Critics blast veterans’ mental health care
By RYAN HOLEYWELL
WASHINGTON, July 28 (UPI) – Several Members of Congress blasted the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Pentagon this week, saying the agencies not doing enough to aid soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder.
**“All I hear is ‘we’re doing everything right.’ All I hear is ‘everything’s fine.’ Everything’s not fine - we have suicides,” Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., told a panel of witnesses from the VA and the Army at hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday. He went on to call government claims about proactive treatment of PTSD in soldiers “demonstrably false.” **
Post-traumatic stress disorder, an anxiety disorder, was first identified in 1980 and occurs following exposure to a life-threatening event. Symptoms can include insomnia, nightmares and depression and nervousness. The disorder is marked by both biological changes and emotional symptoms…
**…Hoge told hearing attendees that about 30 percent of soldiers who served in the Vietnam War developed PTSD at some point during their lives. **
"Every time someone re-experiences an event or has a flashback … the memory becomes more and more intractable, the harder and harder it is for the persons brain wiring to go around the memory," explained Lizbet Boroughs, deputy director of government relations for the American Psychiatric Association…
…the Army is continuing to research how to reduce the stigma of PTSD and ensure delivery of mental-health services.
"The culture inside the military hasn’t changed that much," Mooney said. “Attitudes are not changing at the operational level as rapidly as knowledge of the condition.”…
**…Though he suffered from physical symptoms associated with PTSD – including high blood pressure, chest pain and erectile dysfunction – military primary care did not identify PTSD in Capt. Michael Jon Pelkey, his widow testified… **
…Thomas Berger, chairman of Vietnam Veterans of America’s PTSD and Substance Abuse Committee, told UPI the pre-deployment discussions are little more than a “pep talk,” and more needs to be done to inform soldiers about PTSD before they move to conflict zones.
**The VVA also submitted a statement to the committee indicating that the Pentagon’s post-deployment health assessment is a two page, multiple-choice test that “is hardly a useful mental health assessment tool.” The VVA statement also said soldiers lack the incentive to tell the truth about mental-health issues, because they fear that such issues could prevent their promotion… **
…Mooney explained that most returning active-duty troops are demobilized and given time to decompress, then are debriefed and screened, but National Guard and reserve troops go directly from the field to their home reserve centers and armories.
**“If they get any screening or treatment at all, it’s just for a couple days,” Mooney said. “There’s a disconnect in the prevention services.”… **
…“I think it’s real important that it not just be the Veterans Administration (helping soldiers),” Berger said. “It takes the whole community to reintegrate the person. People need to understand the sacrifice.”…
**…Legislation pending in committee, the Comprehensive Assistance for Veterans Exposed to Traumatic Stressors Act, would increase outreach to veterans and provide education to families and healthcare providers about PTSD. The bill would also require collaboration between the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs with regard to mental health treatment… **
…The Army’s Mental Health Advisory Team reported last week the suicide rate for soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait fell from 18 per 100,000 in 2003 to 8.5 per 100,000 in 2004. Soldiers’ morale is also improving, the report said. In 2003, about 52 percent of soldiers described morale as low, dropping to 36 percent in 2004.
**Veterans groups, the VA and the Army all praise the 207 Vet Centers that employ mostly veterans to provide health services to those returning from war. Last year, the VA hired 50 veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq to work in Vet Centers, and the agency is looking at adding 50 more. **
**The NIMH is also piloting a program called DE-STRESS designed to test methods for reducing PTSD symptoms using Internet-based programs. **
**VA officials and veterans’ groups also cited the success of groups embedded with combat units to evaluate and treat stress. **
Ryan** Holeywell**** is an intern for UPI Science News. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org**