Saturday, March 15, 2008

Soldiers and Veterans

Post-traumatic-stress Disorder (PTSD): US Military Neglects Soldiers' Medical Needs
by Dahr Jamail
Global Research, June 9, 2010
At least 50 soldiers from Fort Hood who have medical profiles that should prohibit them from military training have been sent to the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California, regardless of their conditions.
Truthout spoke with some of these soldiers on June 7, before they were to fly back to Fort Hood the next day.
"We were brought out here to NTC after being told we would be given some of the best medical treatment out here," a soldier who is an Iraq war veteran diagnosed with post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD), speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared military reprisals, told Truthout. "But when we were here at Ft. Irwin, nobody would see us. It took my wife calling the Chaplain to get my medication refilled. We've gone a month without seeing a psychiatrist. Some of us see them weekly, some twice a week, and we haven't been able to receive any of this."
This, despite the soldier having been given his PTSD diagnosis by the military itself.
He admitted to Truthout that he needs the medication because of anxiety, depression, and homicidal thoughts.
"There're people out here who've had to cancel 17 psychiatric appointments to be out here," the soldier added. "There are people needing physical treatment that have thrown out their backs."
The soldier, who is based at Fort Hood, explained that his commander, Captain Ryan McDonald, "talked to my doctor and told him I could continue my treatment at Ft. Irwin. This obviously isn't happening, so my doctor has been trying to get me back, and I've been unable to see anyone. They are two months behind here and can't see us, but said they couldn't help anyway because we're not permanently stationed there, we're supposed to be at Ft. Hood."
Captain McDonald heads a unit that has, according to the soldiers Truthout spoke with at Ft. Irwin, at least 55 members at the NTC who have medical profiles that are supposed to exclude them from being around combat training, weapons, and ammunition.
Brandi Owen, whose husband was sent to the NTC along with the rest of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment told Truthout she believes that Capt. McDonald is responsible for pressuring doctors of many of the 3rd ACR soldiers into allowing them to be sent to the NTC.
"[My husband's] psychiatrist here at Ft. Hood cleared him to go [to NTC] at the last minute because his commander told him he'd get the same treatment there as he did here," Owen explained to Truthout. "He left here May 16, and his next appointment was supposed to be the next day. He had none of his sedating medication. He was given a profile by his doctor saying he was not to have combat training exposure, but NTC is training soldiers for deployment."
Owen's husband, an Iraq war veteran who has also been diagnosed with PTSD, suffers from that, along with anxiety disorder and depression.
"His doctor released him to go to NTC, assuming he'd get treatment," she continued. "Since he's been there, not once has he seen a doctor. It took them three days to fill his meds. Once you're off those meds, you get suicidal."
Cynthia Thomas runs the Under the Hood Café in Killeen, Texas, on the outskirts of the base. The café is described as a place meant to provide support for soldiers and their families.
"There are dozens of spouses here at Fort Hood whose husbands who are soldiers here have been diagnosed with PTSD, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and other problems and they are being sent to NTC anyway," Thomas told Truthout. "Even though their doctors are telling them they can't be around live-fire or weapons, they are being sent there anyway."
Capt. McDonald, who is in charge of many of the soldiers, has, according to Thomas and all of the spouses Truthout spoke with, been "calling their doctors and telling them the soldiers can be taken to NTC, and that they would be given medical treatment there."
Brandi Owen, outraged at the lack of medical treatment for her husband, contacted her congressman, John Carter, of the 31st District of Texas.
"I contacted Congressman Carter on May 13, just before my husband was sent to NTC, and his aid told me that there had already been 26 Congressional complaints about these guys being sent to NTC," Owen explained.
Her attempts to get answers via her husbands' chain of command and various generals have only been met with frustration.
"I've talked to all of his chain of command, the generals here, and at Ft. Irwin, they always transfer me to someone else, or say they can't help me or there is nothing they can do," Owen said. "I have a notebook full of numbers they refer me to, or tell me to make an IG [Inspector General] complaint, which I do, but I still haven't heard from any of them. The Chain of Command doesn't do anything. He's going on two and a half months without seeing a doctor. He needs meds! He needs a doctor! NTC has given him flashbacks from Iraq. He can't sleep and can't eat. Now I'm worried about what he'll be like when he gets back. It's going to be worse than when he left."
Truthout spoke with another soldier at the NTC, a facility that describes itself as "The World's Premier Training Center for the World's Finest Military."
"About three days before I was told I was leaving for NTC, I went home to pack and flipped out and tore my house apart," the soldier, speaking on condition of anonymity because he too feared reprisals for speaking to the media, told Truthout. "I went to the ER, they talked about putting me in the psych ward, but they put me on homicide watch because they feared I would kill my chain of command. They sent me out here, supposedly with a 30-day supply of narcotics, but I ran out. I went four days without my meds, and they didn't even fill one of them."
The soldier, an Iraq war veteran, said of his time there, "I had friends blown up. I've seen all kinds of shit I'd really preferred not to have seen and it is messing with my head."
"I can't be around simulated combat or combat exposure," he explained while talking with Truthout from the NTC on June 7. "But I'm here on a FOB, there are 50 caliber machine guns and ammo everywhere, and I have access to all this, and nobody in my chain of command gives a shit. I can't sleep at night. It's ruthless shit out here. I haven't seen anything like this before."
The soldier believes he is not going to be deployed because his medical profile lists him as being "non-deployable."
Truthout asked him why, he believed, he was sent to NTC.
"I got sent out here because they get $8,000 per head for every soldier out here for their budget," he said. "You have people here on respirators, people with cervical cancer, it's not just me…there are about 50 soldiers here that should not be here, just from my unit, 3rd ACR. There're about 5,500 soldiers in the regiment right now, and about 50 of us that are absolutely not supposed to be out here, period."
Crystal Hess, herself a veteran of two tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan, is dismayed by the fact that her husband, Specialist Cory Hess, despite his having a broken hand and PTSD, was sent to NTC.
"He was sent to NTC in order to prepare to deploy to Iraq in August," Hess told Truthout. "He's got anger and depression issues. He's been blown up multiple times in Iraq, he has issues with his knees, back, shoulder, and I'm pushing for him to be screened for TBI, because he has persistent headaches."
Hess explained that she has tried talking with commanders at Fort Hood about her situation, "and asked them to step up and take care of this, because it's affecting our home life. Cory has anger issues because of his deployment."
While her husband was sent back to Fort Hood early from NTC only because "I called the Department of Army IG, and bitched them all out and said, 'fix it.' So they said he needed immediate surgery and sent him home. Now he's been home for six days, he has no medicine, he's in pain, every move he makes with his hand leaves him on the ground in pain. I'm probably going to have to take him to the ER to get him pain meds. They are doing nothing to help him."
Hess also blames Capt. McDonald for having pressured Cory's doctor into sending him to NTC, despite his injuries.
Capt. McDonald was deployed to Iraq from 2007-2008 out of Ft. Riley, Kansas, as a Logistics Advisor, with the National Police Transition Team and the Iraq Assistance Group. In 2009 he became the Deputy Regimental S4 with the 3rd ACR. This is apparently his first time in direct command of soldiers.
"Capt. McDonald was not deployed with the guys in 3rd ACR but took command of the unit after they came back from Iraq in January 2009," Thomas explained. "The soldiers could not tell me much about him other than that McDonald has no leadership skills and does not take the family members into consideration."
According to Thomas, McDonald is not married, "Which could explain why he doesn't give a crap what the spouses have to say."
She added, however, that the problem is not only with Capt. McDonald, but with "the entire chain of command at Fort Hood."
When asked about this situation, a public affairs officer at Ft. Hood told Truthout, "All the soldiers sent to NTC have, when necessary, been cleared to go by both their commanders and their doctors."
"The military are not taking care of our husbands," Stephanie Wallin, whose husband was also sent to NTC despite his having a medical profile, told Truthout. "Honestly they don't care about our soldiers, or the families. My husband has PTSD and should not have been sent to NTC, but they sent him. And when they sent him, they said he'd get meds and attention, and he didn't."
Wallin explained that she and several other wives called a military chaplain to plead for help.
"I told them I was scared because my husband was saying he didn't know what to do and couldn't deal with it anymore," she said. "It's really hard on me. My husband has homicidal thoughts, and I have three kids. So I don't know how he's going to deal with the kids. I want to know why the chain of command lies. I don't know why they say they are all about soldiers and families and they'll make sure they'll get the help they need. They don't. He was diagnosed with PTSD. It's very, very hard. I'm very, very stressed out. My husband is not the man I married. They pushed him until he broke, and then they've pushed him beyond that."
Wallin said that she has "talked to everyone; generals, chaplains, commanders, and nobody wants to listen to us spouses."
Wallin said that when she attempted to talk to her husband's commander about the situation to ask for help, "they told my husband, 'Why don't you have your wife on a leash?' Then they tried to punish him for my coming there to try to help him and said I was trying to get him in trouble."
"The Army is not what it says it is," Wallin continued. "Recruiters make it sound so good, but once you sign up, you're screwed. My kids wonder what they did wrong because of what the Army is doing to their father. They feel like they've lost their father. I don't know what to do anymore. There's a whole bunch of soldiers who need this story out. They need help, and they are not getting the medical help they need."
Shameful: 16,000 Unprocessed Files of Vets with the V.A.
By Dr. Laurie Roth
November 27, 2009
We are apparently still at war with our troops and veterans when they come home from war. Apparently it is not enough for them to bravely fight for their country and to come back mangled and needing major help. For decades now the VA (Veterans Administration) has grown into a disorganized, unaccountable monster of non- representation to our vets in dire need of treatment. It has become an unbelievable, bureaucratic nightmare.
This week my blood pressure went through the roof when I interviewed Dick Phenneger a retired businessman and vet who had reviewed thousands of pages of veterans documents only to discover an enormous, not talked about sea of betrayal to our troops, not just recently but several decades back. He found and verified among other things that a Detroit regional office turned in 16,000 pieces of unprocessed mail and 717 unprocessed documents that had been sent to storage without any review. In another investigation many documents were actually found in shredding bins not in one office but several regional offices. The VA has a habit of saying “we don’t have your records.” NOW WE CERTAINLY KNOW WHY!
It also came to my horrified attention that Veterans are required to complete a 23 page application with endless details required for even the most basic disability and loss. As we speak, according to Phenneger’s exhaustive and accurate research even the application process to get help (before the VA often loses the file), is a quagmire of legal documents and forms designed to confuse and discourage. Just think of a sick or injured vet trying to get help with the VA and finding an absurd amount of paperwork just to begin the process of getting help.
Then like many thousands, finding that they have lost your file and turned you down for care again and again. I found in my review of this topic that a good chunk of those that are homeless, you know that homeless, drunk looking long haired vet hanging out under the bridge, we just assume is a Viet Nam Vet….well guess what, most of them had their applications for help turned down by the VA. For others the YES for getting help was so long in waiting that their life was in ruins anyway.
Just when I thought I was losing it, it got even worse. The VA has set up an internal award system where they actually award employees who “dispose” of claims rapidly. Phenneger found in his digging that this causes in most cases an automatic denial of veteran’s first claim and in most cases a denial for a second or third attempt for help. The records from hell speak for themselves! 70% of claims taken to the Veterans Claims Court are sent back to VA for more work or to be redone. Isn’t that special? Turn a claim down so you can build a big bonus. Money talks and service apparently rots!
As is typical bureaucracy that is out of control and poorly run, most the big shot leaders think things are just fine. Michael Walcoff, the VA Deputy Undersecretary for Benefits talks about needing a system in place that holds employees accountable. There is apparently no accountability to give medical attention desperately and quickly needed by our vets.
It is sadly and vividly clear that the VA needs a total overhaul and confrontation by the Department of Defense and congress! We all must have a zero tolerance policy for anything but speedy and clear treatment offered to our Vets. They must also redesign the application to a sane 5 or under pages, not 23 pages of idiot legal documents and forms, designed to blow off Vets.
Under Dick Phenneger’s fine leadership, Veteran Services Transparency inc. plans to inform the public about this betrayal and problem that has been building for years with the VA and explore solutions and action. They intend to expose those who are responsible, provide supporting documents and explore many solutions including lawsuits if necessary. They intend to send a letter and demand that those who destroyed veteran claims be held accountable and those who allowed such conduct be terminated. If they do not get an acceptable response within 10 days legal action will be initiated with their supportive law firm DLA Piper.
When a service person takes an oath to serve their country, takes heat and comes home battered, they expect and need real care that was promised to them not autocratic bull rot, turn downs and delays!!! This cannot stand. We owe much more to our troops!
Soldier Suicide: Army Inspector General
- Use of unlicensed psychologists in Iraq did not violate Army regulations (but does now!)
Razer Raygun
Friday, June 5, 2009
Three weeks before the soldier's death, an unlicensed psychologist asked by the soldier's captain to evaluate him, said in a report that Scheuerman was "capable of claiming mental illness" to manipulate superiors and sent him back to his unit.
Scheuerman's behavior raised enough alarms that when a call came over the unit's radios that there had been a death, one soldier told investigators he immediately knew who it was who had died.
Meanwhile, the Army inspector general says the father's complaints are unfounded...
"The premise that someone at (Medical Command) made the decision to deploy providers regardless of their licensure is without merit," the investigation said."
HOWEVER, "The military changed its policy in 2006 and no longer deploys practitioners without a license"
Too bad this soldier killed himself in 2005.
U.S. military: Heavily armed and medicated
Prescription pill dependency among American troops is on the rise
By Melody Petersen
In deploying an all-volunteer army to fight two ongoing wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon has increasingly relied on prescription drugs to keep its warriors on the front lines.
Marine Corporal Michael Cataldi woke as he heard the truck rumble past.
He opened his eyes, but saw nothing. It was the middle of the night, and he was facedown in the sands of western Iraq. His loaded M16 was pinned beneath him.
Cataldi had no idea how he'd gotten to where he now lay, some 200 meters from the dilapidated building where his buddies slept. But he suspected what had caused this nightmare: His Klonopin prescription had run out.
His ordeal was not all that remarkable for a person on that anti-anxiety medication. In the lengthy labeling that accompanies each prescription, Klonopin users are warned against abruptly stopping the medicine, since doing so can cause psychosis, hallucinations, and other symptoms. What makes Cataldi's story extraordinary is that he was a U. S. Marine at war, and that the drug's adverse effects endangered lives — his own, his fellow Marines', and the lives of any civilians unfortunate enough to cross his path.
"It put everyone within rifle distance at risk," he says.
In deploying an all-volunteer army to fight two ongoing wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon has increasingly relied on prescription drugs to keep its warriors on the front lines. In recent years, the number of military prescriptions for antidepressants, sleeping pills, and painkillers has risen as soldiers come home with battered bodies and troubled minds. And many of those service members are then sent back to war theaters in distant lands with bottles of medication to fortify them.
According to data from a U. S. Army mental-health survey released last year, about 12 percent of soldiers in Iraq and 15 percent of those in Afghanistan reported taking antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or sleeping pills. Prescriptions for painkillers have also skyrocketed. Data from the Department of Defense last fall showed that as of September 2007, prescriptions for narcotics for active-duty troops had risen to almost 50,000 a month, compared with about 33,000 a month in October 2003, not long after the Iraq war began.
In other words, thousands of American fighters armed with the latest killing technology are taking prescription drugs that the Federal Aviation Administration considers too dangerous for commercial pilots.
Military officials say they believe many medications can be safely used on the battlefield. They say they have policies to ensure that drugs they consider inappropriate for soldiers on the front lines are rarely used. And they say they are not using the drugs in order to send unstable warriors back to war.
Yet the experience of soldiers and Marines like Cataldi show the dangers of drugging our warriors. It also worries some physicians and veterans' advocates. "There are risks in putting people back to battle with medicines in their bodies," says psychiatrist Judith Broder, M. D., founder of the Soldiers Project, a group that helps service members suffering from mental illness.
Prescription drugs can help patients, Dr. Broder says, but they can also cause drowsiness and impair judgment. Those side effects can be dealt with by patients who are at home, she says, but they can put active-duty soldiers in great danger. She worries that some soldiers are being medicated and then sent back to fight before they're ready.
"The military is under great pressure to have enough people ready for combat," she says. "I don't think they're as cautious as they would be if they weren't under this kind of pressure."
Brought more than memories back
When Cataldi talks about what happened to him in Iraq, he begins with an in incident that took place on a cold January night in 2005, when he and five other Marines received a radio call informing them that a helicopter had disappeared. The men roared across the desert of western Iraq and found what was left of the chopper. Flames roared from the pile of metal. Cataldi, 20, was ordered to do a body count.
The pilot's body was still on fire, so he shoveled dirt on it to douse the acrid flames. He picked up a man's left boot in order to find the dog tag every Marine keeps there. A foot fell to the ground. "People were missing heads," Cataldi remembers. "They were wearing the same uniform I was wearing."
The final death toll from that crash of a CH-53E Super Stallion was 30 Marines and one sailor.
For days, Cataldi couldn't escape the odor of burning flesh. "I had the smell all over my equipment," he says. "I couldn't get it off ."
When he returned to his stateside base at Twentynine Palms, California, he knew he'd brought more than memories back from Iraq. He would cry for no reason. He flew into fits of rage. One night he woke up with his hands around the throat of his wife, Monica, choking her.
"It scared the crap out of me," he says.
He went to see a psychiatrist on base. "He said, 'Here's some medication,' " Cataldi recalls. The prescribed drugs were Klonopin, for anxiety; Zoloft, for depression; and Ambien, to help him sleep.
Later, other military doctors added narcotic painkillers for the excruciating pain in his leg, which he'd injured during a training exercise. He was also self-medicating with heavy doses of alcohol.
Those prescriptions didn't stop the Marine Corps from sending Cataldi back to Iraq. In 2006, he returned to the same part of the Iraqi desert to do the same job: performing maintenance on armored personnel carriers known as LAVs. He also took his turn driving the 14-ton tanklike vehicles, one of which was armed with a 25 mm cannon and two machine guns and loaded with more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition.
Marine Major Carl B. Redding says he can't talk about the medical history of any Marine because of privacy laws. He says the Corps has procedures to ensure that service members taking medications for psychiatric conditions are deployed only if their symptoms are in remission. Those Marines, he says, must be able to meet the demands of a mission.
But it's difficult to square those regulations with Cataldi's experience. His medications came with written warnings about the dangers of driving and operating heavy machinery. The labels don't lie.
One night, Cataldi took his pills after his commander told him he was done for the day. Five minutes later, however, plans changed, and he was told to drive the LAV. He asked the Marine sitting behind him to help keep him awake. "I said, 'Kick the back of my seat every 5 minutes,' and that's what he did."
Cataldi says he managed on the medications — until his Klonopin ran out. The medical officer told him there was no Klonopin anywhere in Iraq. So the officer gave him a drug called Seroquel. That's when Cataldi says he started to become "loopy."
"I'd go to pick up a wrench and come back with a hammer," he says. "I wasn't able to do my job. I wasn't able to fight."
Soldiers on medication
Soldiers have doped up in order to sustain combat since ancient times. Often their chosen drug was alcohol. And Iraq isn't the first place U. S. military doctors have prescribed medications to troops on the front. During the Vietnam war, military psychiatrists spoke enthusiastically about some newly psychiatric medicines, including Thorazine, an anti-psychotic, and Valium, for anxiety. According to an army textbook, doctors frequently prescribed those drugs to soldiers with psychiatric symptoms. Anxiety-ridden soldiers with upset bowels were sometimes given the antidiarrheal Compazine, a potent tranquilizer.
But the use of those drugs in Vietnam became controversial. Critics said it was dangerous to give soldiers medications that slowed their reflexes, a side effect that could raise their risk of being injured, captured, or killed. That risk was real. In a report supported by the U. S. Navy 14 years after the United States withdrew from Vietnam, researchers looked at the records of all Marines wounded there between 1965 and 1972. Marines who'd been hospitalized for psychiatric reasons before being sent back to battle were more likely to have been injured in combat than those who hadn't been hospitalized.
Critics of medication use in Vietnam also said that a soldier traumatized by battle may not be coherent enough to give his consent to take the drugs in the first place. Plus, a soldier would risk court-martial if he refused to follow orders, they said, making it unlikely he could make a reasoned decision about taking the medications.
After the war, the practice of liberally giving psychiatric drugs to warriors fell out of favor. In War Psychiatry, a 1995 military medical textbook, a U. S. Air Force flight surgeon warned about the use of psychiatric drugs, saying they should be used sparingly.
"Sending a person back to combat duty still under the influence of psychoactive drugs may be dangerous," he wrote. "Even in peacetime, people in the many combat-support positions... would not be allowed to take such medications and continue to work in their sensitive, demanding jobs."
Colonel Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, M. D., M. P. H., a psychiatrist and the medical director of the strategic communication directorate in the Office of the Army Surgeon General, acknowledges that writing more prescriptions for frontline troops was a change in direction for the Pentagon. "Twenty years ago," she says, "we weren't deploying soldiers on medications."
Today it's not uncommon for a soldier to arrive in Iraq while taking a host of prescription drugs. The Pentagon explained its new practice in late 2006, stating that there are "few medications that are inherently disqualifying for deployment."
According to Colonel Ritchie, military officials have concluded that many medicines introduced since the Vietnam War can be used safely on the front lines. Military physicians consider antidepressants and sleeping pills to be especially helpful, she says. Doctors have also found that small doses of Seroquel, an anti-psychotic, can help treat nightmares, she says, even though the drug is not approved for that use.
Two months after the new drug policy was issued, President Bush ordered more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq in an attempt to quell the violence. This surge in American military presence in Iraq increased the pressure on Pentagon officials to quickly redeploy soldiers and Marines just back from war.
Surveys of behavioral-health professionals offer hints about what has happened as soldiers are medicated and then sent back to fight. In last year's surveys, carried out by teams sent to Iraq and Afghanistan by the Army Surgeon General, a staff member reported that there had been "quite a few [evacuations for] psychotic breakdowns."
"Many of these soldiers are sent to Afghanistan," the staff member said, "despite a doctor saying they shouldn't go or leaders knowing they shouldn't deploy."
To meet its needs, the army has also begun accepting more people with existing medical or psychiatric conditions. A recent study by U. S. Army medical staff found that 10 percent of new recruits reported a history of psychiatric treatment.
In an article in the journal Military Medicine, Jeffrey Hill, M. D., and his colleagues wrote about soldiers who had made suicidal or homicidal threats at a base in Tikrit, Iraq. Of 425 soldiers evaluated for psychiatric treatment, they reported, about 30 percent had considered killing themselves in the previous week, and 16 percent had thought about killing a superior or someone else who was not the enemy.
Each of these soldiers poses a dilemma for physicians, they wrote, because of his or her duty "to conserve the fighting strength" — the motto of the U. S. Army Medical Department. Doctors must try to avoid sending these soldiers home, but they must also recognize the dangers of keeping them in Iraq, where weapons are everywhere.
‘He was a good kid’
When Travis Virgadamo arrived from his army unit in Iraq for a visit with his family in July 2007, he hesitated to tell his grandmother, Katie O'Brien, what he had seen. "'I've seen little children killed,'" she remembers him saying. "'You can't imagine what it's like, Grandma. You just can't.'"
Virgadamo, shy and quiet as a boy, had grown up wanting to be a soldier. "It was his dream," O'Brien says. "He was a good kid. He would do anything for you."
Soon after entering the army, however, Virgadamo began to have problems. In boot camp he became angry and suicidal, prompting an army doctor to write him a prescription for Prozac, his grandmother says. Not long after that, he was sent to Iraq. One day as men in his unit were cleaning weapons, the commander sent Virgadamo for some gun oil, O'Brien says. When he didn't return, they went to look for him. They found him with a gun in his mouth.
Virgadamo was sent home to Pahrump, Nevada, to be with his family for 10 days. Then he would be returned to Iraq. O'Brien learned that he was sent to a class meant to help him, and that he had been given a new medication instead of Prozac. The day he supposedly completed his class, O'Brien says, his commander gave him his gun back.
That night he used it to kill himself.
"They all knew he was in a very serious situation," O'Brien says. "He was a danger to the other soldiers as well as to himself."
She is furious that the army gave him Prozac. She points out that the labeling of Prozac, Zoloft, and similar antidepressants state that the drugs have been shown to increase suicidal behavior in people age 24 and younger — a group that includes large numbers of American soldiers.
Virgadamo was 19 when he died.
"It was so unnecessary," she says. "We can't bring him back."
The U. S. Army's suicide rate is now at an all-time high. Colonel Ritchie says officials are studying the reasons for the increase, including the possible role of medications. Soldiers taking antidepressants have killed themselves, she says, but so far there is no evidence that the risk is higher for those taking the drugs.
Instead, the army has found, soldiers who committed suicide often had personal problems, such as troubled marriages or financial difficulties. Repeated deployments can strain family relationships. "The army has been at war for a long time," Colonel Ritchie says, "and everyone is kind of tired."
‘No condition to leave’
At age 26, with a new wife and child, Michael R. De Vlieger never seemed to have enough money. He had resorted to selling his blood plasma for extra cash when he noticed the recruiting station next door to the donation center. That was in November 2004. Fifteen months later he was on the ground in northern Iraq, a gunner with the 101st Airborne.
Not long after he landed in Iraq, roadside bombs blew apart two Humvees from his platoon, killing nine soldiers, including men he knew well.
The next month, as he manned a Humvee on patrol passing through a crowded market, grenade-throwing insurgents jumped from behind the fruit stands. One antitank grenade landed under the vehicle. The blast didn't pierce its metal, but the force drove De Vlieger's knee through the door.
He was later evacuated by helicopter and returned to Fort Campbell, in Kentucky, to recuperate. But his personality had changed. He began to drink heavily, and flew into rages. One day, he attacked his wife's dog.
"I had lost so many friends and went through a near-death experience," he says. "I wasn't who I was when I left."
He was updating his will and preparing to return to Iraq when he broke down. His wife, Christine, found him awake in the middle of the night, rocking while babbling incoherently. Frightened, Christine called his squad leader, who took him to the base emergency room. Doctors then sent him to a nearby private psychiatric hospital, where he stayed for 16 days, receiving medications to calm his panic and treat his blood pressure and depression. The doctors released him with four prescriptions.
A noncommissioned officer in charge of De Vlieger's unit's stateside operations told him that day that he had to leave immediately for Iraq. Less than 18 hours after being released from the hospital, De Vlieger was on a plane heading for the Middle East. "I was in no condition to leave," he says. "I'm an infantryman. If I'm screwed up in my head, it could cost my life or the lives of the men with me."
Pentagon policy requires that service members with psychiatric conditions be stable for at least 3 months before they can be deployed. Colonel Ritchie says she can't comment specifically on any soldier's medical history, but agrees that sending someone to Iraq just hours after leaving a psychiatric hospital would violate the policy.
DeVlieger says the medications altered his thinking — a side effect he didn't want to deal with at war. He threw the pills away.
"I had a weapon, entire magazines filled with rounds. It's not like it would have been difficult for me to commit suicide," he says. "I don't believe it was safe."
Military physicians can be swayed by the aggressive promotional efforts of the pharmaceutical industry just like civilian doctors often are. The military has rules that limit the handouts doctors can take from drug companies. A doctor can go to a dinner paid for by a drug company, but the meal's value can't be more than $20, and the value of all gifts received from a company over the course of a year can't exceed $50.
The drug companies have devised ways of working around those limits.
When thousands of military and federal health-care professionals met in November for the annual meeting of the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States (AMSUS), more than 80 pharmaceutical companies and other health-care firms were on hand. The companies helped pay for that San Antonio event in exchange for the opportunity to set up booths in the convention hall, where sales reps pressed doctors to prescribe their products or to use their medical equipment and devices.
The 6-day meeting included a celebration; 15 military and federal doctors and other health professionals received awards that included cash prizes provided by various drug companies.
Colonel Steven Mirick, the association's deputy executive director, says the companies didn't choose the recipients of the awards or influence the meeting's agenda or the educational courses offered. He also said that AMSUS had followed the strict government rules concerning the funding of those awards. Doctors would have to pay a much higher registration fee, he says, if the companies were not allowed to contribute.
Aggressive corporate promotion is one reason behind the army's fast-rising use of narcotic painkillers. Manufacturers of narcotics like OxyContin and Actiq have spent millions in recent years to convince doctors that the drugs aren't as addictive or as dangerous as most people believe. Before such corporate marketing campaigns, many doctors hesitated to prescribe narcotics unless a patient was suffering from a serious, pain-inflicting condition — terminal cancer, for instance. Drugmakers expanded the market by encouraging docs to prescribe narcotics to people suffering from more moderate pain, and by downplaying the drugs' addictive potential.
These same manufacturers fund organizations like the American Pain Society. The society's noble goal of eliminating pain has made it the perfect conduit for drug marketing.
Military doctors agreed with the American Pain Society that pain treatment should be more accessible. In 1999, the Department of Defense and the Veterans Health Administration began a campaign called "Pain as the Fifth Vital Sign," a motto that had been created and trademarked by the society. Doctors treating active-duty service members and vets were urged to test and treat pain just as they would blood pressure and body temperature.
The Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs also issued a guideline in 2003 that directed doctors on how to prescribe narcotic painkillers for chronic pain. Chronic pain can be related to conditions ranging from arthritis to the phantom-limb pain experienced by amputees. "Repeated exposure to opioids in the context of pain treatment only rarely causes addiction," the guideline noted.
That statement is controversial. In a study at Brigham and Women's Hospital, in Boston, 22 percent of patients taking narcotics for long-term treatment showed signs of abusing the drugs. The army has plenty of firsthand evidence of how addictive the painkillers can be. At Fort Leonard Wood, in Missouri, officials charged more than a dozen soldiers with illegally using and distributing narcotics, including drugs they'd reported picking up at the base's pharmacy for little or no cost. Many of the soldiers had suffered injuries in Iraq or in training but had later begun abusing the painkillers reportedly prescribed by army doctors.
One problem is that injured soldiers in pain are often also suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which makes them vulnerable to abusing alcohol or drugs. A soldier taking a narcotic can start using it to escape more than his pain.
Cataldi, who's now out of active duty, says that when he returned from his first tour of Iraq, both he and a friend were taking painkillers for injuries. They couldn't seem to get enough of the drugs, he says.
"We'd find pills on the floor," he says, "and just take them."
Narcotics can make patients dizzy and unable to function. Their labels warn about performing "potentially hazardous tasks."
Staff Sergeant Jack Auble took Oxy-Contin, Percocet, and Vicodin for a serious back injury as he worked in Camp Stryker, in Baghdad. Prior to that tour, he had been in the process of being medically discharged from the army after 20 years of service because of severe osteoporosis in his spine. Then he was sent to Iraq.
Auble's job in Baghdad was to monitor a computer that showed in real time what was happening on the battlefield. But the side effects of the drugs made his job impossible, he says. He frequently lost track of what people said to him and the positions of troops in the field. At times, he says, he dozed off in his chair.
"I could not do the job," Auble says. "My judgment was clouded all the time."
After 3 months in Baghdad, Auble's pain worsened. The army evacuated him to a hospital outside Iraq. At 44, he is now retired with a permanent disability, and walks with a cane.
According to Colonel Ritchie, painkillers can help soldiers do their jobs by reducing pain, which allows them to concentrate. "But these medications are lethal in overdose and can't be used carelessly," she says, adding that if side effects interfere with a soldier's ability to perform, he or she is moved to another job or sent back to a home base.
"It doesn't do the soldier or the army any good," she says, "if he can't do his mission."
The army is adding safeguards to reduce the chance that soldiers will become addicted to painkillers, she notes. And the guideline informing doctors that the drugs rarely cause addiction is being rewritten.
Cataldi now works as a mechanic in Riverside, in Southern California. He lives with his wife, 2-year-old daughter, and 10-year-old stepson in an apartment at the foot of a mountain. On his living-room wall hang framed photos of his grandfather and uncles dressed in their USMC uniforms.
Doctors at the V. A. still aren't sure how to help Cataldi. His current diagnoses include PTSD and traumatic brain injury that might have been caused by several concussions he suffered in training and in Iraq. He also still feels intense pain in his leg. He shows a visitor snapshots taken at the funerals of some of his buddies. He goes to the kitchen, bringing back four bottles of medications, including Klonopin, the drug he blames for creating a needless ordeal in Iraq. He fears he'll be on Klonopin for the rest of his life. When he tries to stop taking it, he spaces out and isolates himself.
"If I had never been put on medications and just had counseling, I'd be a lot better off ," he says.
100 female U.S. service members have died in Iraq
24 July 2008
(CNN) -- The death of an Air Force technical sergeant in Iraq last week quietly brought a somber milestone: One hundred American female service members have died in Iraq, according to a CNN count of Pentagon figures.
The latest death was Tech. Sgt. Jackie L. Larsen, 37, of Tacoma, Washington, who died of natural causes July 17 at Balad Air Base, Iraq. She was assigned to the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, Beale Air Force Base, California, according to the Pentagon.
The death comes during what may be the lowest monthly toll in the war. Pentagon records show that at least nine U.S. troops have died in July. The lowest number in the war was in May, with 19. The total of U.S. service member deaths in the Iraq war now stands at 4,124.
Of the 100 female service members who died:
97 were troops, and three were military civilian employees.
61 of them have been classified as hostile -- occurring during combat or enemy attacks -- and 39 have been non-hostile.
12 died in 2003, 19 in 2004, 20 in 2005, 15 in 2006, 27 in 2007 and seven this year.
80 of those were members of the Army, nine were Navy, seven were Marines, and four were Air Force.
Meanwhile, a female suicide bomber detonated explosives at an Awakening Council checkpoint just outside Baquba, killing eight people and wounding 24 Thursday night, police said.
The checkpoint is two kilometers (1.4 miles) from Baquba, the capital of Diyala province.
Those killed and wounded were mostly members of an anti-al Qaeda group, the police said.
An Awakening Council leader was among the dead, police said. An Interior Ministry official identified the leader as Naim al-Dulaimi, a high-ranking local leader of the 1920 Revolution Brigades. The brigades are a former nationalist insurgent group turned into an Awakening group, fighting al Qaeda in Iraq.
There have been about two dozen female suicide bombings in Iraq. The bulk of them have been in Diyala. The ethnically mixed province that stretches north and east of Baghdad and borders Iran.
Last month, a female suicide bomber attacked a crowded area in Baquba's center, killing at least 16 people and wounding 40.
Police, women and children were among the casualties, authorities said at the time.
Many Awakening Councils, whose members are predominantly Sunni, have been recruited by the U.S. military to work against al Qaeda in Iraq and other militias.
Elsewhere, attackers in Iraq's capital over the past 24 hours killed three members of an anti-insurgent group and wounded a senior member of the prime minister's political party, officials said.
Three members of an Awakening Council who were manning checkpoints in the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya were gunned down by attackers in a car Thursday morning, according to a local leader of the Awakening Council.
Adhamiya, in Baghdad's northeastern area, used to be controlled by al Qaeda in Iraq fighters. The area had once been rife with attacks against U.S. and Iraqi targets. But as the Awakening movement took hold in the neighborhood over the past year, violence declined.
An Interior Ministry official said Abdul Rahman Dawood, a senior member of the Dawa party, was wounded in a bombing at his house in southeastern Baghdad late Wednesday. Dawa, a Shiite movement that is part of the United Iraqi Alliance bloc, is the party of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
The prime minister is in Europe this week. He traveled to Germany, where he met with Chancellor Angela Merkel, and is to meet with leaders in Italy and the Vatican.
In another development, Turkish warplanes late Wednesday bombed three villages in northern Iraq where Kurdish rebels were thought to be based, a border security officer said Thursday.
The strikes -- the latest by the Turkish military against Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants -- occurred in the Zab region of Duhuk province in Iraq's Kurdish region.
The officer said the bombing lasted for an hour, and there were no reports of casualties. Duhuk is one of three provinces that make up the Kurdish region in Iraq.
Turkey has been fighting PKK separatists for years in the southeastern part of Turkey.
Turkey has been going after PKK bases just over its border with northern Iraq, where the group has been staging cross-border attacks.
US military suicide rate at record high
04 Feb 2008
American troops are taking their own lives in the largest numbers since records began to be kept in 1980. In 2008, there were 128 confirmed suicides by serving army personnel and 41 by serving marines. Another 15 army deaths are still being investigated. The toll is another of the terrible consequences that have flowed from Washington’s neo-colonial wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The army suicide rate is now higher than that among the general American population. The rate has been calculated as 20.2 per 100,000 soldiers, compared with 19.5 per 100,000 civilians. This is a shocking statistic, as soldiers theoretically are screened for mental illnesses before enlistment and have access to counseling and health services that millions of ordinary people cannot afford.
As there is an average of 10 failed suicide attempts for each actual loss of life, the figures suggest that more than 1,600 serving army and marine personnel tried to kill themselves last year.
Army Secretary Pete Geren told the Associated Press that “we cannot tell you” why the number of military suicides was rising. It is indisputable, however, that it is linked to the stresses on soldiers caused by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2002, the army suicide rate was just 9.8 per 100,000. The last time it exceeded the civilian rate was in the late 1960s, at the highpoint of the US war in Vietnam.
An estimated 30 percent of soldiers who took their own lives in 2008 did so while on deployment. Another 35 percent committed suicide after returning from a tour of duty. In one reported case, a highly regarded marine pilot hanged himself just one month before he was scheduled to return to Iraq.
Dozens of men and women who have left the armed forces since serving in Afghanistan or Iraq also committed suicide in 2008. The Department of Veterans Affairs recorded 144 such cases. The suicide rate among veterans aged 20 to 24 was 22.9 per 100,000 in 2007—four times higher than non-veterans in the same age bracket. A hotline for veterans has received over 85,000 calls since mid-2007 and arranged some 2,100 suicide prevention interventions.
The rise in army suicides was registered despite an information campaign in the US military intended to end stigmas over seeking medical health for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression—psychological conditions that afflict tens of thousands of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans and in severe cases can trigger suicidal tendencies.
Veterans Affairs (VA) reported in January that 178,483 veterans of the two wars had been diagnosed with one or more mental illnesses between 2002 and September 2008. The conditions diagnosed included 92,998 cases of possible PTSD; 63,009 possible depressive disorders; 50,569 neurotic disorders; 35,937 cases of affective psychoses; 27,246 cases of drug abuse and 16,217 cases of alcohol dependency.
VA deputy director for mental health services, Antonette Zeiss, told the Air Force Times: “Most of these conditions would not have been present prior to being in the military. In VA, we assume that these are veterans coming to us who have had significant stresses as a result of their involvement with the military and the war.”
The “significant stresses” would include killing; repeated exposure to scenes of death and injury; the constant threat of death or injury; and the dehumanising policing operations that American soldiers have been ordered to conduct against civilian populations. No-one who has taken part in the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq could have returned completely unscathed by the experience.
The true extent of mental illness among war veterans is believed to be far worse than VA’s figures. It has only treated around 400,000 of the 1.7 million men and women who have served. “We know there are guys who desperately need help who aren’t coming to us,” a spokesman told the Air Force Times. A Rand Corporation study last year estimated that 20 percent of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans—some 350,000 people—were suffering from PTSD.
As many as 18 veterans of American wars take their own lives in the United States every day—more than 6,500 per year. Vietnam veteran advocates have estimated that suicide ultimately killed more of the soldiers who fought in that conflict than the actual war itself. The same trend is now surfacing among the veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq.
A recent case was the suicide of Specialist Larry Applegate on January 16. After an argument with his wife, during which shots were fired, Applegate barricaded himself inside his Colorado Springs home. Shortly after, he killed himself with a bullet to the head.
The Army Times reported that the 27-year-old soldier, who served in Iraq during 2006, had been under the supervision of a Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) since February 2008 for an undisclosed condition. WTUs were established in June 2007 after the exposure of substandard treatment of wounded troops at the Walter Reed Medical Centre. There are currently some 9,000 soldiers assigned to 36 WTUs across the US.
A total of 68 soldiers had died under WTU care by October 2008. More than half the deaths were ruled to have resulted from natural causes, but nine were determined to be suicides. Six others were classified as accidental deaths caused by “combined lethal drug toxicity”.
150,000 American Soldier Suicides
By Frosty Wooldridge
March 10, 2008
Iraqi citizens kill American soldiers weekly. GIs kill Iraqi citizens daily. Experts say a million Iraqi men, women and children suffered death at the hands of Americans and Islamic fighters. Two million Iraqi refugees languish in Turkey, Iran and Syria. Death, disease and misery haunt Iraq 24/7. As the Iraq War continues, death reaps its grim numbers on both sides. An entire civilization staggers under America’s war machine.
It’s ironic that the architects of the Iraq War, Dick Cheney and George Bush, hid out during the Vietnam War. Cheney enjoyed five student deferments while his buddy Bush got drunk on weekends at the National Guard Armory in Texas.
Later, Robert McNamara admitted that Vietnam, “…was a mistake.” No kidding Bob! Fifty-eight thousand dead and 350,000 horrifically disfigured! Another 2.0 million Vietnamese died while Vietnam suffered desecration via bombs and Agent Orange. Not a small mistake!
What started Vietnam? Someone in the Johnson administration concocted the “Gulf of Tonkin” incident that triggered the 10 year war. All that death and destruction based on a lie. What does Bush hold in common with LBJ? The lie of “Weapons of Mass Destruction.”
What do the Iraq and Vietnam wars hold in common? Both wars erupted from lies by sitting presidents. Results? Both men killed millions for nothing but the lie itself. What makes the Iraq War lie even worse? For the past six years, America’s borders offered wide open invitations for terrorists to enter 24/7.
Beyond the immediate carnage, what will Iraq bring to America in the long term besides a $5 trillion price tag?
Chuck Dean, a Vietnam War veteran wrote a troubling book, NAM VET, published in 1990 by Multnomah Press. Out of the 2.7 million Americans who served in Nam, Dean reported 58,000 died. That proved small compared to the suicides! “Over 150,000 veterans have committed suicide since the war ended,” Dean said.
A VA doctor estimated the number of Vietnam Veteran suicides totaled 200,000 men. He said, “The reason the official suicide statistics were so much lower was that in many cases the suicides were documented as accidents, primarily single-car drunk driving accidents and self-inflicted gunshot wounds that were not accompanied by a suicide note.”
The report added, “According to the doctor, the under-reporting of suicides was primarily an act of kindness to the surviving relatives.”
Army deployed seriously injured troops
By Mark Benjamin
March 26, 2007
Soldiers on crutches and canes were sent to a main desert camp used for Iraq training. Military experts say the Army was pumping up manpower statistics to show a brigade was battle ready.

WASHINGTON -- Last November, Army Spc. Edgar Hernandez, a communications specialist with a unit of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, had surgery on an ankle he had injured during physical training. After the surgery, doctors put his leg in a cast, and he was supposed to start physical therapy when that cast came off six weeks later.
But two days after his cast was removed, Army commanders decided it was more important to send him to a training site in a remote desert rather than let him stay at Fort Benning, Ga., to rehabilitate. In January, Hernandez was shipped to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., where his unit, the 3,900-strong 3rd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, was conducting a month of training in anticipation of leaving for Iraq in March.
Hernandez says he was in no shape to train for war so soon after his injury. "I could not walk," he told Salon in an interview. He said he was amazed when he learned he was being sent to California. "Did they not realize that I'm hurt and I needed this physical therapy?" he remembered thinking. "I was told by my doctor and my physical therapist that this was crazy."
Hernandez had served two tours in Iraq, where he helped maintain communications gear in the unit's armored Bradley Fighting Vehicles. But he could not participate in war maneuvers conducted on a 1,000-square-mile mock battlefield located in the harsh Mojave Desert. Instead, when he got to California, he was led to a large tent where he would be housed. He was shocked by what he saw inside: There were dozens of other hurt soldiers. Some were on crutches, and others had arms in slings. Some had debilitating back injuries. And nearby was another tent, housing female soldiers with health issues ranging from injuries to pregnancy.
Hernandez is one of a dozen soldiers who stayed for weeks in those tents who were interviewed for this report, some of whose medical records were also reviewed by Salon. All of the soldiers said they had no business being sent to Fort Irwin given their physical condition. In some cases, soldiers were sent there even though their injuries were so severe that doctors had previously recommended they should be considered for medical retirement from the Army.
1 in 4 Iraq vets ailing on return
By Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY
Posted 10/18/2005
More than one in four U.S. troops have come home from the Iraq war with health problems that require medical or mental health treatment, according to the Pentagon's first detailed screening of servicemembers leaving a war zone. (Related: Troops screened as never before)
Almost 1,700 servicemembers returning from the war this year said they harbored thoughts of hurting themselves or that they would be better off dead. More than 250 said they had such thoughts "a lot." Nearly 20,000 reported nightmares or unwanted war recollections; more than 3,700 said they had concerns that they might "hurt or lose control" with someone else.
These survey results, which have not been publicly released, were provided to USA TODAY by the Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine. They offer a window on the war and how the ongoing insurgency has added to the strain on troops.
Overall, since the war began, about 28% of Iraq veterans — about 50,000 servicemembers this year alone — returned with problems ranging from lingering battle wounds to toothaches, from suicidal thoughts to strained marriages.
Injured Iraq Vets Come Home to PovertyInjured Soldiers Returning from Iraq Struggle for Medical Benefits, Financial Survival
By Brian Ross, David Scott and Maddy Sauer
Oct. 14, 2004
Following inquiries by ABC News, the Pentagon has dropped plans to force a severely wounded U.S. soldier to repay his enlistment bonus after injuries had forced him out of the service.
Army Spc. Tyson Johnson III of Mobile, Ala., who lost a kidney in a mortar attack last year in Iraq, was still recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center when he received notice from the Pentagon's own collection agency that he owed more than $2,700 because he could not fulfill his full 36-month tour of duty.
Johnson said the Pentagon listed the bonus on his credit report as an unpaid government loan, making it impossible for him to rent an apartment or obtain credit cards.
"Oh man, I felt betrayed," Johnson said. "I felt, like, oh, my heart dropped."
Pentagon officials said they were unaware of the case until it was brought to their attention by ABC News. "Some faceless bureaucrat" was responsible for Johnson's predicament, said Gen. Franklin "Buster" Hagenbeck, a three-star general and the Army's deputy chief of staff for personnel.
"It's absolutely unacceptable. It's intolerable," said Hagenbeck. "I mean, I'm incredulous when I hear those kinds of things. I just can't believe that we allow that to happen. And we're not going to let it happen."
The Department of Defense and the Army intervened to have the collection action against Johnson stopped, said Hagenbeck.
"I was told today he's not going to have a nickel taken from him," he said. "And I will tell you that we'll keep a microscope on this one to see the outcome."

Walter Reed Army Medical Center neglect scandal
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Walter Reed Army Medical Center neglect scandal resulted from a series of allegations of unsatisfactory conditions and management at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) in Washington, D.C. culminating in two articles published by The Washington Post in February 2007. Cases of outpatient neglect, which are currently under investigation, were reported as early as 2004, but generated substantial public and media attention, which in turn prompted a number of congressional and executive actions, only with release of the Post exposé.
Initial exposure
The Washington Post published a series of articles beginning February 18, 2007, outlining cases of neglect at Walter Reed reported by wounded soldiers and their family members. Although the article focused primarily on Building 18, a former hotel building just outside the post's main gates, authors Dana Priest and Anne Hull also included complaints about "disengaged clerks, unqualified platoon sergeants and overworked managers" that make navigating the already complicated bureaucracy to obtain medical care at WRAMC even more daunting. Although Army officials claimed to be surprised at these conditions, a series beginning in January 2005 had previously exposed them. Two members of Congress, C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla, and Tom Davis, R-Va, admitted they had been briefed on the matter in 2004 but did not investigate the matter to avoid embarrassing the Army. In 2004 and 2005, articles appeared in the Post and in Salon interviewing First Lt. Julian Goodrum about his court martial for seeking medical care elsewhere due to poor conditions at WRAMC.
Building 18
WRAMC's Building 18 is described in the article as rat- and cockroach-infested, with stained carpets, cheap mattresses, and black mold, with no heat and water reported by some soldiers at the facility. The unmonitored entrance created security problems, including reports of drug dealers in front of the facility. Injured soldiers stated they are forced to "pull guard duty" to obtain a level of security. In an attempt to alleviate the toll that Building 18's condition is taking on the wounded soldiers, a staff team headed by a clinical social worker at WRAMC obtained a grant of $30,000 from the Commander's Initiative Account for improvements; however, "a Psychiatry Department functionary held up the rest of the money because she feared that buying a lot of recreational equipment close to Christmas would trigger an audit." By January the funds were no longer available.
Renovation of Building 18 had been anticipated in connection with the enhanced use lease of Building 40, but since the post was slated for closure under BRAC in 2005, the anticipated in-kind services by the Building 40 developer did not materialize.
Although the Post's authors are quick to point out that "not all the quarters are as bleak as" Building 18, "the despair of Building 18 symbolizes a larger problem in Walter Reed's treatment of the wounded. The typical soldier is required to file 22 documents with eight different commands – most of them off-post – to enter and exit the medical processing world, according to government investigators. Sixteen different information systems are used to process the forms, but few of them can communicate with one another. The Army's three personnel databases cannot read each other's files and can't interact with the separate pay system or the medical recordkeeping databases." This complicated system has required some soldiers to prove they were in the Iraq War or the War in Afghanistan in order to obtain medical treatment and benefits because Walter Reed employees are unable to locate their records.
Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration At Army's Top Medical Facility
By Dana Priest and Anne Hull
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 18, 2007; Page A01
Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan's room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses.
This is the world of Building 18, not the kind of place where Duncan expected to recover when he was evacuated to Walter Reed Army Medical Center from Iraq last February with a broken neck and a shredded left ear, nearly dead from blood loss. But the old lodge, just outside the gates of the hospital and five miles up the road from the White House, has housed hundreds of maimed soldiers recuperating from injuries suffered in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The common perception of Walter Reed is of a surgical hospital that shines as the crown jewel of military medicine. But 5 1/2 years of sustained combat have transformed the venerable 113-acre institution into something else entirely -- a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged outpatients. Almost 700 of them -- the majority soldiers, with some Marines -- have been released from hospital beds but still need treatment or are awaiting bureaucratic decisions before being discharged or returned to active duty.
They suffer from brain injuries, severed arms and legs, organ and back damage, and various degrees of post-traumatic stress. Their legions have grown so exponentially -- they outnumber hospital patients at Walter Reed 17 to 1 -- that they take up every available bed on post and spill into dozens of nearby hotels and apartments leased by the Army. The average stay is 10 months, but some have been stuck there for as long as two years.
Not all of the quarters are as bleak as Duncan's, but the despair of Building 18 symbolizes a larger problem in Walter Reed's treatment of the wounded, according to dozens of soldiers, family members, veterans aid groups, and current and former Walter Reed staff members interviewed by two Washington Post reporters, who spent more than four months visiting the outpatient world without the knowledge or permission of Walter Reed officials. Many agreed to be quoted by name; others said they feared Army retribution if they complained publicly.

Injured soldiers' financial, emotional costs grow185,000 have sought care at VA; disability payments often don't stretch
By Jeff Donn and Kimberly Hefling
Sept. 30, 2007
TEMECULA, Calif. - He was one of America’s first defenders on Sept. 11, 2001, a Marine who pulled burned bodies from the ruins of the Pentagon. He saw more horrors in Kuwait and Iraq.
Today, he can’t keep a job, pay his bills, or chase thoughts of suicide from his tortured brain. In a few weeks, he may lose his house, too.
Gamal Awad, the American son of a Sudanese immigrant, exemplifies an emerging group of war veterans: the economic casualties.
More than in past wars, many wounded troops are coming home alive from the Middle East. That’s a triumph for military medicine. But they often return hobbled by prolonged physical and mental injuries from homemade bombs and the unremitting anxiety of fighting a hidden enemy along blurred battle lines. Treatment, recovery and retraining often can’t be assured quickly or cheaply.
These troops are just starting to seek help in large numbers, more than 185,000 so far. But the cost of their benefits is already testing resources set aside by government and threatening the future of these wounded veterans for decades to come, say economists and veterans’ groups.
“The wounded and their families no longer trust that the government will take care of them the way they thought they’d be taken care of,” says veterans advocate Mary Ellen Salzano.
How does a war veteran expect to be treated? “As a hero,” she says.
The VA Continues to Abandon Returning Vets
By Joshua Kors, The Nation Posted on September 4, 2008
Sgt. Juan Jimenez had one of the most dangerous jobs in Iraq, ushering top Administration officials through the war-torn streets of Baghdad. He returned home with two Purple Hearts and shrapnel lodged in his right arm. Today he is gravely ill.
What Jimenez didn't realize is that before he could receive benefits for his wounds, he'd have to prove that those wounds came from war. Three and a half years later, the sergeant is still making his case. The Department of Veterans Affairs isn't convinced. And it won't give him his benefits until it is.
The VA requires all veterans to prove their wounds are "service-connected" before it writes them a check. Jimenez thought that hurdle was merely a formality. The Army sergeant had been struck by two roadside bombs. The first sliced into his arms; six months later, a second bomb sprayed scrap metal into his face, knocking him unconscious and leaving him brain damaged. He began having seizures and suffering from memory loss. The blast left a persistent ringing in his right ear. The stress sparked nightmares, flashbacks and acid-reflux disease.
"I'm a different person now," Jimenez says glumly. "I come home; I lock myself in my room. I don't really talk to anyone. I used to be fun." Now, he says, he can't even have a bowl of cereal. It gives him heartburn for days. "That second bomb, it killed me -- it just left my body." Sick, suicidal, the sergeant sought help from the VA.
The VA's diagnosis: too much caffeine. "They said I was drinking too much Red Bull. That's what was causing my problems."
Jimenez got mad. At that point, he did something few veterans even consider: he sued the VA. The sergeant is a member of Veterans for Common Sense (VCS), one of the most prominent veterans' groups in the country. In July 2007, executive director Paul Sullivan filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Jimenez and the thousands of veterans in his organization who were wounded in Iraq and, he says, were rebuffed by the VA when they sought disability and medical benefits.
"The VA needs more than a few minor changes at the margins. It needs a massive overhaul," says Sullivan. His organization's lawsuit asked Judge Samuel Conti to do exactly that: radically restructure the VA and the way it processes veterans' claims. The VA moved immediately to get the case dismissed, asserting that Sullivan's organization didn't represent the nation's wounded vets and had no standing to demand an overhaul of a $94 billion government organization.
Judge Conti disagreed. The 86-year-old World War II veteran scheduled the trial for the end of April, and he demanded VA's top officials appear and take the stand. Over seven days VCS's lawyers would press them to explain internal e-mails and studies, statistics and videos, all suggesting that high-ranking officials purposely deceived Congress and the public, twisted data to cloak the VA's poor care of the ill and injured, and fired a prominent doctor who decided to expose the problems.
Iraq and Kuwait

Letter from Leuren Moret to Congressman McDermott with Declassified memo to Gen. L.R. Groves 1943 – a blueprint for DU
21 February 2003
Mr. Joe Pemberton, a lawyer in Bellingham, Washington, has asked me to provide you with scientific information on the critical and overlooked issues of particle size, penetration of gas masks, and mobility of depleted uranium formed under battleground conditions. It is also powerful scientific information to counter false statements recently made by the White House1 and the DOD2.
I am writing this letter out of concern for the military personnel who may now be serving on or near the Gulf War battlefields in Iraq and may be quartered in areas already contaminated by depleted uranium munitions. But they are not my only concern. The Gulf War Veterans who are now suffering severe health consequences have also been exposed to depleted uranium, chemicals and biological materials including vaccines while serving in Iraq and Kuwait.
The children and people of Iraq have been the greatest victims from exposure to depleted uranium15 used in the Gulf War and will continue to be. Over time, they cannot escape the chronic, low level exposure to internal radiation from depleted uranium and its decay products as it cycles and recycles through their environment3 in water, air and food products.
Depleted uranium dust will continue to be an extreme hazard to soldiers, civilians, populations in countries downwind6,8, and the environment as a radiological contaminant to all living systems for ten half-lives or 45 BILLION years.
There is no possible protection from exposure to very fine particles of depleted uranium through filtering of air.
Vietnam Veterans Against the War Anti- Imperialist
Vietnam Veterans Against the War Anti- Imperialist is part of a network of anti-imperialist veterans who are proud of our resistance to U.S. aggression around the world. In the 1970s, to be a Vietnam veteran was to be against the war. That proud legacy must be carried forward into the new millennium. As veterans, we have been to the edge and seen the viciousness of Amerikkka unmasked. We have no doubt that the bastards who sent us to war will use their nuclear arsenal, along with unspeakably cruel conventional weapons, to maintain their empire, And now, with their war and occupation of Iraq and their so-called war on terrorism, do you?

IVAW Winter Soldier Iraq and Afghanistan! "This spring, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) is revealing the reality of the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. In what will be history's largest gathering of U.S. veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Iraqi and Afghan survivors, eyewitnesses will share their experiences in a public investigation called Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan...From March 13-16, 2008, Iraq Veterans Against the War will gather in our nation's capital to break the silence and hold our leaders accountable for these wars. We hope you'll join us, because ours is a story that every American needs to hear."
"Military men are just dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns" -- Henry Kissinger
A great war leaves the country with three armies - an army of cripples, an army of mourners, and an army of thieves. ~German Proverb
US soldiers in Iraq suffer horrific brain and mental injuries
By Rick Kelly
The war has seen unusually high rates of traumatic brain injury (TBI). This head injury causes life-long damage in many cases. Symptoms include memory loss, difficulty with attention and reasoning, headaches, confusion, anxiety, irritability and depression.
TBI rates in previous wars have been estimated at about 20 percent. In July, a San Francisco Chronicle survey of troops being processed through Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital in Washington DC indicated that as many as two-thirds of all soldiers wounded in Iraq suffer from the condition.
The increase in brain injury cases is largely due to the advanced body armor and helmets now used by US forces. As the death rate of wounded troops has declined compared to previous conflicts, the rate of TBI has shot up. The nature of the Iraq war has also increased the number of brain injuries. Rocket propelled grenades, mortars, and other explosive devices cause concussive shock blasts damaging to the brain.
Traumatic brain injury often goes undetected until the affected soldier returns home and his or her family notices that something is wrong. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the case of Sgt. 1st Class Alec Giess, of the Oregon National Guard, whose truck rolled over him as it crashed while avoiding a suspected land mine:
“Geiss’ wife, Shana, noticed after his return that the easygoing, relaxed dad who went to Iraq had become a quick-tempered man who couldn’t remember the family’s daily schedule, jumped up screaming when the family cat landed on his bed and couldn’t tolerate crowds. The world inside his head, Giess said, was even stranger: he felt bewildered, with no sense of time other than ‘daytime’ and ‘nighttime.’ He also felt cut off from his emotions. ‘When my kids come and hug me, I don’t feel a thing,’ he said.”
Many other incidents of TBI are even more severe. ABC News reported last month on the situation in one Veterans Affairs hospital in Palo Alto, California. “The majority of [TBI patients], they’re incontinent, both bowel and bladder, so we have to retrain them when to use the toilet, how to use the toilet,” nurse manager Stephanie Alvarez said.
Each patient at the facility is given a “memory book,” which describes that day’s schedule, and other important information. For many wounded soldiers this includes a reminder of why they are in hospital. “I had a head injury from an explosion in Iraq on June 14, 2004,” one soldier’s book read.
When the rich wage war, it's the poor who die. ~Jean-Paul Sartre
Why do we kill people who are killing people to show that killing people is wrong? ~Holly Near

War should be made a crime, and those who instigate it should be punished as criminals. ~Charles Evans Hughes
Misogyny Rampant in the Armed Forces: 1 in 3 Military Women Experience Sexual Abuse
By Nancy Van Ness,
Posted May 12, 2008
Speaking out against the war, female veterans describe regular abuse at the hands of their peers -- and the military's failure to address it.
I knew it was bad, but I didn't know just how bad. Colonel Ann Wright, retired U.S. Army, grabbed the audience's attention at a panel called Women in the Military, hosted last month by Women Center Stage in New York City, when she said that one in three women in the military is sexually abused by her male colleagues. Ann wants to see huge signs displaying this statistic in every recruiting office, to let young women know what to expect if they sign up.
After 26 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves, Ann went on to serve in the U.S. Diplomatic Corps for fifteen years, receiving the State Department's Award for Heroism in 1997. She helped open the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in January 2002 and then was Deputy Chief of Mission in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. But in 2003 she resigned from the Diplomatic Corps, saying, "I have served my country for almost thirty years in the some of the most isolated and dangerous parts of the world. However, I do not believe in the policies of this Administration," referring to the invasion of Iraq. Since then, she has advocated tirelessly for peace.
She described first hand accounts from witnesses and seeing photographs that document an atrocious rape that ended in the murder of a female US soldier in Iraq, which the military had reported as a suicide. She pointed out that even in the handful of cases resulting in court martial and conviction, few perpetrators have served any prison time.
Two other young veterans, Kelly Dougherty and Jen Hogg, described life in the military for women today.
Sgt. Kelly Dougherty, now Executive Director of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and former chair of its Board of Directors, told of a veteran who calmly described killing an Iraqi while she breast-fed her baby. To Kelly, this was just one example of the incredible disconnect veterans live with and of the brutalization that everyone in the armed forces is subjected to. She noted, however, that this is new for women, since for the first time in US history so many women are participating in combat situations.
Sgt. Jennifer Hogg of IVAW and Service Women's Action Network (SWAN) explained that women are automatically excluded from the infantry because they are considered unfit to do on-the-ground fighting. Jennifer granted that while some but not all women aren't suitable for infantry service, some men aren't capable either. She declared that categorically excluding women from the infantry is not only arbitrary but another of the many visible ways that women in the military are regarded as second-class citizens, ripe for abuse.
It's not just a matter of promotions. Women are given only the basic training that everyone receives; they do not get advanced infantry training. However in the everyday reality of the Iraq occupation, women are routinely thrust into situations that require infantry skills. They then find themselves in combat situations for which they are not prepared.
However, the greatest danger that military women in Iraq and Afghanistan face is from their male peers and officers. More women there are the victims of sexual assault than of injuries from hazardous military duties. Reuters reported as far back as 1995, "Ninety percent of women under 50 who have served in the US military and who responded to a survey report being victims of sexual harassment, and nearly one-third of the respondents of all ages say they have been raped."
Blatant sexism and misogyny are at the root of this high rate of violence against these women who just want to defend their country.
Some military training actually encourages violence thus adding greatly to the inherent violence of war. Jennifer described training while "jodies" were ringing in her ears -- the cadences that sing about a soldier's trashy girlfriend having sex with a civilian who is not as good a man as he. She first heard these chants while serving as a mechanic in the New York Army National Guard from 2000-2005. The "jodies" were crafted to engender men's rage: at women, at non-military men and at "the other."
According to Jennifer, some men join the army for honor but also to belong to a group that permits them to express their aggression. She questions whether such motivations are any different than those of the young men who join gangs. So, she asked, why would we be surprised when these super-aggressive men behave brutally toward Iraqi civilians or towards women?
She says most of their male counterparts view women in the military as either "dykes," "whores," or "bitches." These women must cope with these grotesque distortions on a daily basis.
Kelly, who served as a medic and in a military police unit, says that misogyny is rampant and seldom countered from above. She described how bitter that is when a woman knows that the first duty of an officer is to care for those in her or his command. She is convinced that officers' failure to protect the women serving under them has contributed fundamentally to the serious breakdown of good military operations in Iraq. Betrayal by one's own chain of command is devastating to women, and ultimately, everyone suffers.
Sick, wounded U.S. troops held in squalor
By Mark Benjamin
UPI Investigations Editor

FORT STEWART, Ga., Oct. 17, 2003 (UPI) -- Hundreds of sick and wounded U.S. soldiers including many who served in the Iraq war are languishing in hot cement barracks here while they wait -- sometimes for months -- to see doctors.
The National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers' living conditions are so substandard, and the medical care so poor, that many of them believe the Army is trying push them out with reduced benefits for their ailments. One document shown to UPI states that no more doctor appointments are available from Oct. 14 through Nov. 11 -- Veterans Day.
"I have loved the Army. I have served the Army faithfully and I have done everything the Army has asked me to do," said Sgt. 1st Class Willie Buckels, a truck master with the 296th Transportation Company. Buckels served in the Army Reserves for 27 years, including Operation Iraqi Freedom and the first Gulf War. "Now my whole idea about the U.S. Army has changed. I am treated like a third-class citizen."
Since getting back from Iraq in May, Buckels, 52, has been trying to get doctors to find out why he has intense pain in the side of his abdomen since doubling over in pain there.
After waiting since May for a diagnosis, Buckels has accepted 20 percent of his benefits for bad knees and is going home to his family in Mississippi. "They have not found out what my side is doing yet, but they are still trying," Buckels said.
One month after President Bush greeted soldiers at Fort Stewart -- home of the famed Third Infantry Division -- as heroes on their return from Iraq, approximately 600 sick or injured members of the Army Reserves and National Guard are warehoused in rows of spare, steamy and dark cement barracks in a sandy field, waiting for doctors to treat their wounds or illnesses.
The Reserve and National Guard soldiers are on what the Army calls "medical hold," while the Army decides how sick or disabled they are and what benefits -- if any -- they should get as a result.
Some of the soldiers said they have waited six hours a day for an appointment without seeing a doctor. Others described waiting weeks or months without getting a diagnosis or proper treatment.
The soldiers said professional active duty personnel are getting better treatment while troops who serve in the National Guard or Army Reserve are left to wallow in medical hold.
"It is not an Army of One. It is the Army of two -- Army and Reserves," said one soldier who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, during which she developed a serious heart condition and strange skin ailment.
A half-dozen calls by UPI seeking comment from Fort Stewart public affairs officials and U.S. Forces Command in Atlanta were not returned.

Soldiers here estimate that nearly 40 percent of the personnel now in medical hold were deployed to Iraq. Of those who went, many described clusters of strange ailments, like heart and lung problems, among previously healthy troops. They said the Army has tried to refuse them benefits, claiming the injuries and illnesses were due to a "pre-existing condition," prior to military service.
Most soldiers in medical hold at Fort Stewart stay in rows of rectangular, gray, single-story cinder block barracks without bathrooms or air conditioning. They are dark and sweltering in the southern Georgia heat and humidity. Around 60 soldiers cram in the bunk beds in each barrack.
Soldiers make their way by walking or using crutches through the sandy dirt to a communal bathroom, where they have propped office partitions between otherwise open toilets for privacy. A row of leaky sinks sits on an opposite wall. The latrine smells of urine and is full of bugs, because many windows have no screens. Showering is in a communal, cinder block room. Soldiers say they have to buy their own toilet paper.
They said the conditions are fine for training, but not for sick people.
"I think it is disgusting," said one Army Reserve member who went to Iraq and asked that his name not be used.
That soldier said that after being deployed in March he suffered a sudden onset of neurological symptoms in Baghdad that has gotten steadily worse. He shakes uncontrollably.
He said the Army has told him he has Parkinson's Disease and it was a pre-existing condition, but he thinks it was something in the anthrax shots the Army gave him.
"They say I have Parkinson's, but it is developing too rapidly," he said. "I did not have a problem until I got those shots."
First Sgt. Gerry Mosley crossed into Iraq from Kuwait on March 19 with the 296th Transportation Company, hauling fuel while under fire from the Iraqis as they traveled north alongside combat vehicles. Mosley said he was healthy before the war; he could run two miles in 17 minutes at 48 years old.
But he developed a series of symptoms: lung problems and shortness of breath; vertigo; migraines; and tinnitus. He also thinks the anthrax vaccine may have hurt him. Mosley also has a torn shoulder from an injury there.
Mosley says he has never been depressed before, but found himself looking at shotguns recently and thought about suicide.
Mosley is paying $300 a month to get better housing than the cinder block barracks. He has a notice from the base that appears to show that no more doctor appointments are available for reservists from Oct. 14 until Nov. 11. He said he has never been treated like this in his 30 years in the Army Reserves.
"Now, I would not go back to war for the Army," Mosley said.
Many soldiers in the hot barracks said regular Army soldiers get to see doctors, while National Guard and Army Reserve troops wait.
"The active duty guys that are coming in, they get treated first and they put us on hold," said another soldier who returned from Iraq six weeks ago with a serious back injury. He has gotten to see a doctor only two times since he got back, he said.
Another Army Reservist with the 149th Infantry Battalion said he has had real trouble seeing doctors about his crushed foot he suffered in Iraq. "There are not enough doctors. They are overcrowded and they can't perform the surgeries that have to be done," that soldier said. "Look at these mattresses. It hurts just to sit on them," he said, gesturing to the bunks. "There are people here who got back in April but did not get their surgeries until July. It is putting a lot on these families."
The Pentagon is reportedly drawing up plans to call up more reserves.
In an Oct. 9 speech to National Guard and reserve troops in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Bush said the soldiers had become part of the backbone of the military.
"Citizen-soldiers are serving in every front on the war on terror," Bush said. "And you're making your state and your country proud."