Army Joins With Mental Health Institute to Study Suicides

By Christen N. McCluney
Special to American Forces Press Service 

WASHINGTON, Nov. 23, 2009 – The Army is collaborating with the National Institute of Mental Health to launch the largest study ever undertaken of suicide and mental health among military personnel.   “The bottom line is, we want to apply science in a way that it’s going to solve this problem to the benefit of soldiers,” Robert Heinssen, NIMH’s acting director of intervention research said during a Nov. 18 interview on the Pentagon Channel podcast, “Armed with Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military.”   The institute is partnering with an academic team led by the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences that includes researchers from Harvard University, Columbia University and the University of Michigan. The team aims to develop a research agenda and research projects that look at the causes of, and areas for intervention in, a variety of mental disorders.   The project is going to capitalize on the data the Army already collects on servicemembers including training experiences, deployments, exposure during deployment, as well as information about health problems and utilization of health services, Heinssen said.   The first part of the study will look at the records of soldiers who committed suicide between 2004 and 2009, compared to a control group of soldiers from the same period that did not commit suicide, but have other characteristics that would be important for purposes of comparison, he said.   “By doing this kind of case-controlled study where the individual suicides are the cases and the controls are drawn from the rest of the Army, we think that we’ll get some early leads on signals that may tell us something about potential risk and protective factors that will help us target the second part of the study, which will be a survey of soldiers who are currently serving in the active duty component,” he said.   The survey will be conducted with several thousand soldiers every month over three consecutive years, covering about 90,000 servicemembers, Heinssen said. The investigators also will survey 100,000 new recruits a year over a three-year period and continue to follow them over time, he said.


Employment Assistance Available to Wounded, Ill and Injured Veterans, Families

Story Number: NNS091123-16
Release Date: 11/23/2009 2:54:00 PM
By Bruce Moody, Fleet and Family Support Program, Commander, Navy Installations Command Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (NNS) — The Navy provides no-cost consultations from employment specialists to veterans, including the wounded, ill and injured, and their families though the Family Employment Readiness Program (FERP).  The Fleet and Family Support Program, which manages FERP, is observing Warrior Care Month.  “We have employment experts around the fleet who are motivated in assisting all veterans and their families as they transition from military to civilian life,” said Panshella Cole, FERP manager.  Although FERP is not a job placement service, its employment specialists provide individual counseling, workshops and seminars which provide current strategies on job searches, interview techniques, dressing for success and resume writing to prepare people for the challenges and opportunities of today’s changing job market.  “Oftentimes, when veterans transfer from the military to the civilian sector, it is difficult to put that military experience into civilian terms,” Cole said. “Our goal is to assist these veterans in creating a resume that is civilian friendly.”  For veterans and families whose transition involves moving to a new location, they are encouraged to contact the Fleet and Family Support Center in that area. The employment specialists there can discuss the job environment and opportunities and can assist with fine tuning resumes and applying for jobs before arriving.

Troubled V.A. Agency Will Get a New Chief

Published: November 20, 2009
WASHINGTON — The official responsible for the problem-plagued disability compensation system at the Department of Veterans Affairs will resign early next year, the department announced Friday.  Patrick W. Dunne, under secretary of veterans affairs in charge of benefits administration, will resign early next year.  The official, Under Secretary Patrick W. Dunne, has run the Veterans Benefits Administration since 2006, a period in which the agency has been swamped by claims not only from wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans but also aging Vietnam veterans. The rise in the backlog of unprocessed claims has fueled bitter complaints from members of Congress and veterans’ advocates.  The benefits administration also came under fire this year when it was late issuing payments to colleges and students under the new G.I. Bill. In response, Eric Shinseki, the secretary of veterans affairs, ordered offices to open on a Saturday to make emergency payments to students.  In announcing Mr. Dunne’s resignation, Mr. Shinseki said: “Pat Dunne has guided the Veterans Benefits Administration through a number of challenges during his tenure as under secretary. I applaud his service and loyalty to our team and thank him for his unfailing commitment to our nation’s veterans.”  A spokeswoman for Mr. Shinseki, Katie Roberts, denied suggestions by veterans’ advocates that Mr. Dunne, a retired Navy rear admiral, had been forced out. “He served the department well,” Ms. Roberts said.  Veterans’ advocates say the benefits administration has been slow to modernize. Revamping the department’s outdated computer technology, along with reducing the claims backlog, is one of Mr. Shinseki’s top priorities.  “Veterans wait an average of six months for an initial answer on a disability claim and another four to five years while they wait for appeals,” said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense.  Mr. Sullivan’s group estimates that the backlog is close to one million claims, though the department says a more accurate measure places it at closer to half a million.

The Hell Of PTSD

By Tim McGirk / Colorado Springs Monday, Nov. 30, 2009

In retrospect, disneyland wasn’t an ideal family-vacation spot for Mark Waddell, a Navy SEAL commander whose valor in combat hid the fact that he was suffering from severe mental trauma. The noise of the careening rides, the shrieking kids–everything roused Waddell to a state of hypervigilance typical of his worst days in combat. When an actor dressed as Goofy stuck his long, doggy muzzle into his face, Waddell recalls, “I wanted to grab Goofy by the throat.”   It has long been taboo in military cultures for soldiers to complain about the invisible wounds of war. After a distinguished career as a SEAL commando, Waddell reached his breaking point following the worst disaster in SEAL history, in June 2005: a Chinook helicopter filled with eight SEALs and eight Army aviators was shot down while trying to rescue four comrades trapped by a Taliban ambush in the Kunar Mountains in Afghanistan. Waddell, who was stationed at the unit’s base in Virginia Beach, had the agonizing task of sorting through the remains of his dead men–young warriors he had fought beside, mentored and led into battle. He also had to tell their families of the deaths. One wife, he recalls, “just ran away from me, ran down the street. I could understand.” By Waddell’s reckoning, he attended more than 64 memorial services for his friends and comrades in arms. “Finally,” says Waddell, “I raised my hand and said I needed help.” The doctors’ diagnosis: Waddell was suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)–known in previous conflicts as combat fatigue.  For Waddell, the diagnosis was a long time in coming. Several years earlier, his wife Marshéle Carter Waddell and their three kids had noticed that everyday things like a whining vacuum cleaner could trigger his rages. Even his kids riled him. “I’d come back from stepping over corpses with their entrails hanging out, and my kids would be upset because their TiVo wasn’t working,” he recalls. Arriving home from one combat mission, Waddell insisted on sleeping with a gun under his pillow. Another night, he woke up from a nightmare with his fingers wrapped around his wife’s throat, her face turning blue. Marshéle had to change the sheets every morning because of her husband’s night sweats. “I had an emergency evacuation plan for myself and the family,” says Marshéle. “You feel physically unsafe.”,9171,1940694,00.html#ixzz0XL0MRtPf

Some states already poised to opt out of government-run public health plan

By Tony Romm – 11/21/09 02:02 PM ET

At least 11 states intend to forge ahead in the coming months with bills and ballot questions designed to block some of the healthcare reforms Democrats are trying to pass this year.  Their efforts could be a harbinger of trouble for the staple feature of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) newly unveiled healthcare plan: a public option that allows states the ability not to participate.  Starting as early as this summer, state lawmakers began introducing bills that would shield their citizens from individual or employer mandates, among other key reforms in Democrats’ healthcare proposals, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.   Movement on those issues is not likely for a few more months, as most state legislatures are not in session. Some state constitutions also require ballot measures in order to approve changes of that magnitude, further delaying any local action on the healthcare front.  However, these legislatures’ early moves still offer crucial hints about how many states would similarly exempt themselves from the public option, should the Senate bill’s “opt out” clause remain intact.  Already, the Congressional Budget Office estimates about one-third of states would back out of the system, limiting the public option insurance pool to about 3 or 4 million Americans. That would make the public plan’s enrollment about 1 million smaller than the House’s version of the program, according to a cost analysis of the Senate proposal.  Among those states likely to bow out first could be Virginia and New Jersey, which both recently elected Republican governors.   Both Virginia Governor-elect Bob McDonnell and New Jersey Governor-elect Chris Christie signaled a willingness to exempt their states from a public plan during their respective campaigns, and they could revive their opposition once they assume office in January.  “Turning over the best doctors, the best hospitals, the best pharmaceutical research and development system to the federal government for a co-op or a public option is [an idea] I don’t hear Virginians very excited about,” McDonnell, then a candidate, told Fox News in October.  Similar battles could play out across the country, especially in the 13 states where Republicans dominate both the governor’s mansion and the legislature, or the 10 states now under split-party control.

House bill could expand Agent Orange claims

Rick Maze – Staff writer
Posted : Friday Nov 20, 2009 17:47:20 EST

Legislation granting Air Force and Navy veterans a better shot at receiving disability benefits for Agent Orange-related illness now has 204 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, 14 short of the number needed to guarantee passage. The bill, HR 2254, is the Agent Orange Equity Act. It would grant people who served in the waters off Vietnam and the airspace above it the same presumptions as people who set foot there: that certain diseases are the result of exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange, widely used to defoliate jungle around U.S. bases and outposts. If enacted, the bill would cover veterans who had received a Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal or who served on Johnston Island, a Navy outpost, beginning April 1, 1972, and ending Sept. 30, 1977. Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., the House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman who is the measure’s chief sponsor, said the bill goes a long way toward providing benefits to veterans whom the Veterans Affairs Department “illogically refuses to acknowledge.” “Current law requires VA to provide care for service members exposed to Agent Orange by virtue of their ‘boots on the ground,’ but ignores veterans that served in the blue waters and the blue skies of Vietnam,” Filner said. His bill would provide the same presumptions “to all combat veterans of the Vietnam War, regardless of where they served.”

Senate Passes Benefits For Vets’ Caregivers

Nov. 19, 2009
Senate Passes Bill Offering Medical Benefits, Stipends To Wounded Vets’ Caregivers

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate on Thursday unanimously passed legislation that would provide monthly stipends and medical benefits to family members who stay home to care for severely injured veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The bill also includes travel expenses and training for the caregivers, improved health services for women veterans and rural areas, and nearly $1 billion for veterans medical facilities.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates the measure would cost nearly $4 billion over the first five years, most of it to pay for the new caregiver benefits.  Although the bill had bipartisan support, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., held it up for weeks trying to persuade senators to pay for the new spending by making cuts in other programs. He tried without success Thursday to amend the bill to cut funding for the United Nations.  “If, in fact, we want to honor our veterans … we ought to have the courage to make hard choices about how we pay for it,” Coburn said.  But Coburn ultimately supported the bill after his amendment failed. The measure passed on a 98-0 vote.  Supporters, including veterans groups such as the Wounded Warrior Project, argued that the spending is part of the cost of war. Democrats said Coburn and others who were quick to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without paying for them up-front should be just as eager to deal with the consequences.   “We cannot now turn our backs on the obligations to those who fought,” said Sen. Daniel Akaka, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the bill’s sponsor.  Supporters also argued that the caregiver benefits will save money in the long-run as more veterans stay home instead of moving into expensive nursing facilities.  Lawmakers limited the new caregiver benefits to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to keep down the cost.