veterans

A wound is a wound

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IMAGE: Purple Heart Won't Be Awarded for PTSD

The Pentagon on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009 has assured troops that it takes post-traumatic stress seriously despite the recent decision not to award the Purple Heart to those with the disorder.

There was a debate going on in the talk radio world the last few days about whether soldiers should receive a Purple Heart for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Most of the callers I heard said no and the military has now agreed with them. I did not hear a single caller express sympathy for those with the mental problems. I think many people, even former vets, don’t accept the fact that some soldiers cannot cope psychologically with what has been required of them in the scenes of war. Some apparently think there are some vets using it as a ploy to get disability.

I don’t know whether the former soldiers with PTSD would even want a purple heart but personally I think they all deserve some recognition and help if needed for going to a foreign land to kill for the lies of war. Perhaps they were uneducated as to the real reason why they were there but for many the experience ruined their lives.

I haven’t talked to that many Iraq/Afghanistan vets so I can only speculate as to their problems but I have known and talked to hundreds of Vietnam returnees since 1966 and the picture isn’t pretty.

I don’t think I ever met a single Vietnam vet who wasn’t scared by that war. Most have gone on to productive lives but not all by a long shot. Sometimes the scars weren’t healed in an outward way for years and sometimes never.

Alcohol and drug abuse after returning was the norm for many.
Nightmares, the sweats, yelling in one’s sleep was common.
Marriage problems and divorce were typical.
The symptoms were many, the cures were few.
Reports are that over 200,000 vets are now homeless with many from the Vietnam era.
There’s a veterns hospital that treats long term disabilities, both physical and mental, near where I live. I’ve been there many times visiting. It’s an eye opener if one cares to look.

Killing and seeing ones comrades killed and maimed does something to most every soldier.
Getting over it and going on is not that easy.

The sickness in our veterans is a refection of the sickness in our society that allows wars for profit and for the few to benefit.

It is a sick psychopathic government that send the youth to wars based on lies. At least 935 lies have been documented as being told by our ‘leaders’ in the run up to the Iraq invasion following Sept. 11, 2001. A great number of people think our attack and occupation of Afghanistan was justified but they too have been deceived.

No war in our lifetime, if ever, has been based on truth.

And the bastards that sent our troops to die and be damaged quibble over ‘Purple Hearts.’

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

WASHINGTON (AFP) — US soldiers will not be eligible to receive the Purple Heart for the invisible psychic wounds of war, the Pentagon said Thursday, reserving the medal for those wounded in combat.

The decision was reached following a review suggested by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates after touring a mental health center at Fort Bliss, Texas in May.

“The conclusion then is, as it is now, that PTSD does not qualify, given the 76-year definition of what a Purple Heart recipient is,” said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary.

He said Gates thought the issue was worth re-addressing when asked about it in Texas, but accepted the conclusion of the panel that reviewed the requirements for receiving the award.

“But I don’t think anybody should assume that that decision is in any way reflective on how seriously we take the problem of PTSD in this department,” he said.

“I think we will spend about a billion dollars on research, development, treatment, preventative measures. And I think you will see more and more money being spent to combat this very real problem that we are all terribly concerned with,” he said.

About 300,000 service members who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from PTSD or major depression, the Rand Corporation estimated in a study in April.

Source: American Free Press

I was antiwar when antiwar wasn’t cool.

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Jimmy Montague has been a contributor at Winter Patriot in the past and has his own blog, The Cyanide Hole. You may want to keep an eye out for his new posts. Below is Jimmy’s latest about war and the treatment of veterans. Although originally from 2003, it is still relevant today.

http://aftermathnews.files.wordpress.com/2007/11/veteran.jpg

*****

Antiwar Protests Miss the Point
© 2003 by Jimmy Montague

CEDAR RAPIDS, IA — Today is Saturday, Feb. 15, 2003. The news is all of protest. Antiwar marches crowd the streets of Washington, D.C., and other American cities.

Protests ensue because the Bush administration has entirely failed to justify its belligerence toward Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Said failure leads people to suspect Dubya has reasons for going to war that have nothing to do with national security. So protesters carry signs that read “No War for Oil;” “No War for Revenge;” “No War on the Iraqi People;” “No Race War;” “No Religious War;” “No War for Profit.”

While Bush pounds his war drum and protesters pound the streets, America’s veterans pound away at Uncle Sam’s indifference to their problems. To tell of just a few:

• At least 7,758 Desert Storm vets have died since the war’s end.1 Some 209,000 Desert Storm vets have filed for medical benefits; 161,000 collect disability payments. The postwar casualties are due to a malady with diverse, debilitating and sometimes deadly symptoms that is vaguely known as “Gulf War Syndrome” (GWS). Uncle Sam first refused to admit that GWS exists. Now, after being forced to admit that GWS is real, Sammy remains reluctant to discuss GWS and seems unable to determine its cause. Vets say GWS results from exposure to chemical and biological weapons that American corporations sold to Saddam Hussein, an outrage that Uncle Sam is trying to hush up.2 If that’s true or if it isn’t, the fact remains: Sammy denies it without attempting a thorough public investigation.

• Frustrated by Uncle Sam’s denial and his refusal to act against war profiteers, more than 5,000 Gulf War veterans in 1994 got mad and sued for compensation. Their lawsuit moved slowly for eight years because both the U.S. government and the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) refused to share relevant information with veterans’ attorney, Gary Pitts. But the vets’ action got a shot in the arm last year when former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter went to Iraq and brought out a copy of Iraq’s 1998 weapons declaration, which he obtained from Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and gave to vets’ attorney Pitts. The documents list some companies that sold chemical weapons to Iraq before the Gulf War. Pitts has already sued several of those firms and plans to sue the rest.3

• Vets were further outraged just weeks ago, when the Bush administration censored Iraq’s 2002 weapons declaration before anyone else had a chance to see it. Among items struck from the document was a list of 24 U.S. corporations that made money arming Iraq. According to Swiss journalist Andreas Zumach, to whom the uncensored information was leaked, the list includes Hewlett Packard, DuPont, Honeywell, Rockwell, Tectronics, Unisys, Bechtel, Sperry, TI Coating, and International Computer Systems.4

• Worse still: information Uncle Sam deleted from the 2002 Iraqi declaration “. . . shows that U.S. government agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Commerce, and Agriculture, as well as the U.S. government nuclear weapons laboratories Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia, all helped Iraq build its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs by providing supplies and/or training.” All of those things — the component sales, the training and Uncle Sam’s abatement — have been illegal since the 1970s.5

• The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system has always been underfunded. But the fact was never more disgraceful than today, when Bush and his Congress say government can afford bigger military budgets, a worldwide war on terror, a war on drugs, a war on Iraq, a war on Iran, higher budget deficits and tax cuts for the rich, but can’t afford to fund veterans’ health care. While Dubya and his Congress lie about their priorities, more than 300,000 veterans nationally wait six months or more to see a physician.6

• Bush hypocrisy is magnified by the Bush economic recession. Tens of thousands of veterans who were getting health care benefits from employers have lost their jobs. Those vets now march into the underfunded, overstressed VA health care system.7

• During World War II and the Korean Conflict, Uncle Sam’s military recruiters promised volunteers free medical care for life. Veterans of World War II and Korea were therefore furious when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit recently decided that Uncle Sam needn’t honor his promise because it wasn’t written into law.8 The vets concerned “. . . received free benefits until 1995, when the Pentagon ended those benefits for veterans over 65 because they were eligible for Medicare. Many of them had to purchase supplemental policies, including Medicare Part B, to fill coverage gaps.”9 “Congress recently enacted legislation providing free health care for all of these older veterans beginning in 2002. What is at stake in this case is the [out-of-pocket] costs, estimated by Justice Department officials as billions of dollars, paid by older veterans between 1995 and 2001.” Plaintiffs promise an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.10 Veterans nationally await the outcome.

• Seen a homeless man lately? Chances are one in four that man is a veteran. The VA says “homeless veterans are mostly males (2 percent are female). The vast majority are single, most come from poor, disadvantaged communities.” Some 45 percent suffer from mental illness, often Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Half have substance abuse problems. They are men and women who served in World War II, the Korean Conflict, the Cold War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, or the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Forty-seven percent of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam Era. More than 67 percent served our country for at least three years and 33 percent were stationed in a war zone.” The VA estimates (nobody attempts an accurate count) that “more than 275,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. More than 500,000 experience homelessness over the course of a year.” The VA cares for some 40,000 homeless vets annually. The rest are thrown onto private charity and nonprofit groups.11 The upshot is that most homeless vets are homeless and the nation doesn’t seem to care.

By now you probably think I’m driving toward the idea that the Bush administration shouldn’t go to war with Iraq until every homeless veteran is sheltered and cared for; until all veterans are given the health care they were promised, regardless of when or where they served. You’re right. But my concerns are bigger than just that.

The present commander in chief of the armed forces of the United States is probably a deserter from the armed forces of the United States. GOP boosters contend that Dubya completed his Vietnam-era hitch in the Air National Guard, but neither official records nor statements by his superior officers support that contention. Instead, evidence indicates that Bush simply walked away from the last 12 months of his enlistment contract. Why he was never arrested and prosecuted is both a mystery and a scandal, because our statute of limitations doesn’t apply to desertion.12

Because of Dubya’s dubious service record, vets smell bullshit when Bush visits troops in hospital, as he recently did at Washington’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center. His mouth says wounded soldiers are “incredibly brave” and “America’s finest citizens.”13 His actions and his record and his policies all speak otherwise.

America’s AWOL chief executive has never been shot at. Neither have his belligerent advisers, save only Colin Powell — which may explain why Powell seems the most reasonable of the lot. Few of the others ever served our country outside of a cushy government job. Almost every one is a Vietnam-era draft dodger. As a group they are privileged rich kids who found ways to avoid service. Some hold investments in defense firms that will make them richer still, if we go to war. News media call them “chicken hawks,” because that is what they are.14

Those of us who did serve recently learned what the chicken hawks think of us. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (a.k.a. Reddy-2-Rum-Bell Rummy) spoke during the week of Jan. 5, 2003, about Vietnam-era draftees. Rummy said the soldiers “. . . added no value, no advantage, really, to the United States armed services.”15 In other words, most of the young men killed and wounded in Vietnam had no value to their country. Rummy later apologized, saying he was sorry for his remarks,16 but many vets are unimpressed. Some things just cannot be retracted.

So if you’re a parent who still grieves for your long-dead son, the knowledge that your child was worthless should help you through the process. If you’re a parent who spent the last 35 years caring for a son made quadriplegic by a Vietnamese explosion, Rumsfeld’s statement should ease your conscience as you unplug your son’s life support, wheel him out behind the garage, and leave him to die of exposure. He was worthless when he was whole, so why burden yourself further? And if you’re a parent whose son or daughter will serve in Gulf War II, you ought to think about the fact that if your son or daughter gets disabled, the expense of long-term care will weigh heavily on you for as long as Congress refuses to fully fund VA health care.

Now I am at the end of my rage and it is this: as long as there is one homeless, hungry veteran in the United States of America, we are a nation of liars and hypocrites. As long as that is true, we must own that if we are led by a gang of liars and war profiteers, the onus is no more than we deserve.

Antiwar protests of Feb. 15 thus missed the point. We should not protest that our so-called leaders want to war for cynical, self-serving reasons. We should instead protest that until we the people punish war profiteers, until we honor the promises we made to our veterans, until we care for our homeless poor, until we clean up corruption in Wall Street and in Washington, until we are no longer content to be misled and abused by a flock of blustering, profiteering chicken hawks, we and our Uncle Sam are unfit to war for any reason. Until we clean our own house, the people who hate us are right.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

1. “Oops, more unexpected casualties.” Col. David Hackworth. Sept. 17, 2002. http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=28958

2. “Gulf War veterans suing companies for chemical exports.” CNN. Jan. 17, 2003. http://www.cnn.com/2003/LAW/01/17/iraq.chemical.suit/

3. Ibid.

4. “A US Media Mystery: The Case of the Missing Information about Iraq’s Weapons.” The Baltimore Chronicle. Jan. 8, 2003.
http://baltimorechronicle.com/media_ommisions_jan03.shtml

5. Ibid.

6. “VA health system strained.” Judd Slivka. The Arizona Republic. Jan. 13, 2003. http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/0113Vabacklog13.html
Apologies to readers: this link no longer works. I’ve tried the search engine at the Arizona Republic, but it staunchly refuses to retrieve this article. You’ll have to take my word on this one.

7. Ibid.

8. “Court overturns ruling on vets’ free lifetime healthcare.” CNN. Nov. 19, 2002. http://www.cnn.com/2002/LAW/11/19/retired.veterans.hearing/index.html

9. “Veterans Not Eligible for Lifetime Care.” OMO (Out of Many One). Nov. 20, 2002. http://senrs.com/vets_not_eligible_for_lifetime_care.htm
Apologies to readers: senrs.com is now a dead domain. OMO no longer exists. I’ve searched Google every way I know how and can’t find another link to this article. This is another one you’ll have to take my word for.

10. Ibid.

11. “Background & Statistics.” National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. http://www.nchv.org/background.cfm

12. Bush the Deserter is an old story that was published by The Boston Globe during the 2002 presidential race. The Globe made a good case, but other venues refused to pick up the story and run with it. For some reason, they decided the nerdiness of Al Gore was a more salient issue. The facts remain, however, and the story of Bush the Deserter persists at many places. Here are a few:
http://www.president-bush.com/warhero.html
http://www.boston.com
http://www.bartcop.com/deserter.htm
http://www.awolbush.com/
http://www.awolbush.com/newrephtml.html

13. “Bush Visits Wounded U.S. Soldiers.” Voice of America. Jan. 17, 2003. http://www.voanews.com

14. For those who want to know who the chicken hawks are and how they ducked service in Vietnam, our nation’s oldest newspaper, The New Hampshire Gazette, published a “Chickenhawk Database.” Regrettably, the NHG has pulled their database down for some reason but plans to put it back up eventually. They’d be wise to do so: links to their chickenhawk gizmo are pasted all over the Web.

15. “Rumsfeld draft slap fanned fury.” Thomas M. DeFrank and Owen Moritz. The New York Daily News. Jan 23, 2003. http://www.nydailynews.com

16. Ibid.

The Cyanide Hole

In Praise of Potent Pot

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A Voice From Vietnam

Photobucket

In light of recent “revelations” about the current generation of potent pot and the latest news of the big pharma patents of marijuana products, I’m reminded of an old friend.

Morris was a few years older, one of the guys we kids looked up to. Fun loving, friendly, had the girls and the car. Someone we wanted to be like when we grew up.

But a funny thing happened on his way to the good life. Vietnam called and he wasn’t a “Tennessee Volunteer”. Drafted and without a college deferment or a rich daddy, Morris began his trip to a personal hell from which there was no return.

After Morris returned from his “tour” I noticed a big change. He was quiet and didn’t get out as much. It took a couple of years but I found out why.

Like so many others, he picked up a habit in ‘Nam. Heroin.

Morris was not your stereotypical junkie. He worked as he could and stayed out of trouble. Although the local law knew about him, I don’t think he was ever arrested.

He lived with his demons in private, alone most of the time and I could never get him to tell his Vietnam story. Perhaps it was too painful to talk about and most likely the heroin kept those thoughts in the background.

Alcohol and weed were also a part of the equation. The Mexican marijuana at that time just wasn’t strong enough for Morris. One day sitting around his house with a few others and partaking in a shipment of fine Jamaican weed that had come into town, Morris said one sentence that I have never forgotten.
“If I had pot this good everyday, I wouldn’t need the junk”

He was onto something here but the potential was never realized. After about a week the Jamaican was gone so Morris went back to his “Vietnam pain reliever” and the cycle of addiction continued.

He died in his early 40’s from liver failure in a VA hospital.

Morris’ name is not on the Vietnam Memorial but the year he spent in ‘Nam killed him just as sure as the Viet Cong bullet brought down so many others. He wasn’t an anomaly. I’d say his story was repeated over and over again in the aftermath of the war and the failure of society, family and friends to help.

We’ll never know if “potent pot” could have saved Morris. We do know that the brutal “war on drugs” is a fraud that our criminal government perpetuates for its’ own benefit.

The VA has a history of drug experiments using soldiers as guinea pigs. Isn’t it time we considered medical marijuana as an alternative to the poisons now used?

Our veterans deserve better.

What’s So Special About Veterans?

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Dave Lindorff


The teacup tempest over retired Gen. Wesley Clark’s self-evident remark about John McCain—to whit that flying a fighter aircraft and getting shot down and captured is not particularly relevant to the skill set needed to be a president—raises a larger question: Why do veterans, and particularly the veterans of the criminal and pointless war in Iraq, or the earlier criminal and pointless one in Vietnam, automatically get “hero” status, and why are they seen as naturals to run for higher national office?

I’m sure there are plenty of heroes in the military—people who put their lives on the line, and even give their lives, for their comrades, people who give up safe jobs and leave their families for what they see as a patriotic duty. But let’s face it: the whole recruiting project is about convincing young men and women that joining the military is in their self-interest—a way to get ahead, a way to see the world, a way to get financial aid for college, a way to have some excitement, a way to get a fat signing bonus so you can buy that new car you’ve been coveting. And people who sign up for these self-interested reasons are no more heroic than people who go to work for Merrill Lynch or Wal-Mart.

Furthermore, while there are dangerous posts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the nature of the military is that the vast majority of people who wear a uniform just work in offices or motor pools, and face dangers no greater than workers who do the same thing in civilian life at home. In fact, in the case of more hazardous work, like heavy equipment repair or flying cargo planes, it’s probably safe to say that after years of speedups and of gutting worker safety rules and inspections, it may be safer working for the Pentagon than working for a civilian employer.

Beyond that, there are people who are easily as heroic as many of our uniformed citizens who don’t get any credit for their courage and dedication to humanity and to their country. How about young doctors who eschew lucrative careers in plastic surgery to work as GPs in low-income communities or on Indian reservations? How about Peace Corps or Vista volunteers who go to dangerous places at home and abroad to help people improve their lives? The Pennsylvania soldier who died throwing himself on top of a live grenade to save his buddies is a true hero. But so is the 23-year-old math teacher slain in Philadelphia last month who left safe, suburban Minnesota to take a low-wage post teaching underserved kids in this notorious murder capital. Even in uniform there are heroes who don’t get credit for their courage. How about people like Lt. Ehren Watada or Sgt. Camilo Mejia, or other members of the military who risked jail, or even did hard time rather than fight, or continue to fight in an illegal war?

There are heroes in our schools, heroes on the job, heroes who work in jobs like police officer or firefighter, heroes trying to raise families in adversity, even heroes in politics (though these are few and far between!). Most of them aren’t ever recognized by society for what they do. Not everyone who serves in the military is a hero, and plenty of people who don’t, or won’t, wear a uniform are genuine heroes.

Furthermore, as Gen. Clark noted, wearing a uniform, and going to war, or even earning a medal, do not make a person better suited for government or politics. But I’d go him one further. Even having been a high-ranking officer, and having had significant administrative or policy-making experience in the military does not make a person any better suited for an executive or a legislative position in government. In fact, arguably, it makes a person less well suited for government in a democratic society. The military is not a place that values open expression of opinions. It is a top-down organization in which obedience to “superiors” is valued more highly than initiative and self-direction. The military isn’t even as democratic as the old Bolshevik Party. At least in theory, Lenin’s Bolshevik model was supposed to encourage democratic discussion until a decision was reached by the leadership, after which there would be discipline and unquestioned obedience. In the military, the democratic discussion part is eliminated from the model. What that has to do with democratic governance I don’t know.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a endless sympathy for the hundreds of thousands of military personnel, active duty, reservist and National Guard members, who got dragged off under false pretenses to have to serve in an illegal war of aggression, even to get seriously wounded or to die there, and I’m a strong supporter of generous veterans’ benefits for all of them and for their long-suffering families.

But let’s not cheapen the term “hero” by assigning it to all of them—especially while ignoring the heroism of those who have refused to fight, or of those who engage in heroic efforts to better the lives of their fellow human beings instead of just helping to kill them.

And let’s stop pretending that having worn a uniform somehow automatically makes someone a better person, and a more competent leader, than someone who never wore one.

The returned soldiers I’ve known from Vietnam, and the soldiers I’ve spoken to who have served in Iraq, have for the most part been the first to say that they don’t feel like heroes. It is, in fact, the charlatans and political cowards in government who are busy promoting endless war who are tossing that label around with such abandon. They are in both parties, and we should recognize their abuse of the term, “hero” and their fake stances of “respect” and “support” for the troops, for what it is: cheap political posturing, designed to intimidate critics of a criminal war.

http://www.thiscantbehappening.net/?q=node/167

VETERAN GUINEA PIGS

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By Jon Christian Ryter

June 21, 2008

NewsWithViews.com

Essentia Exaltata art: Madeline von Foerster

The US government has a questionable history of using military personnel as guinea pigs to determine the potential health risks soldiers experience when they are exposed to caustic and sometimes deadly agents. During the period between the two world wars soldiers were deliberately exposed to mustard gas. Between 1945 to 1955 military personnel were exposed to radiation from nuclear bomb tests. In experiments conducted by the CIA and the US Army Biomedical Laboratory (under Project MKUltra), veterans were given the psychedelic drug Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, more commonly known as LSD. None of the military subjects given the drug consented to be guinea pigs, nor were any of them advised that LSD could cause long-term bizarre hallucinogenic psychoses. The experiments took place because the CIA and military intelligence believed LSD could be effective in interrogations and, the military believed, mind control. Some believed that LSD might lead to a cure for schizophrenia. When they realized LSD caused the problems they were trying to cure, the military moved on, leaving their victims to cope with the problems they induced.

In the 1960s and 1970s, military personnel in Vietnam were exposed to herbicides like Agent Orange. In the Gulf War US military personnel were tasked with the responsibility of burning up Saddam Hussein’s recovered caches of chemical and biological weapons whenever and wherever they were found. The soldiers were not told that the weaponry they were destroying contained toxic chemicals and biological agents that could do serious harm to them if they breathed the toxic fumes. Confirmed by testimony from scores of military victims in sworn US Senate testimony in 2002, few if any of the military guinea pigs were informed of potential health risks from exposure or consumption of the chemical or biological agents. In fact, it is doubtful that the officers of these men even knew what it was they were destroying.

The worst experiment by the US government thus far exposed is reminiscent of the sadistic experiments performed by Nazi war criminal Dr. Josef Mengele at Auschwitz in 1942. In 1932 the US Public Health Service initiated a study known as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. The subjects were uneducated black sharecroppers who contracted syphilis. When World War II broke out, all of the subjects were drafted into the army where they could be completely controlled by the Public Health Service. All of the subjects were denied any medical treatment for syphilis. They were simply told they had “bad blood” and there was nothing that could be done for them. The study tracked two generations of their families. Of the initial participants of the study, 28 died from syphilis and slightly more than 100 died from complications caused by syphilis. Forty wives and 19 children got the disease. And the US Public Health Service got reams of data about how syphilis progresses and how it passed from infected mothers to their offspring.

Today the Veteran’s Administration has some 1,200 ongoing clinical studies which are using 4,796 veterans as guinea pigs. The largest study being conducted at this time is that of exploring the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] on affected soldiers. It is believed by the government that over 830,000 veterans have some form of PTSD—which is just about everyone who has served in a war zone. No human can witness the horrors of war and walk away unaffected by the carnage. Since the invasion of Iraq, over 40 thousand soldiers who have been diagnosed with, and/or treated for, PTSD. Some 4,796 of them are currently enrolled in the PTSD studies. Those clinical studies are not problematic, and are helping the VA diagnose and treat PTSD.

Problematic are many of the 940 PTSD veterans who are enrolled in one specific smoking cessation program—for $30 per month to be a guinea pig for Uncle Sam. The vets in the smoking cessation program were given a variety of methods to end their smoking addictions. Of them, 143 veterans were given an experimental smoking cessation drug called Chantix®. Two weeks after the VA began the Chantix® study in November, 2007, the US Food & Drug Administration [FDA] advised the VA that Chantix® appeared to cause hallucinations, psychotic behavior and that some subjects taking the drug had attempted suicide. On January 18, 2008, Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company that developed Chantix® updated the warning label on Chantix® to read: “Patients who are attempting to quit smoking with Chantix should be observed for serious neuropsychiatry symptoms, including changes in behavior, agitation, depressed mood, suicidal ideation and suicidal behavior.”

But, not even the warning from the FDA and the label update by Pfizer suggested to the VA that they might think about terminating the study since every person in it were already burdened with PTSD. Because they signed informed consent cards, and affirmed they understood there might be a risk in participating in the clinical study, the VA did not fully notify the test subjects that the side affects from Chantix® might include suicide or, at least, suicidal behavior. The VA did modify its consent form—for new participants. The change noted that side affects could include “…anxiety, nervousness, tension, depression, thoughts of suicide and attempted and completed suicide.” It is unclear what, if any, additional warnings were given to the vets who were currently enrolled in the Chantix® test. When Congress got wind of the fact that the VA waited three months before notifying the clinical test subjects of the potential risk for PTSD victims to use Chantix®, Congressman Steve Buyer [R-IN], the ranking GOP member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs asked the VA why they failed to warn test subjects that the drug might make them suicidal, the VA responded that warnings about suicide were omitted from the notification letter because many veterans are elderly or have eyesight problems. Buyer was among the first to demand an immediate investigation of the Veterans’ Administration.

When he heard the VA’s response to Buyer’s question, retired US Marine Lt. Col. Roger Charles, editor of Defense Watch and the Internet newsmag, Soldiers For The Truth and www.soldiersforthetruth.org founded by author and former Fox News correspondent Lt. Col. David H. Hackworth who died in 2005. Col. Charles, who is now carrying Hack’s baton, said the VA’s reply was the “…most pathetic excuse that can be dredged up. It’s insulting. And then, to brag you got it done in three months because of a cumbersome bureaucracy? What if people’s lives were at risk—oh, wait…they were!”

Arthur Caplan, Director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania told the Washington Times that when “…you’re taking advantage of a very vulnerable population, people who have served the country, and the agency that’s responsible for their welfare isn’t putting their welfare first, that’s a pretty serious breach of ethics.” Caplan further noted that the Veterans’ Administration gets an “F” for its conduct, and that it should terminate the smoking cessation program immediately. “Continuing it,” he said, “doesn’t make any ethical sense.”

That fact that the VA is continuing the test, makes you wonder how much money, per head, the VA is receiving for conducting the test, or which Veteran’s Affairs Committee member is doing favors for lobbyists for Pfizer? Of the 143 veterans taking Chantix®, 21, or roughly 15%, have reported adverse side affects. The most vocal of those 15% is James Elliott a chain-smoking Army sharpshooter who was diagnosed with PTSD after 15 months in Iraq as an Army sniper.

When Elliott came home from Iraq in 2004 he brought his nightmares with him. Exploding bombs. Body parts and dogs eating corpses in the street. And, most of all, the vision of a child’s head—blown from its body—laying in the street. After being treated at the VA, the symptoms of PTSD disappeared. He enrolled in college and was earning high grades when the VA offered veterans $30 per month to join a smoking cessation program. Within a week or two Elliott’s nightmares returned. He would awaken, thrashing in bed, screaming for air strikes, and reliving every vivid detail of watching friends get hit by enemy fire and bleed to death before his eyes. Day by day, night by night, the nightmares got worse until they morphed into daytime hallucinations His mind told him that people walking down the street were suicide bombers wearing bomb belts. He became certain that cars parked in front of homes were actually IEDs—improvised explosive devises.

On Feb. 5, 2008 Elliott cracked. He took his loaded .40 caliber automatic pistol and left the house. When his girlfriend discovered his gun was missing, she called the police. Knowing he was a hallucinating skilled sniper the police would not have been blamed if they took him down with firearms. Instead they used a stun gun, and dropped Elliott with an electrical charge after Elliott taunted them to shoot him. As he was being transported to the local police lockup, Elliott asked the arresting officers why they didn’t shoot him, adding that “…I would have shot me.” Elliott told the media that “…the carrot they dangled in front of my face was $30 a month for the three year program. I knew it was a research project, but I also needed he money.”

Col. Charles noted that the “…the idea that you would take people already diagnosed with mental issues and give them a drug that appears, early on, to have some likelihood of exacerbating such issues. I understand they want vets to quit smoking for financial, health, and moral issues, but I don’t understand why they would give it to …veterans who served their country and picked up mental issues. I would think you’d go the extra mile to keep them from jeopardizing their ability to function normally.”

As Caplan noted that the VA’s behavior in the antismoking study violates the basic protection of humans in medical experiments, the White House defended the action of the VA—which continues to test Chantix® on veteran guinea pigs. The Federal Aviation Agency [FAA] has banned airline pilots and air traffic controllers from using the drug due to potential side effects. Politicians on both sides of the aisle jumped into the fray, with most calling for an investigation of the VA. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka [D-HI] has promised an investigation by his committee. Even presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama (a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee) noted that: “I was very concerned to read [in the] Washington Times…that the Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs has yet again failed to take appropriate steps to safeguard the health and well-being of veterans participating in drug trials.” Obama called the testing outrageous and unacceptable, but fell far short of demanding that all clinical trials using veterans as guinea pigs be suspended.

But, what shocked me most was that not one Congressman or Senator was shocked that veterans were being used as guinea pigs. Because this use of America’s “expended” warriors has been going on since World War II. The politicians were only shocked that the veterans weren’t advised that the latest drugs used in latest clinical tests utilizing the neediest and most desperate walking wounded warriors could cause them to hallucinate or, worse, kill someone or commit suicide. We, as a nation, condemn the horrors of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Birkenau and the other extermination camps of the Third Reich, yet Josef Mengele is alive and well in the Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs.

© 2008 Jon C. Ryter – All Rights Reserved

The Truth About Veteran Suicides

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by Aaron Glantz
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Eighteen American war veterans kill themselves every day. One thousand former soldiers receiving care from the Department of Veterans Affairs attempt suicide every month. More veterans are committing suicide than are dying in combat overseas.

These are statistics that most Americans don’t know, because the Bush administration has refused to tell them. Since the start of the Iraq War, the government has tried to present it as a war without casualties.

In fact, they never would have come to light were it not for a class action lawsuit brought by Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth on behalf of the 1.7 million Americans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The two groups allege the Department of Veterans Affairs has systematically denied mental health care and disability benefits to veterans returning from the conflict zones.

The case, officially known as Veterans for Common Sense vs. Peake, went to trial last month at a Federal Courthouse in San Francisco. The two sides are still filing briefs until May 19 and waiting for a ruling from Judge Samuel Conti, but the case is already having an impact.

“Shh!”

That’s because over the course of the two-week trial, the VA was compelled to produce a series of documents that show the extent of the crisis affecting wounded soldiers.

“Shh!” begins one e-mail from Dr. Ira Katz, the head of the VA’s Mental Health Division, advising a media spokesperson not to tell CBS News that 1,000 veterans receiving care at the VA try to kill themselves every month.

“Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see in our medical facilities. Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?” the e-mail concludes.

Leading Democrats on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee immediately called for Katz’s resignation. On May 6, the Chair of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Bob Filner (D-CA) convened a hearing titled “The Truth About Veteran’s Suicides” and called Katz and VA Secretary James Peake to testify.

“That e-mail was in poor tone but the content was part of a dialogue about what we should do about new information,” Katz said in response to Filner’s questions. “The e-mail represents a healthy dialogue among members of VA staff about when it’s appropriate to disclose and make public information early in the process.”

Filner was nonplused and accused Katz and Peake of a “cover-up.”

“We should all be angry about what has gone on here,” Filner said. “This is a matter of life and death for the veterans that we are responsible for and I think there was criminal negligence in the way this was handled. If we do not admit, assume or know then the problem will continue and people will die. If that’s not criminal negligence, I don’t know what is.”

A Pattern

It’s also part of a pattern. The high number of veteran suicides weren’t the only government statistics the Bush Administration was forced to reveal because of the class action lawsuit.

Another set of documents presented in court showed that in the six months leading up to March 31, a total of 1,467 veterans died waiting to learn if their disability claim would be approved by the government. A third set of documents showed that veterans who appeal a VA decision to deny their disability claim have to wait an average of 1,608 days, or nearly four and a half years, for their answer.

Other casualty statistics are not directly concealed, but are also not revealed on a regular basis. For example, the Pentagon regularly reports on the numbers of American troops “wounded” in Iraq (currently at 31,948) but neglects to mention that it has two other categories “injured” (10,180) and “ill” (28,451). All three of these categories represent soldiers who are so damaged physically they have to be medically evacuated to Germany for treatment, but by splitting the numbers up the sense of casualties down the public consciousness.

Here’s another number that we don’t often hear discussed in the media: 287,790. That’s the number of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who had filed a disability claim with the Veterans Administration as of March 25th. That figure was not announced to the public at a news conference, but obtained by Veterans for Common Sense using the Freedom of Information Act.

Why all the secrecy? Why is it so hard to get accurate casualty figures out of our government? Because the Bush Administration knows if Americans woke up to the real, human costs of this war they would fight harder to oppose it.

Some ‘Cakewalk’

Think back to 2002, before the invasion of Iraq, when leading neo-conservative thinker and Donald Rumsfeld aide Ken Adelman predicted the war would be a “cakewalk.”

Or consider this statement from Vice President Dick Cheney. Two days before the invasion, Cheney told NBC’s Tim Russert the war would “go relatively quickly…(ending in) weeks rather than months.”

Today, those comments are gone but the motivation behind them remains. This is why the VA’s head of mental health wrote “Shh!” telling a spokesperson not to respond to a reporters’ inquiry.

But all the shhing in the world cannot stop the horrible pain that’s mounting after five years of war in Iraq and nearly seven years of war in Afghanistan.

Unpleasant Facts

According to an April 2008 study by the Rand Corporation, 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans currently suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression. Another 320,000 suffer from traumatic brain injury, physical brain damage. A majority are not receiving help from the Pentagon and VA system which are more concerned with concealing unpleasant facts than they are with providing care.

In its study, the RAND Corporation wrote that the federal government fails to care for war veterans at its own peril – noting post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury “can have far-reaching and damaging consequences.”

“Individuals afflicted with these conditions face higher risks for other psychological problems and for attempting suicide. They have higher rates of unhealthy behaviors – such as smoking, overeating, and unsafe sex – and higher rates of physical health problems and mortality. Individuals with these conditions also tend to miss more work or report being less productive,” the report said. “These conditions can impair relationships, disrupt marriages, aggravate the difficulties of parenting, and cause problems in children that may extend the consequences of combat trauma across generations.”

“These consequences can have a high economic toll,” RAND said. “However, most attempts to measure the costs of these conditions focus only on medical costs to the government. Yet, direct costs of treatment are only a fraction of the total costs related to mental health and cognitive conditions. Far higher are the long-term individual and societal costs stemming from lost productivity, reduced quality of life, homelessness, domestic violence, the strain on families, and suicide. Delivering effective care and restoring veterans to full mental health have the potential to reduce these longer-term costs significantly.”

Bush and Congress have the power to stop this problem before it gets worse. It’s not too late to extend needed mental health care to our returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans; it’s not too late to begin properly screening and treating returning servicemen and women who’ve experienced a traumatic brain injury; and it is not too late to simplify the disability claims process so that wounded veterans do not die waiting for their check. As the Rand study shows, this isn’t only in the best interest of veterans, it’s in the best interest of our country in the long run.

To start with, the Bush Administration needs to give us some honest information about the true human costs of the Iraq War.

Reprinted courtesy of Foreign Policy in Focus.

May 12, 2008

Aaron Glantz [send him mail] is the author of two upcoming books on Iraq: The War Comes Home: Washington’s Battle Against America’s Veterans (UC Press) and Winter Soldier Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations (Haymarket). He edits the website WarComesHome.org.

Copyright © 2008 Foreign Policy In Focus

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