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

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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

Shinseki: US will fix broken VA disability system

By KIMBERLY HEFLINGThe Associated Press
Monday, February 22, 2010; 10:43 AM

CHILLICOTHE, Ohio — Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said he’s making it a top priority this year to tackle the backlog of disability claims that has veterans waiting months – even years – to get financial compensation for their injuries.  Among those waiting for relief are sick Vietnam and Gulf War veterans to whom the former Army commander feels an allegiance and who have long felt ignored. “I’m a kid out of the Vietnam era, I just have enough firsthand knowledge of folks walking around with lots of issues. If there’s a generation of veterans that have had a tough row to hoe, it’s the Vietnam generation,” said Shinseki, 67, in an interview with The Associated Press as he traveled through snowcapped mountains in Ohio and West Virginia between meetings with veterans. Shinseki, a former Army chief of staff who had part of a foot blown off when he was a young officer in Vietnam, was unapologetic about a decision he made in October to make it easier for potentially 200,000 sick Vietnam veterans who were exposed to the Agent Orange herbicide to receive service-connected compensation.   read more

VA prodded to give more aid to female veterans

Kristine Wise remembers driving from San Diego to Victorville, Calif., to visit her brother and seeing haunting messages on the freeway…

By Tony Perry
Los Angeles Times

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Kristine Wise remembers driving from San Diego to Victorville, Calif., to visit her brother and seeing haunting messages on the freeway signs. Instead of the speed limit or the miles to the next town, she envisioned: Beware of Snipers. Watch Out for Bombs. 40 miles to Baghdad. Death Ahead. “It was horrible,” said Wise, who served in Iraq with the Army in 2003 and 2004.  The disturbing images are part of the anxiety and panic attacks she has suffered since serving as a supply clerk just as the insurgency was becoming proficient at killing Americans, with roadside bombs and suicide attacks.  In Iraq, her depression ran so deep that she wrote a suicide poem: “The pressure is too great / I’m going to crack and fall apart / … My casket is now fully covered, it looks nice.”  Sent back to Germany, Wise received psychiatric and medical treatment before she was honorably discharged in 2004, two years early.  Now 40 and a student at California State University, San Marcos, she is part of a growing phenomenon: women who have been traumatized by military service.  The number of female veterans being treated by the Department of Veterans Affairs has doubled in recent years and is expected to double again within a decade. The swift demographic change has prompted some veterans’ advocates to assert that the VA has not responded adequately to women’s mental and physical health-care needs.   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

Many Veterans Not Getting Enough Treatment for PTSD

ScienceDaily (Feb. 12, 2010) — Although the Department of Veteran Affairs is rolling out treatments nationwide as fast as possible to adequately provide for newly diagnosed PTSD patients, there are still significant barriers to veterans getting a full course of PTSD treatment. The study is published in the latest issue of the Journal of Traumatic Stress.  More than 230,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans sought treatment for the first time at VA healthcare facilities nationwide between 2002 and 2008. More than 20 percent of these veterans, almost 50,000, received a new PTSD diagnosis. Treatments that have been shown to be effective for PTSD typically require 10-12 weekly sessions. VA follows these recommendations, however, fewer than ten percent of those Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with newly diagnosed PTSD complete this recommended “dose” of PTSD treatment. When the timeframe was expanded to a year rather than four months, fewer than thirty percent of the veterans completed the recommended course of treatment.  read more