Thursday, September 27, 2012

Opinion: A battle that returning soldiers can’t fight alone

Opinion: A battle that returning soldiers can’t fight alone

By Kristina Kaufmann
Posted : Tuesday Sep 25, 2012 13:36:43 EDT

In my 11 years as an Army wife, I’ve known more people who have taken their own lives than have been killed in combat. My personal experience is reflected in the terrifying statistics — 40 soldiers died by suicide in July alone; 212 soldiers have committed suicide this year. The Veterans Affairs Department estimates we lose 18 veterans every day to suicide, and although we have no official numbers, I know three fellow Army wives who’ve killed themselves — but that’s not something we talk about.

After over a decade of sustained conflict and multiple deployments, we now have an entire generation of military families that know nothing but war — and that war comes home. “You know you’re a wounded warrior wife,” wrote one spouse on Facebook, “when your first thought each morning as you open your eyes is, did he make it through the night, or was last night the night he chose to give up?”

It is families who most often see the warning signs and bear the brunt of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

Yet, despite an unprecedented effort by military leadership — allocating billions of dollars, hiring thousands of mental health providers and creating hundreds of suicide prevention and resiliency programs — neither the Defense Department nor VA has effectively integrated families and community support into their suicide prevention efforts. Until they do, the number of suicides will continue to climb, even as the wars come to an end.

“It shouldn’t be this hard,” said Leslie McCaddon, who lost her husband, Capt. Michael McCaddon, to suicide on March 21. “We saw this freight train coming for seven years, but the Army said he was doing fine at work and that it sounded like a ‘family issue.’”

Unfortunately, Mrs. McCaddon’s experience is far from the exception. The military has a maddening way of both dismissing families and holding them accountable at the same time.

Suicide and the mental health issues that precede an attempt are complex and often messy — which makes it extremely difficult to solve, especially for an organization as traditional and hierarchical as the military. Throw in the “suck-it-up-and-drive-on” mentality so prevalent — and so necessary to survive 10 years of war — and you have an almost perfect storm.

Ongoing efforts to integrate mental health into primary care and unit settings show promise, but most of the prevention, screening and treatment programs lack oversight, and have not been formally evaluated for effectiveness. Other challenges, like the lack of bio-markers to diagnose PTSD and mild TBI, and the lack of comprehensive treatment guidelines for veterans dealing with both conditions — will likely require years of research and clinical trials.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has set the right tone to help battle the stigma associated with asking for help.

“We will not tolerate actions that belittle, haze or ostracize,” he said during a suicide prevention conference in June.

But our military leaders must bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality by changing the policies that disenfranchise families from suicide prevention efforts, and ignore the secondary trauma they often experience.

Anti-stigma campaigns urge our warriors to ask for help if they are struggling, and wives are instructed to alert their husband’s chain of command if they see warning signs. But almost nothing is said about what happens if we do ask for help, and there are no policies to assuage career or privacy concerns for those brave enough to do so. And when a spouse attempts or commits suicide, there are no standard operating procedures to help guide a commander’s response. In Iraq and Afghanistan, mental health assessment teams, made up of behavioral health professionals, have been used to gather information that resulted in actionable recommendations and changes in policy. These same teams could be used as effectively at home.

But even if everything in the DoD and VA were working perfectly, we cannot take care of this level of need by ourselves. Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, often referred to the “sea of goodwill” in civilian America. There are more than 40,000 nonprofits dedicated to supporting service members, veterans and families, including Not Alone and Give an Hour, which provide free mental health counseling.

But most of us have never heard of them, largely because the vaguely worded and stringently interpreted DoD Joint Ethics Regulation makes it difficult for the services to effectively partner with the private sector. Congress should ask the Office of the Secretary of Defense General Counsel for an interpretive clarification of the regulation to increase collaboration between civilians and the military.

President Obama’s recent executive order sets up a task force intended to bring all interested parties together to “improve awareness and reduce stigma” for those needing care. But it stops short of including families.

It needs to solicit and embrace input from surviving family members and nongovernmental organizations — who could help change the way Americans honor people with invisible wounds of war.

Kristina Kaufmann is the executive director of the Code of Support Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bridging the gap between civilian and military America. Her email address

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

MILITARY: PTSD reduced with integrative medicine, Scripps Health study finds

Originally Published HERE
Published On: 24 September 2012
By: Bradley J. Fikes with NC Times

Monday, September 24, 2012

DOD, VA launch $100M TBI and PTSD effort

Originally Published with The Stars and Stripes

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Defend our veterans at home like they defend us abroad

Defend our veterans at home like they defend us abroad

By William M. Chodkowski, policy analyst, American Security Project. -09/21/12

In many debates on national defense and security, we tend to focus on tangible evidence: troops deployed, dollars spent, or insurgents eliminated. Often lost in the numbers are the profound efforts and sacrifices of our servicemen. Beyond putting their lives on the line during confrontation, America’s volunteer military members make significant sacrifices that can be all-too-easily overlooked by civilians and policymakers. As a nation, our treatment of veterans should reach beyond medical care to help them adjust mentally and emotionally as they return home upon completion of service.

Media accounts highlight the plight of veterans, many returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan, only to experience heightened feelings of isolation. The list of afflictions is vast, including heightened rates of suicide, unemployment, marital problems, substance abuse, access to firearms, and homelessness – and the interplay has compounding effects. Though all of these trends are alarming, perhaps most worrisome are unemployment and suicide, which show vividly how veterans are struggling to assimilate into society, both practically and psychologically. 

Suicide rates among uniformed personnel have reached an apex, and outnumber average rates for the general population for the first time in history, as of 2010. Meanwhile, unemployment rates among veterans in August 2012 were 2.5 percentage points higher than the national average of 8.1%. A DoD-sponsored study released by the Institute of Medicine in September also reveals ten-year increases in heavy drinking, binge drinking, and prescription drug abuse among military members.

The suspected driver behind many of the problems afflicting veterans is the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) among veterans. Whereas TBI typically results from physical impact, like the kind delivered by an IED blast, exposure to combat is not necessarily a prerequisite for PTSD. In fact, the simple stress of training and waiting for deployment orders can be enough to lead to symptoms. According to a recent American Forces Press Service release, roughly 15% of active duty service members and veterans suffer from impaired functioning in some capacity as a result of PTSD. 

Retired Army general and veterans-health advocate Peter Chiarelli cites vast improvements in the reduction of stigmas surrounding PTSD within the services. Nonetheless, he makes a clear distinction between acknowledging a problem and being properly equipped to fix it: the task for Washington in assuring that veterans are treated properly for physical, mental, and emotional ailments stemming from service.

Despite skepticism regarding continued presence in Afghanistan, a 2010 Rasmussen Reports study and a 2009 American Enterprise Institute report rate overall American opinions of the military in the range between 75-80% positive. Compared to ratings for the president and Congress, civilian approval and support for the armed services much more closely resemble the traditional definition of a “mandate.” Americans clearly feel a strong allegiance to the people who defend the nation, yet that preference in support for veterans’ care and well-being is not perfectly reflected through budgeting processes. The ideal democratic budgeting method would be an allocation of resources echoing the preferences of a majority. However, this principle is extremely difficult to encapsulate pragmatically. The data reveal an important message to policymakers as they sort through deficit reduction strategies: Americans maintain an overwhelming preference to support military/veteran well-being through domestic aid. And in many regards, they are getting it right thus far.

Recently announced Department of Veterans Affairs programs designed to improve quality of life for former servicemen include $28 million in grants for housing of homeless veterans, the full allocation of 45,000 available Veterans Retraining Assistance Program slots doling out roughly $1,500 monthly for a year of education, and a joint $100 million VA/DoD study on the effects of PTSD and TBI. A large part of the reason VA can continue to program funds when other departments are in a state of limbo pending sequestration is that lawmakers never put VA funding in jeopardy under the provisions of the 2011 Budget Control Act. 

According to a Professional Services Council report, the Department of Veterans Affairs is the only civilian department or agency whose discretionary spending for FY2013 would not be reduced under the sequester, whereas other agencies would face reductions of 7.8% on average. In an ever-polarized setting, this was a rational, reasonable commitment by Congress to veterans. Though military and veterans issues like the defense budget and the proposal to create a Veterans Job Corps will continue to fuel partisan bickering in the coming months, Congress’s loyalty to former servicemen as reflected in a stable VA budget was a smart move.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment, Diagnosis Continues To Elude Military Doctors

Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment, Diagnosis Continues To Elude Military Doctors


WASHINGTON -- After more than a decade of war, the U.S. military cannot precisely diagnose concussion-related brain injuries resulting from the bomb blasts that are the most common cause of combat casualties.

The mechanism of the injury -- how the shock of blast can cause lingering headaches, dizziness, memory loss and insomnia -- is not understood either, according to the Pentagon's top expert on Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Without a precise diagnosis or understanding of the injury, the treatment offered by the Pentagon consists mainly of rest and reassurance.

As a result, tens of thousands of Americans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan may have been injured but were never diagnosed properly -- or at all. They may be unnecessarily worried for their health. Or, they could be lacking the kind of therapy and other treatment that might help prevent more severe problems later in life.

Most of those who experience a blast-related brain injury recover relatively quickly. Defense Department experts say soldiers will suffer no consequences of the injury. But while some researchers suggest that the lifetime consequences of a blast-related brain injury could be significant, there are no long-term studies on the effects of concussion on combat veterans.

Moderate and severe braConcuin injuries can be readily diagnosed with brain imaging scanners, which can detect lesions in the brain or other physical damage. But brain injury caused by concussion, which the military labels mild Traumatic Brain Injury, or mTBI, is far more common, often leaving the injured soldier dazed and unable to function properly. But while mTBI is serious, it leaves behind no obvious physical damage, making it impossible to diagnose directly.

Only by asking the injured service member "What happened?" can medics and doctors begin to piece together a guess that the trooper has suffered a concussion and could have mTBI. But concussions can result in short-term memory loss, or even brief unconsciousness.

So the current testing is "Not good enough," said Katherine M. Helmick, the Pentagon's senior TBI expert. "With moderate and severe TBI we have very clear markers. With mTBI what we have is a story. We are asking [the wounded] to remember what they can't remember! It's very faulty."

Quick and accurate diagnosis of mTBI is critical, Helmick said, so that battlefield medics can pull injured soldiers off duty to prevent a second injury. Current military policy is for medics to quickly determine if a soldier has had a concussion, and if so to order him to a safe place for rest and observation for a day or two.

Helmick is deputy director for TBI,Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, which oversees clinical prctice and research related to Traumatic Brain Injury.

Without a clear idea of how concussion affects memory, concentration, balance, sleep and other brain functions, doctors and therapists have found that the best treatment is rest -- and reassuring the patient that he or she will get better.

"We don't have pills that are FDA-approved for TBI, we don't have a bunch of therapies that are FDA-approved or supported for TBI," Helmick told The Huffington Post. "What has been shown to be an effective treatment is letting them know they have had a concussion, that this is what you can expect and you will get better."

The most effective treatment for mTBI, she said, is "if you set that expectation, that they will improve."

Recognizing the drawbacks of current diagnosis and treatment of mTBI, the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) this week announced a new$100 million research effort to find better ways to diagnose and treat mTBI and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a form of combat trauma with many of the same symptoms as mTBI.

"PTSD and mTBI are two of the most prevalent injuries suffered by our warfighters in Iraq and Afghanistan, and identifying better treatments for those impacted is critical," Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant defense secretary for health affairs, said in a statement.

For some, the research will come too late.

Jaime M. Beavers was a 26-year-old private first class when he was deployed into combat in Iraq. He spent 27 months at war over two tours; he was exposed to IED blasts six times, including one explosion that knocked him unconscious. He was given medication to help him cope with anxiety, pain and sleeplessness, but he was never diagnosed with TBI until he was dismissed from active duty for drug abuse and eventually made his way to a VA hospital for help.

Beavers still struggles with dizziness and has difficulty with speech, memory and focus, making it hard for him to find a job or finish school.

Almost a quarter-million military men and women have been diagnosed with some form of TBI. Most of them were not injured in a battlefield blast, but from training accidents or motor vehicle -- and especially motorcycle -- wrecks.

But the battlefield toll of brain injury is significant. Since 2003, the military has identified 43,299 service men and women who deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan and experienced some form of TBI, according to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center. The vast majority of them suffered mTBI. In the summer of 2010, for instance, the military's Theater Medical Data Store listed 1,331 cases of war-zone mTBI, 45 cases of "moderate" TBI and two cases of "severe" TBI, according to data assembled for The Huffington Post.

As early as 2003, combat medics in Iraq and Afghanistan were reporting patients they believed had suffered a concussion. But not until four years later, in 2007, did the Defense Department institute widespread battlefield testing of injured troops suspected of having suffered a concussion.

"There were some indications early on that that the previous administration really didn't want to address this problem," said Dr. James Kelly, director of the National Intrepid Center for TBI at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

Within the Defense Department, he told The Huffington Post, "There was the top-down message that said, 'Suck it up, we don't need to hear about this' -- especially the mTBI, even though there were lots of people saying that this was a serious problem.

"That was the [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld era within the Defense Department," Kelly said.

But as evidence of widespread combat brain injuries accumulated in 2006, the Defense Department began a concerted effort to screen troops wounded in bomb blasts or vehicle collisions in which they might have suffered a concussion, or worse. The test that began to be widely used in 2007, called the Military Acute Concussion Evaluation (MACE), included a list of five words that the injured person is supposed to repeat back to the medic.

The test met with resistance among combat troops, who didn't want to be pulled away from their units or tagged with a "mental" condition. Medics soon were reporting that some soldiers and Marines tested were turning in perfect scores -- they had memorized the word lists beforehand.

The MACE was quickly revised to include a variety of different word lists. And the testing confirmed the suspicion of many researchers that huge numbers of troops were suffering from concussion-related brain injuries. Between 2006 and 2007, when the test was widely used, the number of diagnosed TBI injuries doubled, from 2,974 to 6,208, according to Pentagon data, even while the pace of overall battlefield casualties was declining.

That data suggests that thouands of combat troops may have received a mild Traumatic Brain Injury and, like Jaime Beavers, were not diagnosed.

Hundreds of research projects are already underway to find out more about mTBI. Together the VA and the Pentagon have already invested some $600 million in brain injury research, Helmick said. But answers are elusive.

"I wish I knew exactly what in the brain, from a structural and physiological standpoint, is causing terrible headaches, loss of memory -- is it something with blood vessels? It's very mystifying," said Helmick. And for diagnosis, "I would love to have a blood test so I could say, 'Yup -- you've had a concussion.' Science is moving in that direction," but right now, she said, "We don't have anything like that."

Above all, Helmick is frustrated that the military cannot tell someone exposed to a blast if or how severely they've been injured.

"We don't have all the answers," she said. "But I don't want to tell an 18-year-old kid with two tours in Iraq and exposure to blast that I'm worried about his functionality, unless I had a good strong reason."

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Report Faults Military’s Strategies on Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Report Faults Military’s Strategies on Drug and Alcohol Abuse

September 17, 2012

Despite a well-documented increase in the abuse of alcohol and prescription medications among military personnel over the past decade, the Defense Department’s strategies for screening, treating and preventing those problems remains behind the times, a major new report finds.

“Better care for service members and their families is hampered by inadequate prevention strategies, staffing shortages, lack of coverage for services that are proved to work, and stigma associated with these disorders,” said Charles P. O’Brien, chairman of the panel that wrote the report and the director of the Center for Studies of Addiction at the University of Pennsylvania.

The report by the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, asserts that heavy drinking “is an accepted custom” within the military that needs to be regulated more carefully, recommending routine screening for excessive alcohol use.

About 20 percent of active-duty military personnel reported heavy drinking in 2008, the latest year for which data were available, and reports of binge drinking increased to 47 percent in 2008, from 35 percent in 1998, according to the report.

The report noted that while rates of illicit and prescription drug abuse are relatively low, the rate of medication misuse — particularly of opioid pain killers — has risen sharply: 11 percent of active-duty personnel reported misusing prescription drugs in 2008, up from 2 percent in 2002.

Such prescription-drug abuse is rising faster within the military than among civilians, and is perhaps more common than the use of illegal drugs like cocaine or marijuana. Yet the military’s drug-testing regimen, created in the post-Vietnam era, continues to focus on certain illegal drugs that may not be the main problem anymore, the 14-member panel concluded.

The panel, while commending the Pentagon for taking steps in recent years both to curb prescription drug abuse and expand availability of substance abuse programs, asserts the military needs to do more to reduce the stigma attached to seeking substance abuse treatment.

Among other things, the report recommends that prevention and treatment programs be integrated more into primary care, a step it says would encourage more people to seek care. The report also says that the armed services could do more to maintain confidentiality of service members who request care for substance abuse disorders.

“While services are available through military treatment facilities for active duty service members, the number of patients treated is below epidemiological expectations,” the report says. “Barriers to care apparently inhibit use of these services. These barriers include the structure and location of the services, a reliance on residential care, and stigma that inhibits help-seeking behavior early on.”

On the treatment side, the panel recommended that the military health system reduce its reliance on residential and inpatient care programs and instead focus on expanding outpatient programs. Such outpatient programs are better suited for dealing with the long-term nature of substances abuse treatment, the authors said.

Dr. Richard A. Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, who has studied prescription drug use in the military, said the panel’s recommendations are “full of common sense” and, given the uptick in prescription drug and alcohol abuse, not particularly controversial.

The problem, he said, will be finding money to implement its recommendations, which might require hiring additional personnel.

“It isn’t as if the military doesn’t know the right thing to do,” Dr. Friedman said. “It is that they are so understaffed and underfinanced.”

In a statement, Cynthia O. Smith, a spokeswoman for the Department of Defense, said Pentagon officials were still analyzing the institute’s recommendations.

“If there are areas in need of improvement, then we will work to improve those areas,” Ms. Smith said. “The health and well-being of our service members is paramount.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

'I have PTSD ... So what?' Army veteran's essay resonates

'I have PTSD ... So what?' Army veteran's essay resonates

By Bill Briggs, NBC News contributor 

It began with an Army veteran’s exasperated affirmation and a purposely casual question, just 22 keystrokes.

Then, a gush of feelings, dammed up for years by the attached stigma, cascaded from Rob Ulrey’s mind through his fingers to his computer screen; 770 words, a personal purge, a plea for understanding: “I am tormented in my dreams ... I am functional in society ... I am medicated ... I am always on the lookout for danger ... I have no regrets ... I am just as normal as you."

His opening line: “I have PTSD ... So what?”

Last February, that post on Ulrey’s military website — penned partly to set “the media” straight, partly as an online life buoy for men and women like him — resonated with hundreds of current and former service members who posted comments to echo and empathize with the former Army gunner’s frustrations and fears. The reactions haven’t stopped coming: “I am living this with you,” wrote Mike R. on Aug. 27, and “Thanks for these words,” typed Greg H., also on Aug. 27. Talk of the column has spread far and wide among American military ranks.

"The comments it got, and that it's getting, are really kind of inspiring. It seemed like it touched a lot of people. A lot of it was guys and girls who just seemed real lonely out there, real isolated," Ulrey told NBC News. "And they just seemed real relieved there was somebody out there like them."

Ulrey now looks at his essay as — if not the first embers of a true movement — maybe the early moments of a fundamental shift in the public discourse on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a series of anxiety-based symptoms afflictingup to an estimated 500,000 U.S. troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He wrote the article, he said, at roughly the same time he finally sought treatment, 15 years after an IED in Bosnia shattered his wrist, blew out his eardrums and began chronically haunting his slumber.

“It just came out of me, just kind of flowed from the heart,” Ulrey told NBC News. “I guess my higher calling is to make sure other veterans get this message, get the help they need. But If I can make people understand we’re not the big, evil demons that some people make us out to be, so much the better.”

Indeed, the piece was meant to be aimed largely at "mainstream" media outlets, Ulrey said. Amid a litany of news reports in recent years about young veterans committing violence or suicide, he winced at how often journalists swiftly linked the acts to PTSD.

"I, along with my cohorts, have been classified as a potential powder keg just waiting on that spark to set us off into a murderous explosion of ire. This is not the case," Ulrey wrote in his post.

That sort of breathless PTSD coverage has painted the diagnosis, and perhaps all combat veterans, with a social stain, Ulrey said. PTSD evokes concerned whispers from family members, worried glances from co-workers, and dead-ends at job interviews.

"The stigma is so negative. I’ve heard time and time again from veterans: 'I’m not getting the looks (from companies) that I should be getting. I’m not getting that second interview.' I know some guys who are leaving stuff off their resumes or downplaying what they did during their time in the service so that it doesn’t trigger those kinds of questions (about mental health).

"You’re automatically tainted just because of your service, even if you don’t have PTSD at all," Ulrey said.

But it's not just corporate America that, in Ulrey's view, misunderstands PTSD. Even inside the military, the disorder, and certainlythe act of service members seeking help for it, is often viewed as a personal flaw, or as a lack of mental muscle, he added.

"They’ve been suffering with it and they’ve been afraid to say anything about it, because they were afraid of the ramifications," Ulrey said. "In the military, if you need to go to mental health, then you’re weak. And we don’t have weak in the military. We’re warriors, we’re not supposed to feel this way. But it will take out the baddest dude or the littlest, wimpiest dude. It doesn’t discriminate."

At the top of the U.S. military pyramid, however, leaders say they are toiling to change that old thinking.

"Seeking help is a sign of strength not weakness," said Cynthia O. Smith, a spokeswoman for the Defense Department. "No, military careers aren't at risk for seeking help."

As proof, Smith e-mailed NBC News a memo, signed May 10 by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, that read: "Leaders throughout the chain of command must actively promote a constructive command climate that ... encourages individuals to reach out for help when needed."

And on the topic of Ulrey's matter-of-fact pitch for America to stop demonizing PTSD and those diagnosed with it, Smith said: "Mental health disorders, like most medical conditions, are treatable. Many service members with symptoms of PTSD recover with appropriate medication and/or psychotherapy within a few months."

Ulrey's medication includes prescribed blood-pressure drugs that prevent the flashback nightmares he once suffered. Those dreams used to wake him with a jolt four to five times a night and caused him to sweat so profusely that his sheets often were drenched by dawn.

"I have never physically assaulted anyone out of anger or rage," he typed last February. "I have never committed violence in the workplace, just like the vast majority of those who suffer with me. My co-workers know I spent time in the military but they do not know of my daily struggles, and they won’t."

But like any good writer, Ulrey has picked up on the irony in his larger quest to convince the world to simply see soldiers and veterans as regular folks who are dealing with battlefield stress on their own terms. In his current job as a law enforcement officer — he asked to keep his city of residence out of this article to protect his family — Ulrey earlier this month faced a pointed question from his boss.

"He saw the article and asked me: 'Do I need to know anything about this? Do I need to be worried?’ I said, ‘No not at all.'

"It had been bugging him and, I guess, bugging the other supervisors I work with for a couple of months. That was the whole purpose of the article. So that people don’t get that question from co-workers or supervisors," Ulrey said. "Even if we have PTSD, we’re OK. I am not going to freak out on you."

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Monday, September 17, 2012

New school opens at Fort Riley, named after veteran

New school opens at Fort Riley, named after veteran

September 17, 2012

FORT RILEY, Kan. - "Today, we dedicate our newest and most modern school in honor of a patriot," said Brig. Gen. Donald MacWillie, senior commander, Fort Riley.

The dedication of the new Seitz Elementary School took place Sept. 14 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of the new building as a tribute to retired Lt. Gen Richard Seitz, Junction City.
Seitz was chosen for his commitment and support to the education of all Unified District 475 Geary County Schools students.

"I am deeply conscious of the honor which is mine and having this magnificent school bear my name … It's more than I deserve," Seitz said.

Seitz, who had a 35-year career as an Army officer and paratrooper, commanded the 2nd Battalion, 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment during World War II; the 82nd Airborne Division and the XVIII Airborne Corps. He also was the youngest infantry battalion commander in WWII. He retired in 1975 at Fort Bragg, N.C.

"I think it's really befitting to name it after a great Soldier, a great statesman and somebody who obviously -- you can tell by his remarks -- believes deeply in education … And the involvement that he's had, so I think that's a wonderful thing," said the Honorable Dr. Joseph Westphal, Under Secretary of the Army. 

The construction of the new elementary school was funded by Congress through a partnership with the USD 475 and Picerne Military Housing. 

Picerne was the developer on the project that was funded through the Residential Communities Initiatives. This is the first time the partnership between Picerne and RCI has been used to build a school, which expedited the building process and allowed the school to open sooner. 

"It is a great moment for all of us -- an opportunity for the federal government, the state government and the local government, the school district and the garrison -- all coming together to share this wonderful new asset for the Army and for our Families," Westphal said.

About 675 students are currently enrolled in the school, which opened its doors for staff Aug. 9.
The new school has many modern features including: 
• Autism suites
• Specially constructed-Federal Emergency Management Agency certified gymnasium that can be used as a tornado shelter
• Bicycle racks and a shower to encourage students and faculty to bike to school
• White-reflective roof used to reflect radiant sun rays, decreasing the air-conditioning load
• Rain water collection from the roof into underground tanks used to flush toilets and provide water for cooling tower
• Direct line of vision to the exterior on 90 percent of all occupied spaces
• Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design silver certifiable, green-energy building
• Meets all of the anti-terrorism and force protection design components required by Fort Riley

"Our kids are going to enjoy a very modern, very high level of environmental sustainability in school," Westphal said.

The teachers and principal of the new school are the ones who will truly make the difference, Seitz said.

"They are the ones that will distinguish the school, not me, not the name Seitz, but Principal (Samrie) Devin and her distinguished teachers," he said.

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Schumer presses VA to change policy on service dogs for veterans who need them

Schumer presses VA to change policy on service dogs for veterans who need them

Monday, September 17, 2012

Gathered to call for improved VA coverage of service dogs for veterans, from left, are Afghanistan veteran Leslie Wohlfeld and her dog Lizzy; Iraq veteran Charles Hernandez and his dog Valor; Sen. Charles Schumer; and Barbara Jenkel of Educated Canines Assisting With Disabilities, with her dog Blip.

For some veterans coping with post traumatic stress disorder, service dogs can be a lifeline -- a connection to a world that's not always receptive to their fragile state.
But in tight economic times, the federal Department of Veterans Affairs is looking to limit paying for such dogs to those with physical disabilities.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer has asked the VA to revise the order, and permit payments for the service, which he says is not only beneficial, but necessary.
If doctors recommend that service dogs be used, the VA should pay for them, he said.
"Sadly, the horrors of war mean that many veterans come home with PTSD and other mental and emotional ailments," he said, also referring to traumatic brain injuries. "We owe it to these vets to provide them with every recovery option possible, including service dogs, prescribed by a doctor, to help them heal. Man's best friend can be a vet's best friend, and that's why, as the wars are winding down and with the ranks of those suffering mental and emotional trauma remaining sky-high, the VA should not deny benefits to veterans that will help them to access service dogs."
A new VA directive that goes into effect Oct. 5 will allow service dogs only for those with physical disabilities. Schumer said the directive flies in the face of medical evidence suggesting that the service dogs can help those with mental disabilities as well.
About 6,600 veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder in the New York metropolitan area, and more than 182,000 nationwide, Schumer said.
Schumer made his appeal at a news conference Sunday morning; he was joined by Barbara Jenkel of Educated Canines Assisting With Disabilities (ECAD), and her dog Blip; Iraq veteran Charles Hernandez and his dog Valor; and Afghanistan veteran Leslie Wohlfeld and her dog Lizzy.
Schumer said veterans with PTSD and and traumatic brain injuries are very unlikely to be able to afford the full cost of a service dog -- tens of thousands of dollars. The costs are so high because of the intensive training the dogs must undergo.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Veterans critical of new VA service dog rule

Veterans critical of new VA service dog rule

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The command echoed through the basement of the American Legion hall in Brecksville during a session of heeling and healing by canine caretakers.
On cue, six dogs wheeled to face their owners -- all military veterans, coping with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
In that stance, the dogs could watch for anyone coming up behind the vets, and move to block that person, if need be, using their bodies as a buffer.
For each of their programmed actions in a recent training class of Wags 4 Warriors the dogs got a treat, a pat on the head and praise. But these dogs won't be getting any treats from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
On Sept. 5 the VA issued a rule stating that although it would continue to cover the cost of veterinary care and equipment for service dogs of veterans with hearing, vision or mobility impairments, it would not pay those expenses for service dogs of vets with mental disabilities.
The rule states that there is a lack of evidence -- beyond subjective, anecdotal accounts -- to support a determination that "these dogs provide a medical benefit to veterans with mental illness. Until such a determination can be made, VA cannot justify providing benefits for mental health service dogs."
The VA has launched projects to study the effectiveness of mental health service dogs.
The new rule baffles veterans who use these dogs, including Army vet Frank DeLorenzo, of Brecksville, who has relied on a service dog for more than a year to help him cope with PTSD and TBI resulting from being wounded in Iraq in 2004.
Last year DeLorenzo and his wife, Jen, founded Wags 4 Warriors ( to provide free mental health service dogs and training to local veterans. Some 60 vets have gotten a dog from the non-profit program, supported entirely by donations, and another 20 are waiting for dogs.
DeLorenzo said the VA should have checked with the program's vets, and the VA doctors who recommended that these veterans use service dogs, before making the rule.
In his own case, DeLorenzo said that before he got his dog, he was being treated with medications that "made me a zombie. I laid on the couch for a year. I didn't move, didn't do anything."
With the dog, "I'm working. It got me back out in life. I'm able to go out and do things with my family," he added.
DeLorenzo said mental health service dogs are trained to perform tasks relating to their owner's needs. These include waking a veteran from nightmares, and pulling their owner out of stressful panic-attack situations.
Tyler Bales, 31, of Parma, said that with "Radar," his pit bull, "I'm actually able to go out more, be more social, enjoy life more."
"My problem is hyper-vigilance, but with the dog I'm able to relax because I have another set of eyes looking out for me," added Bales, who served in Iraq with the 3rd Battalion of the 25th Marine Reserve Battalion headquartered in Brook Park,
A classmate quietly noted, "The dog saved my life, literally. Without him, I probably would've killed myself."
Other veterans outside the Wags 4 Warriors program also are bewildered by the VA's recent action.
Margaux Vair, 27, of Kent, an Army veteran coping with PTSD/TBI from two tours in Iraq, said her dog "helps me get past the rough spots of my healing. I think a dog is much better than any pill."
Jane Miller, a pyschotherapist/clinical social worker in Oberlin, believes service dogs can work better than drugs in treating mental trauma. She said that in her work with clients struggling with PTSD (civilians and veterans alike), medications can often leave patients "so drugged, they're incapacitated."
The author of the book "Healing Companions: Ordinary Dogs and Their Extraordinary Power to Transform Lives," said a service dog is a rehabilitative tool that "enhances the quality of life."
She can understand why the VA issued the new rule, given the difficulty in scientifically gauging the effectiveness of the dogs. "We don't have a real way of testing someone's ability to function," she noted. "I can only speak from what I've seen -- clients now working fulltime, when before they could barely get out of their house. A dog made it feasible for them to deal and cope with their symptoms."
Michelle Covert, 51, an Army veteran in Knox County, northeast of Columbus, said she has relied on her service dog to pull her out of situations -- such as suddenly being surrounded by people at a shopping mall -- when she has frozen in a PTSD-induced anxiety attack.
The former VA worker is no fan of the new service dog rule. She said because service dogs are recognized by federal law, "they (the VA) should be financially supporting service dogs for veterans."

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Graduating Into War

Graduating Into War

By Mark Thompson | @MarkThompson_DC | 


The tossed hats of midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy signal their owners' advancement, from school to the real world, be it peace or war.

The U.S. Naval Academy’s Class of 2002 was just beginning its senior year on September 11, 2001. Thirty-three of its 965 members this week will be publishing In the Shadow of Greatness: Voices of Leadership, Sacrifice, and Service from America’s Longest War, to remind the nation what it was like to graduate into war — the first class to do so since Vietnam. They have spent a decade at war at sea, on land (162 Marines were in the class of ‘02) and the air.
Battleland conducted an email chat with two of the book’s editors — classmates John Ennis, a Navy lieutenant, turned Pentagon speechwriter, turned IBM executive, and Graham Plaster, who is now wrapping up his Navy career, where he served as a surface warfare officer and a foreign area officer supporting UN peacekeeping operations in the Middle East.
Why did USNA ’02 decide to write this book?
JE: We wrote the book to inspire, educate, and connect to a civilian citizenry that may not have affiliations with the military.
To bridge the divide between civilians and those in uniform, we put together series of intimate personal stories of courage – vignettes anyone can gleam value from.
As seniors in college when the Twin Towers fell, we were uniquely positioned at a historic turning point – politically, economically, militarily – and we felt the need to share the experiences that reflect a generation of 2.5 million American veterans serving around the world for a decade of war.

Whose idea was it?
 JE: Joshua Welle envisioned the book while serving in Afghanistan in 2009.
As Class President he was hearing the details of friends in harm’s way and their stories needed to be told. Executing that vision was a team effort.
The heavy lifting was done by co-editors John Ennis, Katherine Kranz, and Graham Plaster. Marketing efforts were led by Elizabeth Kreft, Anita Brenner, and Patrick McConnell.
There are another 30 co-authors who wrote and helped during the three year process. Over 100 other members of the Class of 2002 supported the book as well.
 Who do you want to read this book? Why?

John Ennis
JE: As Tom Brokaw has already said, this book is a “must read for all Americans.”
We think that it is a book that can be read by young and old alike, military and civilians. The stories are short and inspirational, providing insight from up and coming military leaders.
They would make great leadership case studies for any group working through particular issues. The broader theme goes beyond military service to command, citizenship and government.
The veterans of the Long War will be the reservoir of excellence leading our country in the decades ahead.
The reader will derive pride by reading the stories in this book – they reflect the very best proof that America remains exceptional.
And by honoring veterans in the book, we also want to cultivate a national dialogue surrounding the enduring qualities that make America great. These qualities – cherished, defended and exemplified by our veterans, are worth discussing as we continue to grapple with strategic decisions for America.
This is why the book is not-for-profit. All author proceeds go to a trust to support veteran organizations.
Tell us a little about the book. 
JE: The book is structured thematically. Only a small portion is about the Naval Academy so that readers understand the experience in Annapolis. An introduction, Four Years by the Bay, is the glue the allowed us to write with a common voice.
The book quickly shifts to a spectrum of stories, moments of leadership and courage in the most diverse situations.
– Leadership Laboratory: How is classroom education different than practical application?…read as a junior officer redefines the definition of honor in the Fleet.
– Courage Under Fire: Feel the heat of the moment and pressure of combat…a Marine CASEVAC pilot.
– Beyond Battlefield Bullets: Soft Power at work, partnering with Iraqis, Afghans, and NATO to advance democratic ideals.
– Teamwork, Sacrifice, and Integrity: There are several stories of sacrifice that will make you cringe and cry….a mother opens the door to a white uniform, who explains that her son was killed in a helicopter crash.
– The Next Great Generation: When the uniform comes off what do these young people do?…they start companies, serve the nation, and give back.
A story of the first gay military officer to marry after DADT repeal is inspirational. National leaders contribute throughout: David Gergen at Harvard, ADM Sam Locklear and General John Allen reflect on their time as commandants, and ADM Mike Mullen puts it all in perspective through the epilogue.
Some folks tend to think of their 20s as a carefree decade in their lives…yours was not. Would you have had it any other way?
 JE: This is a question that is best answered by reading the book. The answer is mostly no, but there are shadows in our stories.
Not everything is black and white. When we applied to the Naval Academy, we were attracted to the crisp distinctions between navy blue and white, good and evil, satisfactory and unsatisfactory.
Following graduation, during our 20s, we continued down the “road less traveled” – we had some good times and bad. Read the book to get an inside glimpse of how we navigated those waters.
Only 1% of Americans are wearing the uniform and fighting the nation’s post-9/11 wars…should this be a concern?
GP: David Gergen answers the question in the foreword of the book, reflecting on conversations with President Ronald Reagan.
As for the group, there is a different opinion on this for every contributor. It is an issue to consider, and in leadership classes at the Naval Academy we discussed the widening culture gap between the military and civilian life.
This is a concern to some people, and simply par for the course if you ask others. The beauty of the “all volunteer force,” however, is that everyone who puts on a uniform does so because they want to – and this makes for a much more effective fighting force. We are so thankful to those who do understand military sacrifice.
How has the military treated you and your family?
 GP: The military has tremendous programs in place to support families, and the close-knit communities that form on far-flung bases are the bedrock of American society.
Supporting families is a high priority to our leaders in the military, which is why failures in the system get so much scrutiny. As with any organization, big or small, federal or private, there will be failures.
But it is through the difficult process of discussing shortcomings in the system of support that we make it better. We have confidence that as we raise issues, leaders from our generation will continue to rise to the challenge of supporting military families in the years to come.

Graham Plaster
How successful have you and your classmates, and the country, been in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?
 GP: Success is a highly-politicized and, at the same time, a highly personal issue. Best idea is to read the book and draw your own conclusions.
There have been many successes and many failures.
The focus of our book is on particular achievements both in the military and beyond, in the face of so many different challenges.
Some say war is too important to be left to the generals…anything you would have done differently from your elders in commanding them?
GP: These wars brought overdue credit to the “strategic corporal” and senior leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan realized the solutions sets were coming from the bottom up. It took time, but they eventually got it.
Some of the book contributors are fortunate to be assuming command, or advising senior military leaders. Their opinions, based on the experiences of the past ten years, may well steer the country in new directions.
Some of our other contributors have entered the private sector and would be happy to engage in their American right to free speech in order to correct things they’ve seen. We support both channels of what we call in the military, “speaking truth to power” because we believe there will be positive change through our generation’s influence.
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