Top 10 Veterans News from Around the Country 11-2-09

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What’s Inside Today’s Local News for Veterans 

1. Shinseki, Congress Concerned About Burn Pit Smoke. 
2. Cell Phone Option Improves Ability To Find Deceased Veterans’ Graves. 
3. Women Vets Of Iraq, Afghan Suffer From PTSD, May React By Withdrawing. 
4. Anthrax Vaccine Couldn’t Have Caused Gulf War Syndrome, Article Asserts. 
5. Guardsman’s Murder Trial Asserting PTSD Defense Is Detailed. 
6. New GI Bill Attracts Veterans To Colleges. 
7. Delayed GI Bill Benefits Leave Some Veterans Waiting. 
8. Following Injury, Iraq Vet Says VA Is His "Dream Job." 
9. Sister, VA Differ On Blame For Iraq Vet’s Death. 
10. First Responders Conference To Include PTSD Seminar. 

     

1.      Shinseki, Congress Concerned About Burn Pit Smoke.  The Tacoma (VA) News Tribune (11/1, Fontaine) reported, "The Department of Defense says its studies don’t bear out that burn pit smoke causes chronic illnesses," but Congress "isn’t so sure, having recently sent President Barack Obama a defense spending bill with provisions that restrict and monitor burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan." The President "signed the bill Wednesday." Meanwhile, back in August, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki "spoke with reporters" about burn pits, "saying his department wants to avoid the missteps of the past. ‘I can tell you, part of my frustration is dealing with the issues of Agent Orange 40 years after the last use of Agent Orange,’ Shinseki said. ‘So my interest is, ‘How do we…prevent a similar journey for burn pit smoke?"" 

2.      Cell Phone Option Improves Ability To Find Deceased Veterans’ Graves.  In continuing coverage, the KUWS-FM Superior, WI (11/1, Simonson) website said an "innovative government website is making deceased veterans’ graves more accessible than ever." Since the "inception of the grave finder website in 2004," the "location of 6.7 million veterans’ graves are available online," and "1000 records are added every day." And now, the "US Secretary of Veterans Affairs has a new website accessible by cell phone." 

3.      Women Vets Of Iraq, Afghan Suffer From PTSD, May React By Withdrawing.  In the fourth installment of its "Women At Arms" series, the New York Times (10/31, A1, Cave, 1.09M) reports, "Never before has this country seen so many women paralyzed by the psychological scars of combat. As of June 2008, 19,084 female veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan had received diagnoses of mental disorders from the Department of Veterans Affairs, including 8,454 women with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress — and this number does not include troops still enlisted, or those who have never used the V.A. system. Their mental anguish, from mortar attacks, the deaths of friends, or traumas that are harder to categorize, is a result of a historic shift. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the military has quietly sidestepped regulations that bar women from jobs in ground
combat." While women combat veterans appear to have PTSD at roughly the same rate as their male counterparts, their relative isolation while serving and the reception they met when returning to this country "have created differences in how they cope. A man, for instance, may come home and drink to oblivion with his war buddies while a woman — often after having been the only woman in her unit — is more likely to suffer alone." Although women are said to do better in therapy, "it typically takes years for them to seek help. In interviews, female veterans with post-traumatic stress said they did not always feel their problems were justified, or would be treated as valid by a military system that defines combat as an all-male activity." The report interviews returned women combat veterans who report that they "spend months or years as virtual shut-ins… while racked with guilt over who they have become." They also resent having their experience discounted by those at home. The Times quotes Tammy Duckworth, a seriously injured Iraq veteran who is now VA assistant secretary of public and intergovernmental affairs, that the women combat veterans’ experiences show that "we’re going through a change — just like in World War II with African-Americans, the military is ahead of the American public." The account notes military and VA efforts to publicize women’s war-zone service and VA’s systemic effort to provide primary care for women in all of its medical facilities, but adds that "Many others, however, insist that the military, the V.A. and other established veterans organizations have not fully adapted to women’s new roles." And while Duckworth and others at VA "say there is no systemic bias" in post-combat stress-related disability benefits, "the V.A. did not provide the number of men and women who had applied, making a comparison of rejection rates impossible." 

4.      Anthrax Vaccine Couldn’t Have Caused Gulf War Syndrome, Article Asserts.  A Wired (10/28, Biba, 743K) article aims to debunk fears that the organic substance squalene undermines the safety of vaccines. Citing the FDA, the article asserts that squalene "is simply not present in vaccines in the US," although it has been used in Europe. It also notes that "Some have suggested that squalene allegedly present in the anthrax vaccine given to military personnel could have caused Gulf War Syndrome," before calling that "impossible, according to several studies conducted by the FDA and other researchers. That’s because squalene was never added to the anthrax vaccine in the first place. Get this: The military determined that the trace amounts of squalene found in the anthrax vaccine didn’t come from the vaccine at all. Instead, it likely came from the oil of a fingerprint not cleaned from lab glassware."
     
Environmental Activist Likens Gulf War Syndrome To Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  In a letter to the editors of the New York Times (10/31, Lee, 1.09M), a lawyer for the environmentalist group Public Health and Sustainable Energy writes of being "struck by how similar chronic fatigue syndrome (or myalgic encephalomyelitis) is to the pathologies of gulf war syndrome, the illnesses of people subjected to low-level radiation exposure, and the maladies that plague communities near coal operations." In this view, "major shocks to the human system — particularly the immune, neurological and endocrine systems — can be
delivered through toxic exposure, infectious agents and other extreme stressors. And once these systems are hit with sufficiently large impact, they can set off broad systemic collapse. Think of it as the human body version of a nuclear plant meltdown."  

5.      Guardsman’s Murder Trial Asserting PTSD Defense Is Detailed.  The Portland-based Oregonian (11/1, Sullivan, 276K) carries a 3,000-word account of the trial of an Oregon Army National Guardsman retuned from serving in Iraq, in which "for the first time in Oregon, and among the first cases nationwide, post-traumatic stress from serving in Iraq was the defense for murder." Initially denied on a PTSD claim after seeking help at the Boise VA "because his PTSD symptoms were ‘too mild,’" Increasingly estranged from his family, Jessie Bratcher soon consulted a local psychotherapist who treats area veterans with mental health issues, reporting flashbacks of his best Army friend, who died in Iraq, and claiming to be "so depressed, angry and irritable that he camped in the woods, setting up military perimeters." After the VA re-evaluated him, he was found to be 70 percent disabled by PTSD, and when he was later found to be unemployable, the rating was boosted to 100%. After Bratcher shot a man who he thought had raped his girlfriend, a defense psychologist argued that he was legally insane, but the prosecutor suggested that Bratcher was faking. A prosecution psychologist who examined Batcher’s statements to the VA "did not rule out that Bratcher had PTSD. But he found red flags during his evaluation. Bratcher performed so poorly on memory tests as to be suspicious. Other facts seemed to be exaggerated. Bratcher reported every symptom of traumatic brain injury. His flashbacks, rare events in PTSD cases, were to events that never happened:" After a nine-day trial and two days of jury deliberation, Bratcher was found guilty, but by reason of insanity due to PTSD. He will be sentenced in early December.  

6.      New GI Bill Attracts Veterans To Colleges.  The Lafayette, Indiana-based Journal and Courier (11/1, Weddle) reports that "schools across the country are seeing a new class of veterans coming to campus for an education completely paid, for some, by Uncle Sam," thanks to the Post 9/11GI Bill. The Department of Veterans Affairs says that the bill is expected to bring as many as 440,000 students to campuses in fiscal year 2009-1020, up from 305,000 the previous year. The paper notes that the influx "is a challenge for veterans and colleges alike. For former military men and women, interacting with younger students and adjusting to a daily life of classes and studying might be a mental obstacle course. Colleges are scrambling to effectively pool resources to best help this new class of students." 

7.      Delayed GI Bill Benefits Leave Some Veterans Waiting.  In continuing coverage, the Denver Post (11/1, O’Connor, 282K) reported, "Some 60,000 applications" for Post- 9/11 GI Bill benefits "remain unprocessed nationwide, leaving some veterans waiting for tuition and stipend payments as
enrollment for the spring academic semester begins. In Colorado, many veterans have been processed into the system, but others are still waiting, forcing colleges to create systems to help keep them enrolled in school." Veterans Affairs "was swamped by applications for benefits before the fall semester began, forcing local VA offices to cut emergency living-expense checks. As of Oct. 22," the VA "had processed 225,000 of 285,000 applications from veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," but the "agency can’t tell which eligible veterans are actually in college until it receives enrollment certifications from the schools. It has received 66,800 enrollment certifications. As of Oct. 22, 54,600 have been processed, allowing" the VA "to pay tuition directly to the schools." 

8.      Following Injury, Iraq Vet Says VA Is His "Dream Job."  The Lafayette (IN) Journal & Courier (11/2, Weddle) reports, "After months of intense rehabilitation with therapists at the Indianapolis Veterans Affairs hospital," Iraq veteran Dylan Meadows "has recovered. But he was troubled by what he says was inadequate care overseas after the injury. Because of that experience," Meadows, who had been "an engineering student at Purdue University" prior to his deployment, "switched his major to clinical laboratory sciences with a concentration in pre-medicine. Now a junior, Meadows expects he will finish classes by 2012 before starting a yearlong clinical rotation, preferably in a veterans hospital. ‘Obviously I can’t go overseas and improve the entire health care (system), but I can do a little something about it,’ he said," adding, "My dream job is to work for the VA." 

9.      Sister, VA Differ On Blame For Iraq Vet’s Death.  The Los Angeles Times‘ (11/2, A1, Chong) front page, "Column One" story reports, "The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are challenging, if not taxing, veterans medical services. So far, nearly 36,000 troops have been wounded, many returning with injuries that in previous conflicts would have killed them. Some, like" 40-year-old Iraq veteran Pete Sinclair, who died in June 2008 from "acute morphine intoxication," endure "complications from physical and emotional trauma that neither surgery nor therapy nor medication can easily resolve." The Times notes that following his death, Sinclair’s sister "came to the conclusion that the VA had acted irresponsibly in prescribing…morphine" to her brother, but the "doctors in charge of Pete’s care said that the prescribed dosage of morphine was not particularly high. ‘We did the best we could,’ said psychologist Richard Hanson, who cared for Pete at the VA hospital in Long Beach. ‘We prescribed the medications in consultation with the patient that seemed most appropriate at the time.’" 

10.    First Responders Conference To Include PTSD Seminar.  The Casper (WY) Star-Tribune (11/2) reports an upcoming "conference for first responders…will revisit the Hurricane Katrina disaster and the lessons learned about linking victims to service, particularly crisis counseling. Sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Disaster Mental Health Institute," the "conference deals with
many of the necessary practice skills for various responders." A "special feature" at the conference, which "will be held…at the Plains Hotel in Cheyenne," is "a seminar on a new program for Wyoming called ‘Give an Hour," which "asks mental health practitioners to spend one hour a week in person or by phone talking to returning veterans and their families." Jamie Egolf, "a psychotherapist in Laramie" who "will help conduct a seminar on specific treatments" for post-traumatic stress disorder, "said the Veterans Administration is having trouble seeing all the veterans with this disorder." The Billings (MT) Gazette (11/2) runs the same story.

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