Friday, May 23, 2008

Honoring the Fallen This Memorial Day

Keeping our military families in mind this weekend.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Back to the Future: Senate Joins House in Restoring WWII-Era Veterans' GI Bill Benefits

As Memorial Day approaches, both aisles of Congress have done something quite extraordinary: joined forces to deliver on another important reintegration resource -- education benefits -- for returning troops. Robert Pear for the New York Times:

Twenty-five Republican senators broke with President Bush and voted Thursday for a major expansion of veterans’ benefits as part of a bill to finance another year of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The proposal, adopted by a vote of 75 to 22, also provides money for extended unemployment insurance benefits and other domestic programs to which Mr. Bush has objected. ...

While 25 Republicans supported the proposal, 22 opposed it. Forty-eight Democrats and two independents voted for the bipartisan measure, drafted by two Vietnam veterans, Senators Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, and Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska. The proposal on veterans’ benefits was approved by a veto-proof majority, with support from conservative Republican senators including Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma and John Thune of South Dakota.

The bill now goes back to the House, where its future course is somewhat uncertain. The House had endorsed a similar expansion of education benefits for veterans, but has also adopted policy measures to speed the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. The Senate rejected efforts to limit the president’s hand in Iraq.

Senators John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, and Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, said they were in the Senate today because of the help they had received under an earlier G.I. Bill. Mr. Hagel said the new legislation “fulfills the commitment that America made in 1944, and has continued, to honor every generation of veterans since World War II.”

Monday, May 19, 2008

Tallying War's Costs and Strains

A selection of some of the latest OEF/OIF-reported stats. First up, from yesterday's New York Times editorial board:

Repeated, long deployments have put unsustainable stress on troops and pose significant risk to the all-volunteer military. Some 1.6 million troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001; many of them have deployed to the war zone for three or four tours. Fifteen-month combat tours, followed by only 12 months of home leave, put incredible stress on families and make it hard to train for the next mission.

President Bush and the Congress favor expanding the number of ground forces. The Army has already had to reduce its standards to meet recruitment quotas. In 2007, only 79 percent of recruits had high school diplomas, down from 92 percent in 2003. The Army is also granting an increasing number of so-called “moral” waivers — given to recruits with criminal histories ranging from marijuana use to felony convictions.

Retaining the best and most experienced war fighters is getting harder. The Army has only 83 percent of the majors that it needs. It has offered bonuses of up to $35,000 to keep captains from leaving, promoted junior officers at an unprecedented rate and allowed senior officers to serve beyond mandatory retirement dates.

Nearly one-fifth of the troops — some 300,000 men and women — have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan reporting post-traumatic stress disorders; only half have sought mental health treatment, in part because many feel it will derail careers, according to a study by the RAND think tank [full pdf : summary pdf]. That leaves countless service members susceptible to depression and suicide. ...

The National Guard, whose primary task is to protect the homeland and respond to disasters, has only about 61 percent of its equipment because the rest is overseas. The Pentagon’s acquisition process is so flawed that dozens of the most costly weapons program are billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule, according to a recent study by Congress’s Government Accountability Office.

UCTV Health Matters on Combat PTSD

University of California Television has a 20-minute discussion on combat PTSD history, symptoms, and treatment on YouTube. While there's nothing really "new" here, it's a good basic look at the experience of PTSD through the psychological/clinical lens:

More and more we hear about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, but what does it really mean? Who is affected and how? Jeffrey Matloff, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, UCSD, and Clay King, Acting Associate Director VA San Diego Healthcare System, discuss PTSD with special emphasis on how our combat military veterans are affected. Series: Health Matters [6/2006] [Health and Medicine] [Show ID: 11668]

Attempts to Remove PTSD Stigma Gain Steam Under Secretary Gates

From the Billings Gazette:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently has been urging troops to seek treatment instead of trying to ignore the problem. "You're tough and you go into the hospital when you receive a physical wound," Gates said on a visit to a Texas Army post. "That doesn't mean you're weak in some way, and so why wouldn't you when you've received a psychological wound? It's the same difference. They're all wounded."

To make it easier for soldiers to seek treatment, Gates has announced a change on the application for a government security clearance that asks: In the last seven years, have you sought mental-health counseling? That question will no longer be asked. National Public Radio reported that studies show that the fear of losing a security clearance is one of the biggest reasons that combat veterans do not seek mental-health care. Under the new policy, applicants who seek mental-health treatment could still obtain clearances if the treatment was for problems stemming from service in a combat zone.

Earlier this month, the American Forces Press Service reported that Gates is willing to consider awarding Purple Heart medals to combat veterans suffering with PTSD.

John E. Fortunato, who runs the Recovery and Resilience Center at Fort Bliss, Texas, told reporters that awarding the Purple Heart to PTSD sufferers would go a long way toward chipping away at prejudices surrounding the disease. Because PTSD affects structures in the brain, it's a physical disorder, "no different from shrapnel," Fortunato said. "This is an injury."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Combat PTSD or Adjustment Disorder? Saving Money, Not Lives, Floated at One VAMC

Last year, a firestorm erupted when it was found that 24,000+ OEF/OIF veterans had been booted out of the military with Personality Disorder discharges. PD (once labeled "Section 8") discharges are a quicker and more cost-efficient way of dealing with service members who are exhibiting problematic behavior.

The problem, of course, was that some of the discharged were combat-injured Purple Heart recipients who may have instead been coping with PTSD, a fact that would allow them access to VA health care benefits to treat their condition.

This week, we've moved from the military's diagnoses of Personality Disorder over PTSD to a Texas VAMC PTSD program coordinator advising that Adjustment Disorder diagnoses should be handed out over that of PTSD. The reason given? Saving money.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

"Healing the Hidden Wounds" Symposium to Unite Nashville Military and Private Veterans' Caregivers

Happy Armed Forces Day, everyone.

On Thursday, I buttoned up my semester at NIU.

This weekend, I'm busy preparing for my upcoming "Healing the Hidden Wounds" veteran symposium presentation. Organized by Nashville Public Television, NAMI Tennessee and YMCA/Restore Ministries, the summit aims to raise awareness of existing resources for active duty personnel and veterans from all branches of military service and to begin forging partnerships between the Veterans Administration and community mental health agencies.

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