DoD looks at long-term effects of burn pits

By Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON (Dec. 28, 2009) — The Defense Department has launched a study on the possible long-term effects of the smoke emitted from burn pits used in overseas locations such as Iraq.  Armed services medical officials are conducting studies on the health outcomes of individuals that have been deployed to identify any health conditions associated with smoke exposure.  Burn pit smoke can cause some acute health effects in some people, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said today. These can include eye irritation, upper respiratory ailments and coughing.


Corps wants an end to sex assaults – now

By Dan Lamothe – Staff writer
Posted : Monday Dec 28, 2009 7:19:04 EST

With reported sex assaults in the Marine Corps up 40 percent since 2007, top service officials have ordered a crackdown to stop all forms of crude and inappropriate behavior, and Marines of every rank will be enlisted to help.  The push will include new training for all Marines beginning early in 2010, but it will go far beyond that, said Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, the service’s top enlisted adviser. Marines of all ranks will be told to think twice before sharing off-color jokes and engaging in crude behavior that experts say can help foster an environment ripe for sexual harassment and assaults to occur. No new disciplinary system will be put in place, but criminal charges and nonjudicial punishments will be pursued aggressively.  “Zero tolerance on sexual assault is the message,” Kent said. “You could look at a room of 100 female Marines, and you would see that most of them have been sexually assaulted in one way, shape or form, and we can’t tolerate that.”  The crackdown has support at the highest levels of the service, with Commandant Gen. James Conway, Assistant Commandant Gen. James Amos and Kent all speaking on the issue at a conference for senior enlisted Marines held Dec. 15-16 in Washington.

Stress at war and at home

Updated: 10:24 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009
Published: 10:21 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009

For some active-duty service members and veterans, the holidays aren’t about Christmas parties and gift giving. For them, the holidays can spark flare-ups of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and make adjusting after tours of Iraq and Afghanistan more difficult, mental health counselors in Central Texas say. Maxine Trent, a counselor and coordinator of the Homefront Project at Scott & White Healthcare’s Killeen clinic, said she has seen the stress emerge as thousands of soldiers from Fort Hood’s 1st Cavalry Division return in the midst of the holiday frenzy after a year in Iraq. “Families are extremely excited when they get their service member back, but service members most of the time are needing as much downtime as possible,” she said. “This is a busy time of year … but it usually takes six weeks or more for the body to reset itself after combat.”  Trent said she advises military families to try to manage their expectations during the holidays. She said soldiers need time and space as their neurobiology adjusts from combat to home life. Her advice during these weeks is a takeoff on an old Christmas song: “Let it go, let it go, let it go.”  “It’s a transitional time anyway, and putting the holidays on top of it, you might have enough stress to boil over,” she said. “Most families are real educated about the deployment cycle and recognize what to expect, but during the holidays, it can be easy to forget we’re doing reintegration on top of the holidays.”

Returning Service Members

Seeking More Feedback = DEMOB Events
Posted At : December 22, 2009 2:04 PM | Posted By : vetadmin

We asked you for any feedback on VA support of Yellow Ribbon Program (YRP) events, and you responded back. And thank you for that. Now we now ask for feedback on VA’s support during the DEMOB cycle.  Is our current support helpful? And what can we do differently?  Let’s start with what a DEMOB is. That’s short for de-mo-bil-i-za-tion… it’s basically when Johnny/Janey comes marching home from a warzone, and there are (depending on the service) 4-5 days to out-process / eventually discharge them from Active Duty and try and transition them back to the civilian world. This can include equipment turn-in, medical exam, DD-214 prep, travel orders, etc.   And as part of the DEMOB process, Reservists, to include National Guard, are now given an introduction to the VA during their out-processing at currently (and the list is growing) 61 DEMOB sites (15 Army, 36 Air Force, 4 Navy, 3 Marine and 3 Coast Guard).   Our newest combat Veterans receive an overview on VA services and benefits and are enrolled in VA healthcare.   They are then members of the VA Family, and are assigned an OEF/OIF Program Manager to contact, who will set up their initial health and dental appointments at the VA facility of their choice.   As of November 2009, VA has supported over 1,295 DEMOB events, briefed over 73,000 Veterans, and enrolled over 70,000 of them, for a 95-percent enrollment rate.   VA Secretary Eric Shinseki emphasized getting young Vets signed up now — rather than later — with the VA, and he alluded to why in a recent speech to an Air/Army National Guard audience:  “I ask all of you to talk to your Soldiers and Airmen—stress the importance of registering with VA as soon as they are eligible. Many view VA as an organization for old men, but it will become important to them in 10, 15, 20, or 25 years.” So, please, let us know — is our current DEMOB transition support helpful for you? And what can we do differently to help you at these DEMOB sites?

Veterans and Shelter Animals Meet With Pets2Vets

By LINDA LOMBARDI For The Associated Press
WASHINGTON December 21, 2009 (AP)

Dave Sharpe was troubled by thoughts he couldn’t share after he returned from serving in Iraq. “I found myself waking up in the middle of the night, punching holes in walls, kicking and beating the refrigerator door,” he said.  Then one day, the former Air Force senior airman went with a friend to a local pit bull rescue and took home a puppy, Cheyenne. Next time he found himself kicking something, “I saw this puppy, cocking her head, looking up at me, like, what are you doing?”  Finally, Sharpe had someone he could open up to. “I froze, I put down my drink, I picked her up and laid with her in my bed,” he said. “I cried and I told her the whole story. I didn’t feel judged.”  The experience inspired Sharpe, of Arlington, Va., to start Pets2Vets, a group that pairs veterans with homeless pets by arranging adoptions of shelter animals. It has made two or three matches a week since its start in October. One of the goals of Pets2Vets is to raise awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder. Sharpe says that while a few groups provide veterans with service dogs, many PTSD and traumatic brain injury patients don’t qualify for these programs. Even when they do, because of the stigma still attached to psychological problems, they may hesitate to apply.

DoD and VA Discuss Environmental Exposure Challenges

Wednesday, December 23, 2009
By Peter Graves | FHP&R Strategic Communications

On Nov. 13, an assembly of some of the top physicians, epidemiologists, and researchers from across the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and even the United Kingdom Ministry of Defense gathered in a day long workshop to discuss the challenges of environmental exposures within the Iraqi and Afghan theaters of operation, and what was being done to address them.  The workshop was sponsored and led by the DoD-VA Deployment Health Working Group, a chartered interagency committee charged with fostering enhanced cooperation regarding the health of service members, both active and separated. This workshop was organized because many veterans have returned from duty stations in the Middle East complaining of possible health effects associated with exposure to chemicals, particulate matter, smoke, and dust. The overall purpose of the workshop was to improve communication and cooperation among DoD and VA scientists, who are responsible for health studies and other responses to environmental exposures in theater.  Although working-group members and a number of guest scientists reflected on a wide variety of exposures within Iraq, Afghanistan, and across the globe, the discussion was focused primarily on three high-profile cases within the Iraqi theater of operations. These are the 2003 exposures to sodium dichromate at the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Plant; the 2003 Mishraq State sulfur fires; and exposures to smoke from the burn pit at Joint Base Balad. For each of these three exposure incidents, presentations were provided on the environmental investigation and on the completed and ongoing medical surveillance studies.  Participant presentations were geared towards explaining exposure situations as they are currently understood, and educating the group on various interagency resources and databases which can be utilized for additional health studies to determine the potential for long-term health effects.

The Battle Inside

Justin Savage | December 14, 2009

Every day in the news we are bombarded with stories and pictures of operations that continue in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Yet despite the heavy media coverage of our troops in combat, a large piece of the picture is often overlooked.  Who’s watching after troops return, once we’re home, while we’re struggling or focused on trying to take the next natural steps in our lives? As it turns out, the battle isn’t over when we leave the battlefield. Many Veterans and active duty troops alike, struggle with the return to civilian life.  While problems can be mild and manageable–nothing more than a little difficulty getting back into the swing of things–in many cases they can be debilitating. Recent studies show that over a third of Veterans are diagnosed with a combat stress-related behavioral health issue like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or major depression. Of those diagnosed, nearly half won’t seek any help – and half of those that do seek help don’t receive adequate care. The consequences of untreated behavioral health problems like PTSD can be grave. Compared to civilians, veterans living with PTSD are two times more likely to divorce, three times more likely to be unemployed and four times more likely to commit suicide.  Deployment-related mental health issues are challenging to address from a warrior’s perspective and from the standpoint of those currently trying to solve this problem. Stigma is always a concern, and common symptoms like avoidance can keep returning troops from asking for help, or in some cases even leaving the house.  Among those who are able to overcome the initial hurdles to seeking care, many are ultimately thwarted by logistical concerns like long drives to the nearest Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital or justifying time away from job and family commitments.  And for those who can make it to a VA Hospital, they are often met with waiting rooms or waiting lists, keeping some months away from an appointment to see a mental health professional.  Veterans and the current system need new tools to meet the mental health epidemic among our troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.,15202,207493,00.html