Monday, May 03, 2010

Report: The Community Service Desires, Civic Lives of Returning OEF/OIF Veterans

Flush with important skill sets and valuable experiences, military veterans can be counted among a community's greatest assets. Unfortunately, one barrier they face when out of uniform and in a civilian capacity is a feeling of disconnection from the very people they wish to serve.

So says a a 44-page report, All Volunteer Force: From Military to Civilian Service [pdf]. Published last November on Veterans Day by public policy firm Civic Enterprises, it presents the findings of a first ever nationally representative survey focusing on veterans' homecoming transition and civic lives.

The survey found that "only 13 percent of veterans strongly agree their transitions are going well. Yet those veterans who said they had volunteered since returning home had better transitions than those who had not." More:

  • Nearly 9 out of 10 veterans said Americans could learn something from their example of service, yet only half considered themselves leaders in their communities as a result of their military service.

  • Nearly 7 in 10 veterans had not been contacted by a community institution, local non-­‐profit, or place of worship after their return home.

  • 92 percent of OIF/OEF veterans agreed that serving their community is important to them.

  • Veterans said a diverse range of issues was important or very important to them: helping military families (90 percent), being involved with disaster relief (88 percent), working with at-risk youth (86 percent), and being involved with the environment/conservation (69 percent).

  • 7 in 10 non-volunteering veterans said they do not have enough information of meaningful service opportunities.

In extended, a portion of the report's statistic-heavy intro.

AP: Raising Traumatic Stress Malingering, VA Disability Claim Fraud Fears

Here we go again. Fears of PTSD malingering and VA claim fraud bobbed to the surface this weekend in a piece by Allen G. Breed, AP:

Moved by a huge tide of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress, Congress has pressured the Department of Veterans Affairs to settle their disability claims — quickly, humanely, and mostly in the vets' favor.

The problem: The system is dysfunctional, an open invitation to fraud. And the VA has proposed changes that could make deception even easier.

PTSD's real but invisible scars can mark clerks and cooks just as easily as they can infantrymen fighting a faceless enemy in these wars without front lines. The VA is seeking to ease the burden of proof to ensure that their claims are processed swiftly.

But at the same time, some undeserving vets have learned how to game the system, profitably working the levers of sympathy for the wounded and obligation to the troops, and exploiting the sheer difficulty of nailing a surefire diagnosis of a condition that is notoriously hard to define.

"The threshold has been lowered. The question is how many people will take advantage of that," said Dr. Dan G. Blazer, a Duke University psychiatrist who has worked with the military on PTSD issues. PTSD, he adds, is "among the easiest (psychiatric) conditions to feign."

Mark Rogers, a longtime claims specialist with the Veterans Benefits Administration, agrees. "I could get 100 percent disability compensation for PTSD for any (honorably discharged) veteran who's willing to lie," said Rogers, a Vietnam-era vet who is now retired. "I just tell him what to say and where to go."

The only problem with this, of course, are the reams of past years' studies showing quite the opposite. Two that come immediately to mind:

  • In 2007, Navy Times reported: "In 2001, 10 percent of soldiers going through the medical retirement process received permanent disability benefits. In 2005, with two wars raging, that percentage dropped to 3 percent, according to the Government Accountability Office. Reservists dropped from 16 percent to 5 percent."

  • Also in 2007, US News & World Report found the military to be downgrading disability ratings, reporting: "Since 2000, 92.7 percent of the disability ratings handed out by PEBs have been 20 percent or lower... Moreover, fewer veterans have received ratings of 30 percent or more since America went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq... As of 2006, for example, 87,000 disabled retirees were on the list of those exceeding the 30 percent threshold; in 2000, there were 102,000 recipients."
Then again, maybe PTSD diagnoses shouldn't be taken seriously.

Breed, in a companion AP piece getting a bit less buzz but championing the same cause, reports "the fact that, as a constellation of self-reported symptoms, PTSD is very subjective."

Apparently, biological changes in the brain aren't objective, either.

Everyone agrees that each case of malingering or fraud should be penalized and stopped, no matter if that claim is being filed with the VA or a civilian's private insurance company. Unfortunately, this AP piece appears to do more to spread distrust and blame the veteran than anything else. Not surprisingly, the push-back has begun.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Found Links: Traumatic Stress, Brain Injury Research, Related Military News

Shared on facebook recently:

  • Blood protein triggers scars in the brain after injury | EurekaAlert release -- Clip: "A protein called fibrinogen that is known to help form blood clots also triggers scar formation in the brain and spinal cord, according to new research in the April 28 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers found that fibrinogen carries a dormant factor that activates when it enters the brain after an injury, prompting brain cells to form a scar. Scars in the brain or spinal cord can block connections between nerve cells and often keep injury patients from reaching full recovery."

  • It pays to remember what made you sad | New Scientist

  • Pentagon: Boost Training With Computer-Troop Mind Meld | Wired -- Clip: "The Pentagon is looking to better train its troops — by scanning their minds as they play video games. Adaptive, mind-reading computer systems have been a work-in-progress among military agencies for at least a decade. In 2000, far-out research agency Darpa launched “Augmented Cognition,” a program that sought to develop computers that used EEG scans to adjust how they displayed information — visually, orally, or otherwise — to avoid overtaxing one realm of a troop’s cognition."

  • A brain-recording device that melts into place | -- Clip: "...the ultrathin flexible implants, made partly from silk, can record brain activity more faithfully than thicker implants embedded with similar electronics. ...In people with epilepsy, the arrays could be used to detect when seizures first begin, and deliver pulses to shut the seizures down. In people with spinal cord injuries, the technology has promise for reading complex signals in the brain that direct movement, and routing those signals to healthy muscles or prosthetic devices."

  • Placebo effect beats God, Prozac | SF Chronicle -- An intense opinion piece with lots of interesting data and ideas to consider.

  • Aging: The Secret Life of the Middle-Aged Brain | Huffington Post -- A few tips and clearing up of myths.

  • The Conversation: Brain research brings wonders and worries | Sacramento Bee -- Important read. Intro clip: "What ethical concerns will arise from new technology and medicine that can reveal our thoughts and enhance our brains?"

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