Friday, September 29, 2006

VA Not Spending PTSD Funds Properly

From the Marine Corps Times:

House lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle are upset because the Department of Veterans Affairs has not spent the entire $300 million it vowed to devote to post-traumatic stress syndrome among combat troops. ... The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, says in a report issued today that the VA spent less than half of a promised $100 million in 2005 on PTSD and $158 million of a promised $200 million in 2006.

True spending on PTSD programs might be even less, the report says, because money released to VA medical facilities has not necessarily been spent, and even if spent may have gone to other purposes. GAO officials expect to issue a full report later this year with more details on what happened to the money.

“The administration is far short of fulfilling its commitments,” said Rep. Michael Michaud of Maine, ranking Democrat on the house Veterans’ Affairs health subcommittee. “Clearly, our oversight of the VA’s implementation and delivery of mental health services will have to be more vigorous.”

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Weekend Warriors More at Risk for PTSD

From USA Today:

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan appear to be taking a greater toll on the mental health of the so-called weekend warriors than on that of active-duty troops, the Army's leading expert on combat stress said during a congressional hearing Thursday.

Army Col. Charles Hoge testified that 41% of National Guardsmen and reservists raised concerns about their mental health in answers to a survey taken three to six months after they returned from combat. That compares with 32% of active-duty troops who responded to the survey, says Hoge, a psychiatrist with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and an expert in post-traumatic stress disorder.

In addition, a third of the citizen soldiers complained of problems serious enough that they were referred for mental health counseling; only 13% of active-duty soldiers were referred. The findings come as the Army, under enormous strain from fighting on two war fronts at once, considers greater use of its part-time soldiers in combat.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Chattanoogan: Former Sen. Bob Dole on PTSD

An op-ed from yesterday's Chattanoogan:

"My own experience as a WWII veteran and involvement with other veterans over the years have made it crystal clear that returning stateside is not the end of the mission. A sizable percentage of the 1.2 million men and women who have rotated through Iraq and Afghanistan will experience significant readjustment challenges as they integrate back into their hometowns.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Hoge, Auchterlonie & Milliken, 2006) found that 20 percent of Iraq veterans will suffer some sort of mental health problem upon return. These problems can include relationship and work difficulties, posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, substance abuse, or depression. Many will appear fine, showing no visible scars of war. And many who do need help will not seek it primarily because of their military training and mindset. The authors of this study also found that approximately 50 percent of Iraq veterans given a mental health referral based on a questionnaire completed upon return did not seek help during the year that followed." ...

For returning veterans, focusing on your readjustment now that you are home is a worthy, yet difficult mission because it often goes against your ideas of strength and courage. Actually, it takes guts to face problems and get help. I encourage you to make use of the many valuable services and resources available today. Both you and your loved ones deserve it.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Tenfold Increase in OEF/OIF Reporting Stress, Mental Disorders

From the Associated Press:

"More than one-third of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seeking medical treatment from the Veterans Health Administration report symptoms of stress or other mental disorders -- a tenfold increase in the last 18 months, according to an agency study.

The dramatic jump in cases -- coming as more troops face multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan -- has triggered concern among some veterans groups that the agency may not be able to meet the demand. They say veterans have had to deal with long waits for doctor appointments, staffing shortages and lack of equipment at medical centers run by the Veterans Affairs Department." ...

"If the VA is going to see 30 percent of the 1.5 million U.S. service members who have deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the VA may expect a total of 450,000 veteran patients from these two wars," said Paul Sullivan, director of programs for the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation. "This is a very ominous trend, indicating a tidal wave of new patients coming in, and the numbers could go up."

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Opinion: Vets Need Enhanced PTSD Screening and Outreach

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

"Twenty-one percent of Fort Lewis soldiers recently returned from Iraq were deemed 'at risk' for post-traumatic stress disorder. Between 15 percent and 17 percent of all combat troops returning from Afghanistan or Iraq suffer from depression, anxiety or PTSD.

These brave men and women fight for our freedoms and we should support their mental health needs. Unfortunately, our national veterans outreach relies on unclear criteria for mental health referrals and on veterans seeking treatment on their own. Enhanced mental health screenings and outreach would help veterans get needed support."

Saturday, September 16, 2006

20 War Zone Suicides So Far in 2006

Some stats from WTVF-Nashville:

Since 2001, 82 US soldiers in the war zone could not cope. They committed suicide. The number of suicides in 2003 was 26, down to 13 in 2004, back up to 25 in 2005, and so far this year there have been 20 soldiers in combat who've committed suicide. ...

According to Army officials, the number of suicides committed by soldiers seems to increase when they return home.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Gulf War Syndrome: The Media's Got it Wrong

A headline today for a piece in the Chicago Sun-Times declares VA report: There is no Gulf War syndrome. Other headlines echoed much the same thing ever since an Institute of Medicine report was released earlier this week. Paul Davidson from the National Gulf War Resource Center yesterday issued a press release in response, and I've been asked to pass it along to you.

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For Immediate Release
Contact: Paul Davidson
Sept 12, 2006 816-531-7183

Gulf War Veterans question VA, IOM, media assessment
of IOM report

Gulf War Veterans are questioning how today’s headlines became “There is no Gulf War Illness,” as a result of the Institute of Medicine report released earlier today.

“I read this report: it states that many veterans suffer from a group of as-yet-unexplained symptoms, and that veterans of the Gulf War of 1991 are about twice as likely as others to suffer this condition,” said Julie Mock of Seattle. Julie is President of Veterans of Modern Warfare, and she was an Army Dental Assistant deployed to the Gulf War. “It is reprehensible for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to distort its own report into the misleading implications which I saw reported as news today.”

The Institute of Medicine released volume IV of its review of medical literate relative to gulf war veterans’ health today. A single sentence on page 214 of the report, states that “there is no symptom complex peculiar to deployed Gulf War veterans.”

The previous 12 pages of text and following four pages of tables summarize a number of studies published over the last ten years which analyze “Unexplained Illness,” concluding that about 30% of Gulf War Veterans now experience or previously experienced this condition, and that is double the rate of occurrence among non-deployed veterans of the same period.

“Why would the VA, the IOM, or the Media turn this report into a story about a semantics argument over ‘Gulf War Illness’ vs. ‘Unexplained Illness’,” said
Cheyne Worley of Kansas City, an Army supply sergeant in the Gulf War and current President of the National Gulf War Resource Center. “This report clearly [shows] that three out of ten of us are sick, and that our sickness is most likely related to our service in the Gulf.”

In addition to recognizing the prevalence of “Unexplained Illness” among Gulf War Veterans, the OIM report also recognizes ALS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and CFS-like illnesses, six birth defects (in the children of Gulf War veterans), atopic dermatitis, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and depression as conditions significantly more likely among Gulf War veterans than among non-deployed veterans.

The report recommends Pre-deployment and Post-deployment Screening, Exposure Assessment, and Surveillance for Adverse Outcomes related to specific conditions such as cancer, ALS, and birth defects.

After reviewing the recommendations, Worley stated, “It is disturbing that in 2006, the Institute of Medicine is presenting, as the first of three recommendations, the implementation of the same tracking system which Congress mandated in Public Law 105-85 (The National Defense Authorization Act of 1997) nine years ago.”

“Is the IOM implying that the Department of Defense is ignoring the law, that veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan in the Global War on Terror, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom are not being given the medical examinations and blood sampling they were promised by Congress, to ensure we don’t re-create all the unanswered questions of the Gulf War?”

Mock discussed the rest of the IOM recommendations: “We agree with the recommendations that the report makes, although most of them are needs we have identified for many years now.”

“It is disappointing that, with solid evidence of undiagnosed illness in the report, and many gaps in research identified, the Institute of Medicine does not make a stronger call for more research into the causes, treatment, and possible diagnosis of the illness or illnesses which it says are disabling hundreds of thousands of American and allied veterans, including many besides those who served in the Gulf War. Instead, we have headlines saying that ‘Gulf War Illness does not exist’.”


Public Law 105-85, Sec. 765 (Source: )

(a) SYSTEM REQUIRED.—(1) Chapter 55 of title 10, United States

Code, is amended by inserting after section 1074e (as added by section 764) the following new section:

§ 1074f. Medical tracking system for members deployed overseas

(a) SYSTEM REQUIRED.—The Secretary of Defense shall establish a system to assess the medical condition of members of the armed forces (including members of the reserve components) who are deployed outside the United States or its territories or possessions as part of a contingency operation (including a humanitarian operation, peacekeeping operation, or similar operation) or combat operation.

(b) ELEMENTS OF SYSTEM.—The system described in subsection

(a) shall include the use of predeployment medical examinations and postdeployment medical examinations (including an assessment of mental health and the drawing of blood samples) to accurately record the medical condition of members before their deployment and any changes in their medical condition during the course of their deployment. The postdeployment examination shall be conducted when the member is redeployed or otherwise leaves an area in which the system is in operation (or as soon as possible thereafter).

(c) RECORDKEEPING.—The results of all medical examinations conducted under the system, records of all health care services (including immunizations) received by members described in subsection

(a) in anticipation of their deployment or during the course of their deployment, and records of events occurring in the deployment area that may affect the health of such members shall be retained and maintained in a centralized location to improve future access to the records.

(d) QUALITY ASSURANCE.—The Secretary of Defense shall establish a quality assurance program to evaluate the success of the system in ensuring that members described in subsection (a) receive predeployment medical examinations and postdeployment medical examinations and that the recordkeeping requirements with respect to the system are met.

The Ground Truth on Screens Sept. 15

Nationwide premiere screenings will be held this Friday for the long-anticipated documentary, The Ground Truth.

From the film's AIM page:

Hailed as "powerful" and "quietly unflinching," The Ground Truth stunned filmgoers at the 2006 Sundance and Nantucket Film Festivals. The subjects of Patricia Foulkrod's searing documentary feature are patriotic young Americans - ordinary men and women who heeded the call for military service in Iraq. The terrible conflict in Iraq, depicted with ferocious honesty in the film, is a prelude for the even more challenging battles fought by the soldiers returning home - with personal demons, an uncomprehending public, and an indifferent government. As these battles take shape, each soldier becomes a new kind of hero, bearing witness and giving support to other veterans, and learning to fearlessly wield the most powerful weapon of all - the truth.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for theater and events info...
Opening at Landmark Theaters on September 15, 2006 in the following cities:

Austin, TX :
Dobie Landmark 4
2025 Guadalupe Street
in the Dobie Mall
Austin, TX 78705
(512) 472-FILM

Cambridge, MA :
Landmark Kendall
One Kendall Square
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 499-1996

Chicago, IL :
Landmark Century
2828 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 509-4949

Los Angeles, CA :
Landmark Nuart
11272 Santa Monica Blvd
West Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 281-8223

New York City, NYC :
Landmark Sunshine
143 East Houston Street
New York City, NY 10002
(212) 330-8182

San Francisco, CA :
Landmark Embarcadero
One Embarcadero Center
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 267-4893

Seattle, WA :
Metro 10 Seattle
4500 9th Avenue NE
Seattle, WA 98105
(206) 781-5755

Washington, DC :
Landmark E Street
555 11th Street NW
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 452-7672

If you can't find a theater near you, you're not out of options!

Join with thousands of others hosting 'Ground Truth Gatherings' in churches, universities, community centers, town halls, coffee houses and living rooms across the country from October 4-11. Search for an event near you -- or consider hosting one yourself in your own community. DVDs are also available for purchase.

For those who are searching for a way to understand the effect of war on loved ones or friends, this movie is a valuable resource.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Looking Backwards. And Forwards.

About September 11th, I can't add anything more that hasn't already been said.

Many of you know I was a flight attendant for American Airlines on September 11, 2001. I'd been based in Chicago for most of my career, with side adventures flying international out of Miami and JFK in the mid-90's. I turned in my wings after 15 years in November 2001. I took the leap not out of fear, but out of a need to grow in new directions. Fortunately, I found that new direction last year: advocating for and writing about our returning veterans. (Steve Robinson of Veterans for America has asked me to share an LTE with you guys on this issue, and that follows below along with more news).

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As for today, last year I submitted a photo essay in remembrance of the 4th anniversary, sharing pictures I took of my journey to Ground Zero three weeks following the attacks. Twelve months earlier, I'd submitted an essay describing my day and a few that followed, and asked others to share theirs as well. That diary turned out to be one of my most treasured, filled with some of the most incredible contributions.

ilona_aa1997aThe looking forward part of my diary has to do with looking for ways to try to make the world a better place, and find my way in it since I left a career behind that I'd loved.

The career, as anyone flying these days knows, isn't the same; so, I don't have any regrets. I was fortunate to see a lot of the world, meet a lot of interesting people, and made many good friends and even met my husband at AA. (If you're a nurse, don't ever say you won't date a doctor. And if you're a flight attendant, don't ever say you won't date a pilot. The fates will conspire against you every time. :o)

Anyway, last year at this time I'd just begun getting curious about what was happening with our troops as they returned home to us. Two events led me down what would become my new life's path: 1) losing a sister to suicide in 2000; and 2) reading an August 31, 2005 Seattle Weekly article that talked about a handful of vets that had returned home only to commit suicide.

From that article, and questions that flowed from it (Is this happening a lot? What's the military doing? Why isn't the media reporting on this? What can I do?), I began the work that I had no idea would transform the direction of my life. Thanks to people at Daily Kos, and at My Left Wing, and at Political Cortex, but most most most especially the wonderful people, now friends and colleagues, over at ePluribus Media for the greatest support under the heavens.

It's been an incredible year, and we've done a lot in that timeframe. I'm now in the final weeks of finishing up my first book, Moving a Nation to Care: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and America's Returning Troops. The process has been grueling, but filled with small little pockets of miracles and help from far and wide. Working with the military families who extended themselves and their stories to help with the book has been a humbling and deeply moving experience.

One of those miracles came bundled in the work that I was able to do with Laura Kent, mother of 1st Lt. Phillip Kent, a soldier who committed suicide on September 28, 2005. His story will be presented among those of, sadly, many others. I believe I'm the first author she agreed to give the story to; her first news interview was just broadcast this evening. A video clip and transcript are now available at WIS-10/Columbia, SC.

I won't go into sharing what the miracle was that she and I shared, but suffice it to say that if nothing else is accomplished with the book, it will have been worth it for my having had the opportunity to get to know Ms. Kent if even just a bit. (A thank you and deep gratitude to Wade Hampton for being the person to bring us together).

So, while I pray for the victims of September 11th, I also pray for those lost in our new century's wars. I dedicate this diary to Phillip. And I continue to ask for your help as we move forward to do right by those who have been asked to give up so much.

Wishing you all peace today...

Paul Sullivan asked via Steve Robinson at Veterans for America that I share this with you.

To the Editor:

As a former Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters project manager who monitored returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, I agree with Paul Krugman's comment that the V.A. is a stunning success for quality medical care ("Health Policy Malpractice," column, Sept. 4). But the V.A. is running full steam into a brick wall because of a lack of capacity.

Why? This administration failed to plan for the consequences of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The V.A. fell $3 billion short last year, and both wait times and the doctor-to-patient ratio rose.

Nearly 1.5 million men and women have been deployed to war since 2001. Army research indicates that one-third of recent war veterans may need mental health care. The V.A. can expect a staggering 500,000 combat veteran mental health patients in the next few years.

Sadly, Dr. Frances Murphy, the V.A.'s deputy under secretary for health, confirmed the V.A.'s lack of capacity this May, saying some V.A. clinics do not provide mental health or substance abuse care, or if they do, "waiting lists render that care virtually inaccessible." Without adequate financing and a comprehensive plan to increase capacity, the V.A. may spiral further into crisis and buckle under a tidal wave of demand.

Paul Sullivan
Sept. 4, 2006

The writer, a Persian Gulf war veteran, is director of programs at Veterans for America

Friday, September 08, 2006

Efforts to Reduce PTSD Stigma

From the Army News Service:

Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Kevin C. Kiley toured medical facilities Monday and Tuesday at forts Richardson and Wainwright, and spoke about healthcare initiatives in Alaska and Army-wide.

“We really need to do for our Soldiers and families what we do for our helicopters and Strykers,” Kiley said. “We bring those things back and we strip down every nut and bolt, we pull the power train and we go through that thing and we reset it.”

“We ought to be doing that with every Soldier starting with the brigade and battalion commanders and sergeant majors all the way down.”

Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day

Just a quick update. They say that writing a book is a lot like having a child. In the early stages, you're excited at the possibilities that lay before you. What will it look like? What will it sound like? At the end, you simply just want to get it out.

I'm in that final stage now for the book, and it's got my full attention. It's going well. I've been fortunate to receive help from some wonderful military families, wonderful supporters. The pressure to produce something to honor everyone involved has me humbled and focused.

Here's to a happy, er, Labor Day!

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