Senators want data on prescription drug use

By Andrew Tilghman – Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Mar 25, 2010 20:06:59 EDT

Several senators expressed concern Wednesday about increasing psychiatric drug usage among service members and called on top military health officials to provide detailed data about how many troops are on anti-depressants and other mind-altering drugs. At a hearing on Capitol Hill, Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s military personnel panel, cited a recent Military Times report about the spike in psychotropic drug use in the military community, pointing to evidence that overall psychiatric drug usage has risen about 76 percent since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  “We’ve seen recent reports of increased prescription drug use that are deeply troubling … in fact, the data is stunning,” Webb told the surgeons general from the Army, Navy and Air Force and the Marine Corps’s top health official, who all appeared at the hearing on the military health system.  But military officials are backing off previous statements to lawmakers about psychiatric drug usage.  On Feb. 24, the Army’s top psychiatrist, Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, testified before Congress that about 17 percent of the active-duty force uses some form of psychiatric medications.   read more

New Protocol to Provide Early Brain Injury Detection

By Christen N. McCluney
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2010 – The Defense Department is rolling out a new set of guidelines for the treatment of mild traumatic brain injury among servicemembers in combat areas.   “We’re morphing from a symptom-based approach in theater to an incident-based approach,” a senior official said yesterday during a “DoDLive” bloggers roundtable.   “The tenet behind this is we strongly believe that early detection and early treatment decrease the complaints of post-traumatic brain injury after sustaining an injury,” said Kathy Helmick, interim senior executive director for traumatic brain injury and director of TBI clinical standards of care at the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.   The new protocol will go into effect soon and will make head injury evaluations mandatory for servicemembers who have been involved in incidents such as being close to explosions or blasts. In the past, Helmick explained, servicemembers simply decided for themselves whether to report symptoms. Moving forward, the medical staff will check everyone involved in such incidents.    read more

VA doctors see more veterans with noncombat neck, back or joint problems

By LINDSAY WISE
HOUSTON CHRONICLE
March 4, 2010, 6:16AM

Anthony Clark used to think nothing of running two miles in 14 minutes. Now the 44-year-old Iraq war veteran can’t walk without pain. “It’s a total life change,” said Clark, who developed severe back and shoulder problems while serving as an Army sergeant in Iraq in 2003.  “Physically, I can’t run,” he said. “I very much enjoyed hiking, working out, driving — you know, traveling. I try to do things and I can’t. It’s very limited. It’s kind of depressing because those are the things I really like to do.”  The pain became so bad that Clark left his retail inventory job to concentrate on physical therapy at Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston. He’s not alone. More than half of returning veterans evaluated at the medical center on Holcombe have been diagnosed with similar back, neck and joint pain from overuse or accidents, said Dr. Drew Helmer, lead primary care physician at the hospital’s clinic for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. “We tell our primary care physicians: ‘If you see a returning veteran and they don’t tell you about one of these things, they just forgot to mention it,’ ” Helmer said. “We all have back problems, but I think it rises into really an epidemic level in this population.”  A recent Johns Hopkins study found that the top reasons for medical evacuation from Iraq and Afghanistan are musculoskeletal and connective tissue disorders, not combat injuries.  Researchers examined the records of more than 34,000 military personnel evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan between January 2004 and December 2007. They found that 24 percent of the service members had musculoskeletal or connective tissue disorders, compared to 14 percent who had suffered combat injuries.   read more

Lejeune water report had no mention of benzene

By Kevin Maurer – The Associated Press
Posted : Wednesday Feb 17, 2010 17:22:16 EST

WILMINGTON, N.C. — An environmental contractor dramatically underreported the level of a cancer-causing chemical found in tap water at Camp Lejeune, then omitted it altogether as the Marine base prepared for a federal health review, an Associated Press review has found.  The Marine Corps had been warned nearly a decade earlier about the dangerously high levels of benzene, which was traced to massive leaks from fuel tanks at the base on the North Carolina coast, according to recently disclosed studies.  For years, Marines who served at Camp Lejeune have blamed their families’ cancers and other ailments on tap water tainted by dry cleaning solvents, and many accuse the military of covering it up. The benzene was discovered as part of a broader, ongoing probe into that contamination.   read more

Study Suggests More Veterans May Be Helped by Talking About Killing

By JAMES DAO
Published: February 13, 2010

The act of killing is as fundamental to war as oxygen is to fire. Yet it is also the one thing many combat veterans avoid discussing when they return home, whether out of shame, guilt or a deep fear of being misunderstood.  But a new study of Iraq war veterans by researchers in San Francisco suggests that more discussion of killing may help veterans cope with an array of mental health problems stemming from war.  The study, published last week in The Journal of Traumatic Stress, found that soldiers who reported having killed in combat, or who gave orders that led to killing, were more likely to report the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol abuse, anger and relationship problems. The study was based on data from health assessments conducted on about 2,800 soldiers who returned from Iraq in 2005 and 2006.  Shira Maguen, a psychologist at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the principal investigator on the study, said the results suggested that mental health professionals need to incorporate killing more explicitly into their assessments and treatment plans for veterans. That would include finding ways to discuss the impact of killing, in public forums and in private treatment, to reduce the stigma and shame, she argued.   read more

Report slams flaws in DoD sex assault program

By Karen Jowers – Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Dec 5, 2009 8:22:44 EST

The Pentagon office charged with oversight of military sexual assault prevention and response policy is not doing an effective job — and responsibility should be placed, at least temporarily, directly in the hands of the deputy secretary of defense, a task force has recommended.  The report by the Defense Department’s Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services, based on 15 months of work and interviews with more than 3,500 people at 60 locations around the world, said the department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office is not providing policy or oversight for key responsibilities, or interacting with military officials in the field who are accountable on this issue.  Defense officials should revamp the office and provide the expertise necessary to lead and oversee its primary missions of sexual assault prevention, response, training and accountability, the task force said.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates has 90 days to review, comment on and send the congressionally-mandated report to Capitol Hill. The 176-page report was submitted Dec. 1.  “Our recommendations highlight the need for institutional change to more effectively prevent sexual assault and address related issues,” task force co-chair Louis Iasiello said in a statement. “Doing so is not only ethically and morally correct, but also essential to military readiness — all the more critical at this time.”  read more

New DoD/VA Center to Improve Eye Care

Monday, February 15, 2010
By Matt Pueschel | FHP&R Staff Writer 

The new Vision Center of Excellence (VCE) is beginning to take flight since it was formed at the behest of Congress to track eye injuries emanating from the war theater and improve treatment outcomes across the services and VA.  “It’s important to look at how injuries are occurring, what can we do to mitigate the extent of morbidity when doing treatment, and how can we enhance treatment and research and improve the rehabilitation process to bring better functioning in life to patients,” said Col. Donald A. Gagliano, M.D., M.H.A., DoD principal advisor for vision and VCE’s executive director, during a presentation in January before a group of military and veterans service organizations at the FHP&R offices in Falls Church, Va.  VCE was formed after the fiscal year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act directed DoD and VA to establish a center of excellence in the prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment, and rehabilitation of military eye injuries, and to better coordinate visual rehabilitative care and benefits for service members’ continuum of care between the agencies. The need for the VCE is evidenced in the variety of injuries that impact soldiers’ vision, from traumatic eye injury as a result of explosive devices and projectiles, to vision disorders associated with TBI, and eye injury caused by exposure to chemicals, biohazards, lasers or extreme environmental conditions. VCE is facilitating collaborative efforts that support optimal DoD/VA vision care transition, such as a process developed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for blind rehabilitation care.  read more