIs in Iraq

Keeping thoughts on all families and troops involved:

The U.S. military on Sunday confirmed that an Iraqi interpreter was killed along with four U.S. Soldiers in an attack south of Baghdad, leaving three American Soldiers missing.A U.S. statement Saturday said only that a patrol of seven American Soldiers and an Iraqi army translator had been attacked [related video] and that five people were killed and three were missing. ...

[A]bout 4,000 American forces were involved in the search for the three missing troops in the notorious "triangle of death" south of the capital. ... The military said the patrol was struck Saturday in a pre-dawn explosion near Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad - an al-Qaida area where two U.S. Soldiers were found massacred after disappearing at a checkpoint nearly a year ago.


A Mother's Day Reflection

If We Only Understood
Author Unknown
Could we only draw the curtain
that surrounds each other's lives,
See the naked heart and spirit,
know what spurs to action drives.
Often we should find it better,
purer than we judge we should,
We would love each other better,
if we only understood.

For those who carry the burden of loss during periods of war.

And a special note to Zack Bazzi's mom today.

For those familiar with the critically-acclaimed film The War Tapes, believed to be the best Iraq War documentary to arrive to date, many of you may remember Zack's mom. Her son is shipping out on another tour tomorrow, this time to Afghanistan. Please say a special wish or prayer for them both. Zack, keeping you in our thoughts. You are a true patriot, a strong leader and a valuable asset to our nation's military. You are also a good friend to all who are fortunate enough to know you.

Be safe, be well, find success and return home soon.

I've posted a diary on Zack's deployment over at Daily Kos.

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


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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Thanks to Waltham's Back Pages Books and Massachusetts' Veteran Support Community

backpages_051007_4Here's to good beginnings.

Arrived home yesterday afternoon from Moving a Nation to Care's kick-off New England area book signing (Philly and NYC, you're up next). Many people to thank for making my trip out to the Boston area a productive and stimulating success. MyDD by way of My Left Nutmeg even got wind of what we were up to and passed it along to their readers:

Blue Mass Group highlights a community event on combat PTSD – for better or worse, the fact that American soldiers return to their postwar lives with substandard medical, educational, and economic situations has historically been one of the only conditions where highlighting and combatting inequality is attractive across the ideological spectrum. Community organizing to ensure that those returning from Iraq find their unique needs met will pay real dividends across our society, and I'd love to hear what grassroots approaches the event attendees came up with.

Sheesh. They can't keep anything a secret out there. [wink] Please follow me below the fold to meet some of the people working hard to take care of Massachusett's returning vets.

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


Fortunately, the secret wasn't safe because of my right hand man, Beyond the Yellow Ribbon co-producer/co-director Kevin Bowe. He rustled up some of the best of local hearts and hands for an intimate gathering on Thursday night at Alex Green's Back Pages Books in Waltham (Alex must be among the youngest, kindest, coolest of indy bookstore owners around; that's him below to the right).

Sight unseen, Kevin had contacted me a couple of months ago to ask what he could do to make my visit to his area a success. You pulled it off in spades, sir. Kevin is a magnetic force, and you guys are lucky to have him in Massachusetts. He should be made an honorary ambassador or something!



Speaking of magnetic force, see that lovely smiling face above and to the left? People may not be protesting in the streets in droves, but this time there is a real solid group of citizen that increasingly wants to help our returning troops. I didn't ask her to beam like that; she was just excited that a book like ours came to be.

(She made me beam, too. I arrived at the bookstore early, only to find her having just bought one of my books. Alex -- or was it my friend RubDMC that I had popped in early to meet with -- said, "Well, there's the author right now." Asking if I'd sign her book, I asked Alex if he could snap a photo of the occasion: my first official book sale, and first official book signing recorded. I know, it's not going to fetch as much money as Paris Hilton's prison photos will, but it's worth its weight in gold to me. I was so excited, her name has slipped from my memory, darn it, but thank you for your energy and your support -- and keep beaming!)

Others in attendance included (in group photo above, first on the left) Alma Hart, Gold Star Mother of Pfc. John D. Hart. Many might recognize the last name. She and her husband, Brian, were the catalysts behind the Pentagon's improvement of troop armor, after pushing their representatives for improvements so others would not die as their son had.

Bob Quinn (behind Mrs. Hart) represented the great work being done by the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans. I can't rave enough about the kindness of Quinn and this group (NESHV was awarded the prestigious Valley Forge Freedom Foundation George Washington Honor Medal last year, so I'm not alone in my belief). Their website is also packed with events and resources -- and you don't have to be a homeless veteran to warrant the visit.

Next is Kevin Bowe again in the group photo. He has been working with the DA's office on a groundbreaking program that aims to protect both community and returning veteran. As some troops return home, they cope with hypervigilence and the need to push the envelope; that can, at times, result in their popping up on the law's radar screen. In March, I posted on Massachusett's thoughtful response to these incidents. From the San Jose Mercury News:

In Massachusetts, the Norfolk County District Attorney's Office has launched an unprecedented effort to prepare police officers and others to interact with soldiers and veterans who may pose risks to themselves and others. Mindful that more than 1.6 million Americans have now served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the office is training police and probation officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians on the signs of PTSD. ...PTSD "manifests itself in many ways, and we want our first-responders to recognize this," said Norfolk County District Attorney William Keating. "It's not a get-out-of-jail-free card, but if a veteran has a brush with the law, we need to help him."

Keating's uncle struggled with PTSD after serving in World War II, and that inspired him to launch the program. His office has created a 10-minute training video, available on YouTube, in the hope that increased public awareness will reduce veteran-related crime.

"As the trickle of soldiers coming back from Iraq becomes a flood, more of these kinds of cases are going to happen," Keating said. "Helping veterans assimilate and get the kind of treatment they need - even if they are in the criminal justice system - is the least we can do."

Kevin helped organize (not surprisingly) a community forum in February 2005. That forum resulted in the production of the 10 minute video mentioned above, Beyond the Yellow Ribbon.

If you'd like a free DVD copy of the video, which may be used or copied for any non-commercial uses, simply call 781-830-4800 x 386 and leave your name and mailing address. (Kevin brought a box of DVDs to pass out to those in attendance and gave me a whole handful to share with others while I'm on the road).

The program that Kevin had a hand in moving forward is now being replicated in Wisconsin and a handful of other states. How's that for citizens making a difference?

Dr. Jaine Darwin, Co-Director of Strategic Outreach to Families of All Reservists (SOFAR) -- a group found in Moving's resources chapter -- came to pass out booklets and shared the news that their work would appear in Oprah Winfrey's magazine next month. She said it was a great thing, especially since the hardest thing about their job is actually reaching veterans and their families to let them know they have this resource available.

Rounding out our comfy group were my ePluribus Media colleague, who blogs under the name Greyhawk, and his wife and mother-in-law, and even a new acquaintence: my seatmate on my flight over to Boston. Kathie was in town on business herself, and said if she could find the book store, that she wanted to come out to participate as well...that the topic was important and interesting.

Thank you for everyone for making it a memorable start forward.

Last, but certainly not least, I'd like to thank ace reporter Charlotte Crockford whose show Thinking Out Loud is broadcast on 91.5 FM WUML, UMass-Lowell's radio dial. She came out and recorded a 15 minute interview with me prior to our Back Pages gathering described above. Give it a listen. What a lovely lady; she got the evening off to a good start for me. Thanks, Charlotte!

In closing, I'd like to give special thanks to Robert Lasner and Elizabeth Clementson at Ig Publishing. You've made all of this possible. Can't wait to finally get a chance to meet you next week in New York.


Friday, May 11, 2007

First Walter Reed's Medical Family Assistance Center, Now DoD's 'America Supports You'

I'm bristling a bit at this latest news.

Some background: One of the stories that got lost in the (understandable) outrage earlier this year over outpatient conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was the saga of WRAMC's Michael J. Wagner. From his powerful perch, Wagner, who headed the Medical Family Assistance Center program for three years, had apparently been diverting funds from well-intentioned donors to his own private Texas charity.

A Criminal Investigation Command (CID) probe was launched by Walter Reed to look into the obvious conflict of interest. [I did a quick Google News search on his name, and found not even one return, so I'm not sure where the investigation is or went.]

Now, today comes a New York Times report with a similiar thread.

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

From the NYT:

The inspector general is examining whether officials who run “America Supports You,” a three-year-old Pentagon program lauded by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, helped arrange a fund-raiser for a private foundation set up last December by former Bush administration appointees. The foundation raises money to help troops and their families. The inquiry is also looking into whether money used for “America Supports You” and other public outreach programs has been shifted improperly from Pentagon accounts intended for other purposes.

With Wagner at WRAMC, investigations only began once the Washington Post began asking questions; same here:

The decision to open an inspector general’s inquiry came several days after The New York Times asked the Pentagon questions about the “America Supports You” effort after obtaining memorandums, and other documents from an employee critical of the Pentagon’s involvement.

While the charges listed above, if true, warrant terminations, the following hits closer to home and really angers me:

The private America Supports You Fund and the Pentagon program with a similar name share the same goal: to promote and encourage the work of grass-roots groups that help soldiers and their families with things like small care packages for deploying troops and renovating houses to accommodate soldiers who come home wounded.

But some department officials also appear to have seen the new foundation as an important tool in their push to maintain public support for troops overseas, a task that they feared had become much tougher since the November election put the Democrats in control of Congress.

“What we have learned is that the American people are beginning to fatigue, even in their support for the troops,” Allison Barber, a deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs said in a January 3 internal department memorandum announcing the creation of the private foundation. “I don’t think we have a minute to lose when it comes to maximizing support for our military, especially in the new political environment.”

Ms. Barber also noted in the e-mailed memorandum that the Pentagon’s America Supports You effort was a “non-political” program.

Non-political.

That's what I thought it was supposed to be as well when I decided to include its web address in Moving a Nation to Care's resources section; I knew that the DoD maintained the site (and I understood that I'd never see a talk on PTSD listed, for example, in their latest events section), but to learn that this has been going on behind the scenes is quite disheartening.

Must profit be squeezed out of everything for the people at the top in this administration? Must everything be used for political gain? There are a lot of great groups who are doing incredible work listed on the site and participating in the America Supports You program.

This latest news is such a disservice to their work and a slap in the face to those of us who, against all common sense, actually attempt to give the DoD the benefit of the doubt every once-in-a-while -- even after the Jessica Lynch fable and the Pat Tillman travesty and on and on. What's ironic is the fact that by doing business in this way, cynically, they make it even more difficult for the troops to get the help and support they need from Americans.

If the only kind of support the Pentagon wishes to see us give is the kind that comes from those who favor their policies flowing towards troops on the battlefield, just exactly what are the other 60% of Americans to do with themselves? Shut up and go away?

I try my hardest to present the issue of combat PTSD with fairness and respect flowing towards all sides; yes, I have gripes and grievances against our government due to their saying one thing and doing another ('Support the Troops' in the field, but then leave those who've returned to fend for themselves for years in outpatient care), but I looked beyond those problems in order to share as many resources that are out there for troops folding back into their lives again -- no matter where they come from.

Foolish of me, right?


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