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


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

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

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

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

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

Promises, Promises: War widows’ futile fight

By Kimberly Hefling, Associated Press
Mideast edition, Friday, February 12, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — For a decade, war widows in matching yellow suit jackets and hats quietly and persistently have knocked on Capitol Hill doors seeking an end to the “widows’ tax,” a government policy that deprives them of benefits from their husbands’ military service.  They are always warmly received, but that’s where the hospitality ends. Despite pledges of help from scores of federal officials — including President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — their long quest remains unfulfilled.  Every year since 2005, the Senate has voted to eliminate the policy that denies widows the ability to collect both a military survivor’s benefit and the full annuity bought when their military husbands were alive. But in each of those years, the fix was dropped when House and Senate negotiators wrote the final bill in private.  “What we always hear is that there is just no funding for us. ‘Sorry, this is not your year,'” said Vivianne Wersel, chairwoman of the Government Relations Committee at Gold Star Wives of America. Her husband died of a heart attack in 2005, days after returning from his second tour in Iraq. “What happens behind closed doors, we get thrown under the bus.” The widows’ tax is a law that won’t allow surviving spouses to receive the retirement pay due them when their spouse died from a cause related to military service, and at the same time collect the full annuity — essentially an insurance policy most of their spouses opted to buy. They paid an average of 6.5 percent of their retirement pay in premiums, often $100 or more a month. Because one benefit is subtracted from the other, affected surviving spouses lose about $1,000 a month on average. There are about 54,000 survivors who are affected by the policy, whose spouses served in conflicts from World War II to Afghanistan, and that number could grow. The widows say politicians have promised time and time again to help them, but they don’t.  read more

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.