Saturday, December 22, 2007

From the Home Front: Missing You This Christmas

Keeping our troops, military families and veterans in my heart and thoughts during this holiday season, and yearning 2008 will bring us closer to realizing peace on earth and good will towards all.

"Christmas Without You" by Beth I. Cohen:

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Desert Storm and OEF/OIF Vets Chime in on Combat

An interesting look at the experiences of war veterans over the decades ran earlier this month and is still well worth a reading.

From the Kansas City Star:

Q. Did you have any problems readjusting after you returned from war?

Joseph L. Dickerson (Korean War): I was in several pretty strong firefights, and I was wounded — shrapnel from mortar fire at night in left chest. It’s still there, close, by my heart. They see it every time they take an X-ray. I had a hard time adjusting because I saw a whole lot of dead bodies in the short time I was there. And blood. Head blown off, arm blown off.

When I got discharged I never did talk too much to anyone about it. I kept it to myself. But I knew something was wrong, because I had problems holding jobs. I think I was 21 when I got out. Battle fatigue, that’s what they called it then. I had dreams, and you become touchy sometimes.

I went in at 17, and I used to be a happy-go-lucky guy. When I got out I was a little different. I wouldn’t go to work as I was supposed to. I couldn’t take orders till after about three or four years. And dreams. I still have the dreams. I sleep with a weapon. I always have slept with a weapon after I came out of the service. You just feel safer.

Maj. Jason “Tank” Sherman (Iraq and Afghanistan): I came back, still in the reserves, and didn’t really go through anything. I didn’t see what some other people have seen.

Gary Shepard (Vietnam War): I’m still not adjusted. I mostly stay with my friends. I’m still not comfortable in restaurants, and my kids still know they don’t let me get my back to the wall, and they watch out for me. I try not to let that bother me so much anymore, but sometimes it does. I still go to sleep with a loaded pistol most of the time.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Free Suicide Prevention Book

There's been a lot of news about veterans' suicide of late, and I wanted to share a free resource with you today. It's a book called Suicide, the Forever Decision: For Those Thinking About Suicide and For Those Who Know, Love and Counsel Them, by Paul Quinnett, Ph.D. Meet him in this November KXLY4 report [Spokane, Washington/Northern Idaho]:

Friday, December 14, 2007

Arguments Heard in Govt's Motion to Dismiss VA Class Action Lawsuit Case

Latest updates on this and related VA/Army lawsuits posted in "As Second Legal Attempt Fails to Force VA Hand on Disability Claims Processing, Army Sued Over Discharged Veteran PTSD Disability Ratings." -- Ilona Meagher, 12/17/08

From San Francisco's KGO Channel 7 [ABC]:

A legal battle affecting some 600,000 veterans, many with post traumatic stress disorder came to a San Francisco courtroom today. The federal government is trying to dismiss a lawsuit filed over a tremendous backlog for treatment.

The lawsuit filed by veterans groups in July asks the federal court to intervene to require the Veterans Administration to change its procedures so it can handle disability claims in a fair and timely manner.

Today, a judge heard arguments on the government's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming that the federal courts have no jurisdiction in this case -- that only Congress does.

Senate Confirms James Peake to Head VA

First up, from the Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report:

The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee on Thursday voted 15-0 to approve retired Army Lt. Gen. James Peake, President Bush's nominee for Department of Veterans Affairs secretary, CQ Today reports. [The full Senate voted today to confirm Peake].

Peake on Thursday answered several post-hearing questions from committee members. In response to a question by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) about what he wanted to achieve during his term, Peake said he will focus on improving treatment for veterans with mental health issues, adding, "The issue of (post-traumatic stress disorder) is an important one, as is the issue of (traumatic brain injury). We must get the best of science to help us with the way we deal with our veterans."

Peake also said he would consider automatic acceptance of claims for PTSD by veterans with records that prove symptoms of the disorder. In addition, he said he would launch a probe into a claim by committee Chair Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) that fewer than 50% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD receive VA disability benefits.

House, Senate Pass Defense Bill Nationalizing Minnesota's 'Beyond the Yellow Ribbon' Reintegration Program

This week was a good one on Capitol Hill for returning veterans and their families. The House passed its version of the Defense Policy bill on Wednesday and the Senate followed today. Each contains a provision to nationalize Minnesota National Guard's Beyond the Yellow Ribbon reintegration program (see related links below for more on the state's efforts over the past two years).

The program encompasses the full military cycle from deployment to return home, rallying the resources of the National Guard and Reserve units, state and local governments, and community service providers to deliver mandatory reintegration programs for both soldiers and family members. They also offer support services to help husbands, wives and children through the process of readjustment.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Thank You to the House Veterans Affairs Committee From a Concerned Citizen

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Mike and Kim Bowman, parents of local Illinois National Guardsman who committed suicide two years ago on Thanksgiving Day after having returned home from Iraq only eight months earlier, my husband, and I flew home late last night following an incredible two days in Washington, D.C. testifying before the House Veterans Affairs Committee on the issue of veterans suicide.

[Written testimony transcripts; my full testimony below.]

I have a lot going on today as a result, but wanted to share a few things quickly now and promise to return to share some of my thoughts in full as soon as I can. But I want to say how honored and moved I was to have been in that room during the two breathtaking hours of testimony the Bowmans gave.

There really was very little left to have to say after their masterful and information-rich time in front of the committee. It just makes one all the more realize the inanity of having to do study after study and call in professional after professional to analyze data and point to what needs to be done.

If the VA and the DoD really want to know what we should be doing to assist military family members through the reintegration process, here's all they need to do: ask our military families. Fortunately, these types of hearings at least offer the rest of us -- and the VA and the DoD -- the opportunity to learn straight from the source what is needed.

We must listen, and then we absolutely must act.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mrs. Meagher Goes to Washington

Sorry, I just couldn't help myself with that title.

Actually, I'm hoping that I'll be able to get out of Chicago today and make it to DC, as the ice is coming down quick and hard and my original flight has already been canceled.

I won't be posting anything during my trip, but will pass along my thoughts on tomorrow's House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on Stopping Suicide: Mental Health Challenges Within the Department of Veterans Affairs when I get back.

NIU and the Northern Star have both kindly written pieces on my journey to the Capitol to testify before Congress this week. I'm humbled to have been asked, and hope that I can contribute something valuable to the discussion.

I'd like to thank everyone for their support these past two years.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Confirmation Hearings Begin for Veterans Affairs Nominee James Peake

From AP:

Pledging to "do the right thing," Veterans Affairs nominee James Peake said Wednesday he will be an independent advocate for thousands of injured veterans and will fight for the needed funding for their care.

In a 2 1/2-hour confirmation hearing, the retired Army lieutenant general also vowed to work on making significant headway in fixing gaps in care and reducing delays in disability pay.

But Peake hedged on offering specific solutions, deferring to detailed briefings he will receive later if confirmed. He indicated his greatest mark on the agency in the waning months of the Bush administration might be improved communications with the Defense Department.

"I'm not much of a legacy guy," Peake said.

Monday, December 03, 2007

BBC Radio Drama: Soldiers in the Sun

BBC Radio has a compelling offering, a 90-minute drama bringing to life the trials of one soldier dealing with missing home, loved ones, and country while dealing with the horrors of war.

If you're setting out to do some work in front of your computer, cue up this piece from across the pond. Listen and details:

A drama documentary looking at the psychological consequences of war. Captain Rob Shepperton, serving in Afghanistan in the medical corps, is out on a routine patrol when he comes across a sight that will change his life.


Captain Rob Shepperton ...... Adrian Bower
Doctor ...... Deborah McAndrew
Matt ...... Thomas Morrison
Sol ...... Tom Attwood
Samsour ...... Nikhil Parmar
Girl ...... Emily Armitage

With music played and composed by John Harle.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Female Iraq Vet Faces Life in Prison for Frontline Self-Inflicted Gunshot Wound

Another stunner from the Washington Post:

In a nondescript conference room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside listened last week as an Army prosecutor outlined the criminal case against her. The charges: attempting suicide and endangering the life of another soldier while serving in Iraq.

Her hands trembled as Maj. Stefan Wolfe, the prosecutor, argued that Whiteside, now a psychiatric outpatient at Walter Reed, should be court-martialed. After seven years of exemplary service, the Army reservist faces the possibility of life in prison if she is tried and convicted.

Military psychiatrists at Walter Reed who examined Whiteside, 25, after she recovered from her self-inflicted gun wound diagnosed her with a severe mental disorder, possibly triggered by the stresses of a war zone. But Whiteside's superiors considered her mental illness "an excuse" for criminal conduct, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

At the hearing, Wolfe, who had warned Whiteside's lawyer of the risk of using a "psychobabble" defense, pressed a senior psychiatrist at Walter Reed to justify his diagnosis.

"I'm not here to play legal games," Col. George Brandt, chief of Behavioral Health Services in Walter Reed's Department of Psychiatry, responded angrily, according to a recording of the hearing. "I am here out of the genuine concern for a human being that's breaking and that is broken. She has a severe and significant illness. Let's treat her as a human being, for Christ's sake!"

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Mark Fiore: The Surge at Home

This week, the politically biting and brilliant editorial cartoonist/animator Mark Fiore tackles the myriad holes that have been reported of late in society's veteran safety net. To absolutely get the full effect of this admittedly dark piece of comic humor, please view his latest animation, The Surge at Home, aptly narrated by "your Pentagon pal 'Ouchy.'"

States Move to Assist Uninsured Veterans

This was a big story in mid-October, as it should have been. Before updating on the response to the uninsured veteran problem in two states, Illinois and Wisconsin, a data recap via AP:

Nearly 1.7 million military veterans have no health insurance or access to government hospitals and clinics for veterans, according to a report Tuesday from a doctors' group that favors federally financed health care.

The number of uninsured veterans jumped by 235,000 since 2000, meaning they are losing health insurance at a faster rate than the general population, said Physicians for a National Health Program, which advocates a universal national health insurance program. About 45 million Americans have no health insurance, including 5 million who lost coverage during the past four years, according to the Census Bureau.

"We're sending men and women off to war and yet the people who fought previous wars can't get the basic things they need to go on with their lives afterward," said Dr. David Himmelstein, a Harvard Medical School professor and an author of the study.

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