Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Veterans Issues in Sharp Focus Today in Hearings, Reports and Lawsuits

Lots going on today:

Join me at ePluribus Media for an exclusive online Q&A with Melissa Kasnitz and comments posted by Jeff Peskoff.

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

The House Veterans Affairs website has an audio stream available of the hearing -- unfortunately, C-Span does not appear to be carrying this important hearing. Nonetheless, it looks (or rather sounds) like a blockbuster gathering -- and important -- hearing, so it would be well worth your time.

Today's hearing includes the following witness list:

Panel 1
Jason W. Forrester, Director of Policy, Veterans for America
Jonathan Town, Veteran
Joshua Kors, Journalist
Paul Sullivan, Executive Director, Veterans for Common Sense

Panel 2
Tracie Shea, Ph.D., Psychologist, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Clinic Veterans Affairs Medical Center Providence, RI, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Dean G. Kilpatrick, Ph.D., Distinguished University Professor Director, National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center Medical University of South Carolina and Member, Committee on Veterans’ Compensation for PTSD Institute of Medicine and National Research Council The National Academies
Sally Satel, M.D., Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute

Panel 3
Ira R. Katz, M.D., Ph.D., Deputy Chief Patient Care Services for Mental Health, Veterans Health Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs accompanied by Ronald R. Aument, Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits, Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Paul J. Hutter, Executive in Charge, Office of General Counsel, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Colonel Bruce Crow, Chief, Department of Behavioral Medicine, Brooke Army Medical Center, and, Clinical Psychology Consultant to The Army Surgeon General

For those who need a refresher: Satel, a psychiatrist and adviser to President Bush on mental health issues views who appears in Panel 2, came up with this gem (among many others):

"I'm not saying PTSD doesn't exist, but it's gotten out of hand. I mean, if you see a lot of action and then you come home you have a hard time walking your dog by the bushes at night, maybe you just avoid the bushes."

Panel 1 will set the tone with the appearance of Purple Heart veteran of Iraq, Army Spc. Jonathan Town. Here's a little about him:

Since his discharge in 2006, Town has not only dealt with the emotional scars of war, but he has also found himself at the center of a national debate on mental health care for veterans as a crowd as diverse as singer Dave Matthews [video] and members of Congress has questioned how 22,000 veterans were diagnosed and discharged since 2001.

In fact, Stars & Stripes reported updated personality disorder discharge figures last month:

Since October 2001, the services have discharged 24,723 troops under the character and behavior disorders policy. In 2006, 3,937 servicemembers were dismissed under the policy, up about 8 percent from 2005 but just above the 3,899 servicemembers dismissed in 2002.

Back to Town:

In Town's case, the discharge came two years after he was injured in an attack. In the fall of 2004, a 107 mm rocket ripped through his unit's headquarters in Ramadi, exploding two feet above Town's head and knocking him unconscious.

The rocket blast left Town with hearing loss, headaches, memory problems, anxiety and insomnia. For his wounds, he was awarded the Purple Heart.

But when he returned to the states seeking treatment for those very wounds, the Army quickly discharged him, asserting his problems had been caused not by the war but by a personality disorder that predated his military career. ... "When you see bits and pieces of actual people or people bleeding to death or anything, it's very unsettling. It's something you'll never be able to forget. Period," Town told ABC News' Bob Woodruff.

[UPDATE July 28, 2007]: Listen to Westwood One's America In the Morning show for an interview with Jonathan Town and reporter Joshua Kors.

ABC News ran a report by Bob Woodruff last week that renewed interest again on the issue of combat troops being given personality disorder vs. post-traumatic stress disorder diagnoses/discharges.

Woodruff (who you might recall did some ground-breaking reporting on the traumatic brain injury, or TBI, issue earlier this year) conducted a two-month investigation, interviewing 20 soldiers discharged with personality disorder for the piece.

And today, we have this hearing in response.

[UPDATE Oct 6, 2007]: This House Committee on Veterans Affairs page links to all of the day's testimony.


In addition to this hearing, another important veterans affairs event is going to begin at 11:15 EST -- the final meeting of the Dole-Shalala Presidential Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors. From their press release [MS Word doc]:



WHAT: The Commission will hold its final public meeting to discuss and vote on
recommendations to the President concerning care for America’s returning injured and wounded servicemen and women. The Commission held its first public meetings on April 14th and has since conducted 23 site visits and held seven public meetings.

WHEN: Wednesday, July 25th, 2007
Commission meeting begins at 11:15am EST
There will be a media availability about 30 minutes after the conclusion of the Commission meeting, at approximately 1:00-1:30pm EST

WHERE: The Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center
Atrium Ballroom, 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C.

About the President’s Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors: The nine-member Commission was established by the President to “conduct a comprehensive review of the care America is providing our wounded servicemen and women returning from the battlefield.”

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