Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Raw Story: Series on Combat PTSD

Last Tuesday I mentioned Raw Story's series of reports on troops returning home from war with PTSD. The next installment of their Mind Games series is slated to publish today. To bring yourself up-to-speed, read the previous installments: Part I: The Things They Carry and Part II: To Hell and Back: Spinning the Downward Spiral. Excellent work by Nancy Goldstein.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Combat Stress Causes Brain Changes

From the El Paso Times:

[R]eaction to the extremes of combat cause physical changes in the brain, [Dr. John Fortunato with Beaumont Army Medical Center] said. A part of the brain responsible for the "fight or flight" response can grow in size by as much as 8 percent, while the part of the brain that takes time to analyze a threatening situation can shrink by as much as 12 percent.

The longer a person is exposed to an environment where they must be hypervigilant to stay alive, the more pronounced the changes, he said. That may explain, in part, why the British, who serve six-month tours, suffer only about a 5 percent rate of PTSD compared to 18 to 20 percent for U.S. soldiers, he said, adding, "Of course, they don't do some of the heavy duty tasks our soldiers do."

The good news, Fortunato said, is that the brain can normalize over time.

The article itself is about a cavalry unit sent to Iraq as part of a combat stress-genetic link study. More >>


Much grief all around as 100 troops are lost in Iraq through the month of October.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Back in the News: Troops Returned to Combat Zone with PTSD

Back in March, I wrote about a San Diego Union-Tribune report on troops being sent back into the combat zone suffering with and medicated for PTSD. In May, the story once more came into play when the Hartford Courant reported on the issue. It's back in the news again with CBS News and Raw Story chiming in.

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Unfit For Duty? - View the CBS News video
A number of U.S. troops who come home from Iraq suffer post-traumatic stress disorder. But as Sharyn Alfonsi reports, some of them are being sent back into battle.

From the companion report at CBS Evening News:

Army Staff Sgt. Bryce Syverson spent 15 months in Iraq before he was diagnosed by military doctors with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sent to the psychiatric unit at Walter Reed Medical Center, CBS News correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi reports. "It ended up they just took his weapon away from him and said he was non-deployable and couldn’t have a weapon," says his father, Larry Syverson. "He was on suicide watch in a lockdown."

That was last August. This August, he was deployed to Ramadi, in the heart of the Sunni triangle — and he had a weapon.

He's still there. Under pressure to maintain troop levels, military doctors tell CBS News it's become a "common practice" to recycle soldiers with mental disorders back into combat. The military's actions were first reported by the Hartford Courant newspaper.

I love the Hartford Courant -- they've been doing some of the finest reporting on the issue of combat troop mental health -- but they weren't the first to report on it.

The San Diego Union-Tribune beat them to it.

The Raw Story has also begun a series on this issue today, with the second installment coming on Thursday. From Mind games, part 1: The things they carry:

The same administration that many claim sent US troops overseas without sufficient intelligence, planning, numbers, or armor is equally unprepared to deal with the wars' psychic toll on service members, RAW STORY has learned. ...

In Iraq, where US troops are, by the administration's own admission, struggling unsuccessfully with an increasingly bloody insurgency, US and civilian casualties are rising by the day. This past Sunday, the Associate Press reported that this month is on track to be the deadliest one of the war yet. It is already the deadliest since November 2004, when 92 American Marines were killed and another 500 wounded over the course of Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah.

Even before this latest surge in violence, the men and women returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Afghanistan's Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) were seeking treatment in droves.

In August, the Veterans Administration (VA) released a report showing that almost one-third of the nearly half-million vets from these two conflicts are seeking treatment from VA facilities. Of these, a full 35% received a diagnosis of a possible mental disorder--a tenfold increase in 18 months. (View full VA PowerPoint presentation.)

Important issue. Good to see it back in the news.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Getting Home is Only Half the Battle

From the San Jose Mercury News:

For [Stephen] Edwards, 40, the symptoms began within weeks of his return home in February 2005. He barely slept, suffered excruciating migraines and was angered easily. He paced, constantly patrolled his house, checked and rechecked locked doors and windows. The VA diagnosed him with acute PTSD in April 2005, and it was clear he could not return to his civilian job as an audio technician.

"We'd walk to the coffee shop and he'd be looking at the rooftops for snipers," said his wife, Theresa Edwards, an executive assistant at a technology firm. "I always thought getting him home safe and alive was the hard part. I was not at all prepared for what to expect. He came home a completely different person."

Edwards changed. So did David Lintz, a Navy corpsman who worked at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, and Will Palacio, an Army reservist whose 21-year-old nephew was killed in Iraq. So did Luis DeJesus, a Marine struggling to explain his PTSD to his young children, and Dave Sinclair, a young Army sniper.

Like Edwards, they have all come to the National Center for PTSD in Menlo Park, Calif. Read more >>

Election Season Help: IAVA-Action's Vet-Friendly Congressional Grades

From IAVA Founder and President Paul Rieckhoff:

Dear Friend,

Did you miss it? IAVA has released an official rating for every member of Congress. To see how your legislator rates on troops' and veterans' issues, check their official IAVA Congressional Rating.

These new ratings are the first-ever comprehensive guide to your legislators' performance on issues that affect the lives of the newest generation of troops and veterans, and their families. We've counted every vote cast on IAVA issues for the last five years, crunched the numbers, and given every legislator a letter grade.

Supporting the troops should mean more than wearing an American flag lapel pin. This is your chance to check your Senators' and Representatives' dedication to the troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and to hold them accountable if their votes don't match their rhetoric.

Thanks for all your support.


Paul Rieckhoff

Monday, October 16, 2006

PTSD Book Manuscript Submitted

Just a quick note before getting back into the swing of things around here. The past summer and fall have kept me busy writing my upcoming book, Moving a Nation to Care: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and America's Returning Troops.

It has been an incredible experience all-around; even better now to have the lion's share of the work behind me. Thanks to all involved with the book project: the military families who shared their stories, my publisher, Ig Publishing, and Cho and the rest of the gang at ePluribus Media.

Looking forward to bringing you more timely combat PTSD coverage in the coming weeks.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

White House, Lobbyists, and the House to Keep TRICARE Drug Prices High

This is quite amazing news. From Tom Philpott at Military.com:

Pressured by the White House and drug industry lobbyists, Congress has killed a Senate-passed provision that would have forced pharmaceutical manufacturers to grant the Department of Defense deep discounts on drugs dispensed through the TRICARE retail pharmacy network.

House Republicans were under enormous pressure last month to sideline a provision inserted in the 2007 defense authorization bill that would cut 40 percent or more off the cost of many drugs available to TRICARE beneficiaries through retail network pharmacies and stores.

DoD officials contend that the Veterans Health Care Act of 1992 requires drug makers to include TRICARE retail drugs in Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) discount agreements negotiated with the Department of Veterans Affairs. The discounts already apply to drugs dispensed through base pharmacies, the TRICARE mail order program and VA pharmacies. ...

After the Senate passed its bill, White House politicos began to pressure House Republicans to fight the Senate provision in final negotiations over the defense bill, in effect, undercutting their own Defense Department as it strives to curb soaring drug costs. “Tremendous forces” targeted conferees from the armed services committees as they began to negotiate over the bill, said a staff member. “Pharmacies, drug manufacturers…the politics went right through the roof.”

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

86,000+ OEF/OIF Vets Granted Disability; 30,000 Claims Pending

The National Security Archive has been in a tug-of-war this year with the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA), filing Freedom of Information Act requests on OEF/OIF veteran disability claims. "After nine months of denying their existence" the information today has been forced out and posted:

The VA responded to the Archive's original January 2006 FOIA request for documents about the number of disability benefits claims filed by veterans from the current war in Iraq by claiming that no documents existed, apparently because the reports concern the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) rather than being limited to the Iraq War. Notably, one of the reports indicates that GWOT is the "military name for the current wars in and around Afghanistan and Iraq." A similar report was released in December 2005 detailing Gulf War veterans' benefit activity. An updated copy of this report was released in March 2006.

Only after the Archive administratively appealed the VA's "no documents" claims and advised the VA that it was prepared to file a lawsuit did the agency manage to locate the records.

Monday, October 09, 2006

An Iraq Veteran Speaks to Congress

A snippet of congressional testimony given by Garett Reppenhagen, a calvalry scout and sniper in the Army's 1st Infantry Division from 2004-2005:

I didn’t expect to come home to find there is no plan for addressing the needs of veterans like myself, and with each passing day, I grow more and more concerned that there is no plan from the VA on how to serve the thousands of veterans like me who have served our country proudly and now find ourselves without the help we need. I don't understand how, despite being in the middle of not one, but two wars, our government is actually scaling back on services that are critical for men and women trying to re-enter civilian society.

I don't understand how in 2006 we're still debating if PTSD exists when people have suffered from war trauma for decades. We have seen that the consequences of war affect those who serve, and those close to them, for years to come. And I don’t understand why our country would choose not to take steps to make sure veterans like me get the care we deserve before we end up another generation abandoned by the country we fought to defend.

Well worth the time to read the whole thing.

[UPDATE Mar 27 2007]: Just came across this video of testimony given by "Sgt. Patrick Campbell, who discusses the lack of adequate health care for returning Iraqi War veterans. He is a combat medic in the D.C. National Guard and a veteran of the Iraqi War. On 09/26/06, he was part of panel of witnesses that appeared before the Iraq Forum, chaired by the Hon. Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), in the U.S. Capitol, Room HC-6."

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Fort Hood Task Force Meeting on PTSD

The entire Houston Chronicle article is well worth a read:

Led by Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, the task force will make recommendations to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in May after holding a series of meetings with service members, dependents and care providers. Congress' call for a global study of DOD mental-health services is "a tremendous way to do the right thing for our military and their families," Kiley said. ...

Those who seek mental health care risk retributions, one soldier claimed. Spc. Ellen Roderick, an Iraq veteran with PTSD, said she had a good experience in counseling but a tough time in her former unit. "We've had problems being denied (medical) appointments. We've been ridiculed by our leadership. We've been held back from promotion," she said. "A commander in the unit I was formerly in actually flushed a soldier's medications," she said. "We were just completely shocked that a commander thought that was OK to do."

"If you try to get help, they often label you as crazy and it's even worse if you're a woman in the Army — it's twice as bad," Roderick said. And because of the stigma sometimes associated with treatment, Roderick said soldiers often mask their problems with "self-medication."

Publisher's Weekly: News of My Upcoming Book

A little snippet of news from a recent Publisher's Weekly piece:

Ig Publishing has more blog-based titles in the works...

In May 2007, Ig will release Moving a Nation to Care by Ilona Meagher, which deals with the problems faced by troops returning from Iraq who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Study: Vets' View on Combat Injury Effects PTSD

From UPI:

In the first study to focus on U.S. soldiers seriously injured in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan, Thomas Grieger and his colleagues at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Walter Reed Army Institute of Research found that soldiers' personal rating of their physical problems, in contrast to objective measures of injury severity by medical personnel, was more significantly associated with the development of PTSD over the next 12 months. ...

Of the 243 soldiers who completed assessments at one, four, and seven months after injury, 4 percent had PTSD and depression at one month, 12 percent at four months, and 19 percent at seven months. The soldiers who felt they were seriously injured one month after the injury occurred were far more likely to have PTSD seven months later than those who felt their wounds were less severe. The study appears in the October 2006 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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