Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Suicides, PTS, Burn Pits

John McHugh is the Secretary of the US Army.  In this morning's NPR news brief by Paul Brown, a clip was played of McHugh declaring, "Teaching the soldiers of all ages that, you know, this is something that every human being on the face of the earth is challenged by at one point or another and we're going to support you."  McHugh was talking about suicide which is a problem that is increasing, not decreasing.  Bill Briggs (NBC News) reported  four weeks ago, 2012 saw more US soldiers die from suicide than from combat. Briggs explained, "The Army's suicide rate has cllimbed by 9 percent since the military branch launched its suicide-prevention campaign in 2009."

Last month, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's Paul Rieckhoff wrote on the topic and the 349 suicides by active duty members of the military "in 2012 -- the highest number since they began closely tracking suicides in 2001." January 3rd, Senator Patty Murray's ACCESS Act, a part of the National Defense Authorization Act, was signed into law by President Barack Obama.  The ACCESS Act, Murray explained, "will help to not only standardize suicide prevention efforts, but also contains provisions to reduce wait times, ensure proper diagnoses, and achieve true coordination of care and information between the Pentagon and the VA.  We cannot afford to be passive about the military suicide epidemic we face.  We must continue to respond with every legislative and outreach effort possible in order to turn this tragic trend around."

And the suicide rate among veterans is also alarmingly high.  Ashley Nerbovig (Montana Kaimin) writes about Iraq War veteran Jesse Briggs (who took his own life) and Iraq War veteran Jeffery Montee specifically and about issues many veterans on campus are facing:

Returning veterans often find it difficult to relate back to the life they lived before war. Civilians feel awkward asking about the time the soldiers have spent overseas, and most soldiers don’t want to share, [University of Montana Interim Director for Veterans Education and Transition Service Office, Leonard] Leibinger said.
Even with people who they are close to, veterans will often shut down. Statistically, veterans who return from war have a higher divorce rate, Leibinger said.
“(Veterans) tend to eat their feelings,” Leibinger said. “And that is not healthy.”

The article also notes a problem the Congress needs to immediately address.  The Post 9/11 GI Bill pushed a graduation track of "thirty-six months," Leibinger explains.  For veterans who are dealing with a return to the civilian world as well as many other issues, that's just not going to be possible.

There are various triggers for suicide and failure to receive needed treatment is among the causes.  Senator Patty Murray is also the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office issued the following yesterday:

Monday, February 4th, 2012
CONTACT: Murray Press Office

Senator Murray's Statement on the Completion of Army-Wide PTSD Review

(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray released the following statement after Secretary of the Army John McHugh announced that the Army had completed a review of behavioral health diagnoses going back to 2001.  Murray pushed for the review after hundreds of of service members at Joint Base Lewis-McChord had their PTSD diagnoses taken away then, in many cases, restored over the past two years.  Secretary McHugh made the announcement at a media availability at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

"While I'm pleased that the Army has announced they have completed this study, it's far more important that they take quick actiont o remedy the problem.  The Pentagon should also follow through on their commitment to extend this review to all branches of the military so servicemembers aren't slipping through the cracks.  In the coming weeks, I will be meeting with Secretary McHugh to get the specific recommendations that came out of the study."

"We cannot ever have a repeat of what happened at JBLM.  We cannot allow those who have served or their loved ones to be dragged through a system that leaves them with more questions than answers.  We must provide a uniform approach to dealing with the lasting mental wounds of war if we are going to help stem the tide of military suicide and ensure that we are easing the transition home for those who serve."


Matt McAlvanah
Communications Director
U.S. Senator Patty Murray
202-224-2834 - press office
202--224-0228 - direct

For those who've forgotten, PTSD diagnoses were changed in an attempt to 'save' money.  Post Traumatic Stress can be seen as a coping mechanism the body develops when confronted with a difficult location.  Think of it as a heightened reality, a survival instinct that allows those in danger to be hyper aware of changes in the immediate environment.  The coping skill can be life saving in a deadly environment but bringing it into check in the civilian world can be difficult.  There are a variety of treatments including counseling, medication, holistic, animal therapy (usually trained dogs are used as an aid to help manage or minimize a PTS incident), journaling, creative outlets (poems, short stories, songs), etc.  There is no one standard cure because the human spirit is diverse and not standardized. 

And PTS is not localized.  Meaning?  The problems facing today's US service members and veterans are not unique to the US.  Today, Sam Marsden (Telegraph of London) reports on British troops:

A total of 94 members of the armed forces were newly registered as suffering the disorder between July and September last year, nearly four times the 25 diagnoses recorded in the same period in 2008.
There were 305 new cases of PTSD among UK troops in the 12 months to September last year, double the 153 logged in 2007 to 2008, according to statistics released by the Defence Analytical Services and Advice.
Rates of mental disorders were found to be significantly higher in personnel who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Women, soldiers, RAF personnel and non-officer ranks were also more likely to suffer mental health problems.

And, in Australia, Ian McPhedran (Adelaide Now) reports:

Appearing before a Parliamentary Committee, retired Major General John Cantwell said there were potentially thousands of cases of post traumatic stress disorder among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns.
"There is a large wave of sadness coming our way and the system, DVA (Veterans Affairs Department) and Defence, need to be ready for it and I wonder whether we are," he said.
"DVA has an enormously difficult job ahead."
He said he had felt deeply ashamed, alone and uncertain when his PTSD hit hard following his retirement from the army.

And veterans also face illness issues as a result of the use of Burn Pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. 
Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York is gearing up to host a symposium on the issue.  This will be their second one, their 2nd Annual Scientific Symposium on Lung Health after Deployment to Iraq & Afghanistan.  The symposium will take place March 4th which isn't that far away.  If you'd like to register to attend, you can click here for the registration info if you're doing it by mail or by fax as well as a registration link if you'd like to register online.  A resource for burn pit issues  is Burn Pits 360
The following community sites -- plus Adam Kokesh, Jody Watley, C-SPAN, Black Agenda Report, Pacifica Evening News, NPR Music, The Diane Rehm Show, Antiwar.com, the ACLU and Ms. magazine -- updated last night and today:
We'll close with this from Jameel Jaffer's "The Justice Department White Paper Details Rationale for Targeted Killing of Americans" (ACLU):

Michael Isikoff at NBC News has obtained a Justice Department white paper that purports to explain when it would be lawful for the government to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen believed to be affiliated with a terrorist organization. Many of the white paper's arguments are familiar because Attorney General Eric Holder set them out in a speech at Northwestern University in March of last year. But the white paper offers more detail, and in doing so it manages to underscore both the recklessness of the government's central claim and the deficiencies in the government's defense of it.

The 16-page white paper (read it here) is said to summarize a 50-odd page legal memo written in 2010 by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel to justify the addition of U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Aulaqi to the government's "kill lists." That legal memo is one of the documents the ACLU is seeking in an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Needless to say, the white paper is not a substitute for the legal memo. But it's a pretty remarkable document.

The paper's basic contention is that the government has the authority to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen if "an informed, high-level official" deems him to present a "continuing" threat to the country. This sweeping authority is said to exist even if the threat presented isn't imminent in any ordinary sense of that word, even if the target has never been charged with a crime or informed of the allegations against him, and even if the target is not located anywhere near an actual battlefield. The white paper purports to recognize some limits on the authority it sets out, but the limits are so vague and elastic that they will be easily manipulated.
The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.


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