Thursday, February 28, 2008

Mental Health and the Military

AlterNet has a story titled "Military Doctors Withholding Treatment from Soldiers with Mental Health Problems". There's really nothing new about that, the military has always fallen far short of providing adequate mental health treatment for the troops. What's new is the lack of sufficient manpower in the military today which is causing extreme levels of stress on some units.
Over the past 6 years and and six months, their 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT) has been the most deployed brigade in the army. As of this month, the brigade had completed its fourth tour of Iraq. All in all, the soldiers of BCT have spent 40 months in Iraq.

And, not just in Iraq. They've done combat tours in Afghanistan also.
Meanwhile, the soldiers of the 2nd BCT have been given too little time off in between deployments: In one case they had only six months to mentally "re-set"; following an eight-month tour in Afghanistan -- before beginning a 12-month tour in Iraq.

The 12 months turned into 15. They haven't been handling that well.
This level of losses is unusual. "On their most recent deployment," the VFA report notes, "members of the 2nd BCT were more than five times as likely to be killed as others who have been deployed to OEF and OIF and more than four times likely to be wounded." One can only wonder to what degree depression and other mental health problems made them more vulnerable to attack.

They're back in Fort Drum, New York now. In the dead of winter, and many of them are severely depressed.
Soldiers told the VFA that "the leader of the mental health treatment clinic at Fort Drum asked soldiers not to discuss their mental health problems with people outside the base. Attempts to keep matters 'in house' foster an atmosphere of secrecy and shame," the report observed "that is not conducive to proper treatment for combat-related mental health injuries."

That's the way the military likes to handle mental health problems. Ignore it. Sweep it under the rug. Be tough. The military Officer Corp is really very poorly trained in how to actually work with people. The command structure of the military is still based on some 19th century idea of command by bluster and threats.

I served on a ship for a short period with a guy who had chronic sea sickness. It was really bad. He simply couldn't function at sea. Not at all. He came to our ship from some brig time after he'd gone over the hill before a 6 month deployment on his last ship. They busted him to E1 and put him on another ship. The official Navy diagnosis was that he was a slacker.

One day, while we were tied up alongside a pier in San Diego, we were below deck, having coffee in the berthing compartment and he started turning green and getting sick. He claimed we were moving. It turns out we were moving. We didn't know it but the ship had been untied from the pier and pushed out by a tug so that another ship could slip in and tie up pierside (then they tied us up alongside that ship). His body could detect that slight movement. And it was so slight that none of the other 6 or so experienced sailors with us below could feel it.

He wasn't a slacker. He was a hard worker who did his job in port. I only went to sea with him once. On a three day trip to the yards in Bremerton he was completely incapacitated. I got out of the Navy shortly after that so I don't know what happened to him. I'm pretty sure they just kept sending him to the brig until they tired of him then gave him a BCD and let him loose to try to repair his destroyed life as best he could. All because Navy psychiatrists kept diagnosing him as perfectly healthy, as a guy who was faking it to try to get out of a deployment to Vietnam.

That was absurd thinking at best. If the Navy would have dealt with his illness as it should have they'd have simply found a shore duty assignment for him. In 1968, for a bos'n mate, that would have meant some warehouse or dockside line-handling job in-country. Getting out of sea duty wasn't a way to escape danger. But the Navy was just pretty much run by idiots. The military is still run by idiots.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Vietnamese and Agent Orange

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

GI Bill educational benefits

The GI bill sure has gotten more complicated than it used to be. Now they have benefits for reservists, now you can transfer your benefits to dependents, all kinds of stuffs that didn't used to be part of the GI Bill.

Let's just look at part of it, GI Bill for Selected Reserve. That's 36 months of educational benefits for reservists who have a 6 year obligation and have completed initial active duty for training (basic).
You may use this education assistance program for degree programs, certificate or correspondence courses, cooperative training, independent study programs, apprenticeship/on-the-job training, and vocational flight training programs. Remedial, refresher and deficiency training are available under certain circumstances.

You have 14 years to use the benefit (more if you are called to Active Duty).

This is really a pretty good deal.

But not exactly a great deal. The monthly payments for the Reserve version of the GI Bill are only $317 for a fulltime college student. Of course every little bit helps, but it's not much. When I was drawing GI Bill money for college in the early '70's I was getting $256 a month.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Simularities between depression and post-traumatic stress disorder

PTSD and depression have similar symptoms and, particularly in veterans, often go hand in hand. Common symptoms are
(For PSTD) symptoms include recurrent recollections or dreams about war, flashbacks that cause you to relive various traumas, and avoidance of any reminders of combat. The condition can also result in emotional numbing (diminished responsiveness to the world around you), intense distress when confronted with reminders of battle, and hyperarousal, a feeling of frequently being on edge and on the alert for new threats.


Depressed veterans often feel worthless and profoundly sad, but other typical symptoms include poor concentration, lack of interest in social activities, feeling of hopelessness and helplessness, changes in appetite, difficulty sleeping, or oversleeping, unusual irritability, apathy and listlessness, and suicidal thoughts or attempts.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

The 6 services in VA non-institutinal long term care for veterans

The Veterans Administration offers 6 non-institutional services related to long term health care.

1. Adult day health care An outpatient day program, which provides health maintenance and rehabilitative services to frail elderly and functionally impaired veterans.

2. Geriatric evaluation An inpatient or outpatient program where an interdisciplinary health care team performs multidimensional evaluations on a targeted group of elderly patients.

3. Respite care A program with the unique purpose of providing temporary relief for unpaid caregivers from routine care giving tasks, thus supporting caregivers in maintaining the chronically ill veteran in the home.

4. Home-based primary care Primary health care in the home directed to severely disabled, chronically ill patients.

5. Homemaker/home health aide Pays for homemaker and home health aide assistance for veterans.

6. skilled home health care. In-home professional services that include: skilled nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, social work services, clinical assessment, treatment planning, treatment provision, patient and/or family education, health status monitoring, reassessment, referral, and follow-up.

These services are not offered at every VA region and in many cases there is a waiting list.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Combat Veterans in the US Senate

At one time you couldn't get elected to the US Senate without some kind of history of military experience. Since we don't have a draft anymore most Americans don't serve and we no longer expect it of our politicians. But the Senate actually has a few vets, although most of them served the the National Guard or Reserve in the days when the National Guard and Reserve were at almost no risk of being called up for combat, it was just a way to dodge the draft.

But we do have 10 Senators with actual combat service. I think that's a good thing

#Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI)
#Thomas Carper (D-DEL)
#Chuck Hagel (R-NE)
#Daniel Inouye (D-HI) (Medal of Honor)
#John Robert Kerry (D-MA)
#Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
#John R. McCain (R-AZ)
#Ted Stevens (R-AK)
#John R. Warner (R-VA)
#Jim Webb (D-VA)


PTSD and Ecstasy

Research is underway to treat PTSD with the outlawed drug Ecstasy.

Although the research is being conducted in South Carolina, and has FDA approval, the researchers are mostly Swiss and Norwegians. Research into medicinal uses of outlawed recreational drugs without a patent owned by a big drug company just isn't popular in the United States.

Maybe the work will bear fruit. But I think it's doubtful that the VA will be giving vets with PTSD ecstasy anytime soon.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Agent Orange

If you served in-country in Vietnam and have been diagnosed with
Hodgkin’s disease.
Multiple myeloma.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Prostate cancer.
Respiratory cancers (cancer of the lung, bronchus, larynx, or trachea).
Soft-tissue sarcoma (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma).

Then you are eligible for a VA service connected disability payment.

Some shipboard service might count as in-country if you operated in coastal or inland waters. Having anchored in DaNang harbor would be considered operation in inland waters, for example.

You can get help applying for VA benefits from most Veterans Service Organizations.

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Some stories

This page has some stories of VN vets who live in South Dakato. Here's an example
I, as a young seventeen year old, joined the Navy. I was on 3 DIFFERENT carriers with Attack Squadron 36 including the USS Saratoga, USS America, and the USS Enterprise. I was blown overboard and into the nets my first time on the flight deck, but then went on to be the squadron trouble shooter, checking and arming the planes while on the catapults to be launched, working flight quarters to flight quarters. I then was attached to the Army and the CH 47 Chinook, 610th Transportation at Qui Nhon in the central highlands and later Red Beach, ten miles north of DaNang. Of the 4 years, 6 months, and 4 days that I served, I was overseas 4 years and 4 days of it, 2 years of which were in Vietnam.

When I returned home, I disconnected myself from all things and went on with my life...most people in my community never even knew that I had served my country. Then one day in 2002 my son, Michael, died after a valiant battle with soft tissue sarcoma. With my family's encouragement, I went to the VA seeking medical answers, but instead, I was treated crudely and rudely, to say the least. I gave up, but my daughter would not. She persisted until the VA personnel agreed to do the Agent Orange tests. I finally was given the tests, but later was told the results would not be given to me because it served NO PURPOSE either way.

I was told to start seeing my local doctor as it would cost me for any more calls to the VA. I served my country PROUDLY, in fact, I did things that if asked to do today, I wouldn't even consider. I was paid hazardous duty and combat pay at the same time for pennies per hour for what I was doing for my country in Vietnam.

Now they say because once again I am part of society and worked for a living, they WON'T HELP me. I ask nothing more of them than to support the Agent Orange research and to provide those who are left affected by Agent Orange with the necessary medical information. The truth is there should be another 100,000 names on the wall...of the ones who came home and died as well as the veterans' children who continue to die as a result of the chemicals. South Dakota has stood VERY TALL not once but TWICE now for the Vietnam veterans.

When in GOD's name are the VA and our government going to stand Tall and do what is right to help those who are left with the Agent Orange issue? WHEN ARE THEY GOING TO SERVE THE VETERANS AS HONORABLY AS THE VETERANS SERVED THEN???

I don't think anyone with an ounce of common sense believes we have adequately addressed the Agent Orange issue. We all know there is a serious problem to be resolved, not only for the veterans but for their children as well.

Ship board violence

Richard DeNoble was a friend of mine. Like me, he was a Seaman (E3) in the deck force of a destroyer (USS Hull) on the VN Naval Gunline. He was a real nice guy. Big, quiet, unassuming. I let him down.

Our Division Officer was ENS Joseph Santarlasci, a real piece of work, a twit. None of us really had any meaningful respect for him.

We went to Vietnam short-handed of Petty Officers in the deck crew. We had one BM2 and one BM3. The BM2 was a lifer, the BM3 a reservist. We had a BM1 until right before we deployed but he had just gotten out of the Navy to accept a Warrant in the Army (driving Army supply barges on rivers). He wasn't replaced until we got a BMC and two more BM2's about 4 months after we got to Vietnam.

This happened when the BM2, his name was Duck, was a senior division petty officer. He was your typical 8th grade educated boatswains mate from the hills of Arkansas. He was from Mountian Home, Arkansas. Just a big, dumb redneck. But Santarlasci depended on him heavily.

One morning at quarters DeNoble muttered something insulting about Santarlasci and a couple of us standing near him laughed. Santarlasci glared at us then whispered something to Duck. Duck ordered DeNoble to go below.

As DeNoble started to climb down the hatch Duck stood behind him and kicked him in the back, knocking him down the hole to the deck below. Duck then climbed down the ladder, following him. We could hear the sounds of a scuffle below.

Santarlasci stood there trying to look all tough. Nobody moved to help DeNoble, and I really thought I should. But there really wasn't anything any of us could have done, at least that's what I'm sure we all were telling ourselves.

In my case, Duck was a lot bigger and meaner than me. Any attempt to help DeNoble would have gotten me hurt. In those kinds of situations at sea in a war zone you can't really dismiss the possibility of just getting killed. And even if a bunch of us helped and most of us didn't get hurt, when it was over the story would have been told by Santarlasci and we'd have ended up in a brig. Nobody would have asked any non-rated sailors accused of mutiny what had happened, that's just not the way the Navy I was in worked.

I felt terrible. I still fell terrible. Helpless. My chest is trembling as I type this, 40 years after it happened. I wanted to help him so badly. But I was afraid.

DeNoble was okay afterwards. He had some kind of rib injury, I don't know if they were fractured or bruised, or what. He wasn't allowed to go to sick bay, he was threatened and there would have been more retaliation if he'd have gone on sick call. For a couple of weeks he had some pretty severe pain whenever he moved his upper body. But it healed itself eventually.

Joseph Santarlasci was a real piece of work. A real loser. A scared little boy with no ethical backbone at all. But we couldn't really touch him. The Navy is very class conscious and on board ship officers are pretty much untouchable, the punishment for retribution against Santarlasci would have been severe, no matter how worthless a human being he actually was.

There was small amount of retribution against Duck. A couple of nights after it happened someone broke into Duck's locker and threw everything he owned over the side. After that Duck posted a guard on his rack every night in two hour shifts. The guard had to wake him up when he was relieved. After a week of that Duck negotiated an early re-enlistment in exchange for a transfer to another ship. I think him having everything he owned thrown over the side in the dead of night scared him as much as I was scared that day. Probably more so because he knew there were 20 men who would like nothing better than to throw him over the side.

I want to apologize to Richard DeNoble for not having helped him that day.

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Veterans History Project

Participate in the Veterans History Project
A participant may be a veteran, an interviewer, or person donating a veteran’s collection
The Project collects first-hand accounts of US veterans who served in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War (1990-1995), or Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts (2001-present). U.S. citizen civilians who actively supported war efforts (such as war industry workers, USO workers, flight instructors, medical volunteers, defense contractors, etc.) are also invited to share their valuable stories.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

VA Pension

You don't have to have a service connected disability to get a VA pension.
You can receive a monthly pension if you are a
wartime veteran with limited income, and you
are permanently and totally disabled or at least
65 years old.
Time Limits: There is no time limit to apply for
Compensation and Pension benefits.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

VA Home Loans

The VA doesn't give loans, they guarentee loans which are given by banks or mortgage companies. The gaurentee by the VA will get the vet a lower interest rate than he'd have otherwise been able to get.

You're eligible for a VA loan if you served during WWII, Korea, or Vietnam for at least 90 days under other than dishonorable conditions.

You're eligible if you served pre-1980 peacetime for at least 181 days.

Post 1980 you're eligible if you served 24 months of continuous active duty or 6 years of active reserves.

In some cases you qualify with shorter terms than any of the above specifications if you were seperated from active duty because of a service connected disability, a hardship, or other reasons.