Friday, March 14, 2008

ARAB TIMES REPORTS: “U.S. Can’t Handle Care Demand”

ARAB TIMES REPORTS: “U.S. Can’t Handle Care Demand”

By Kevin Stoda in Kuwait

It is no world-wide secret! The United States is not keeping up (nor will it try to keep up) on the physical and mental health care needs of American Veterans returning from war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

That is why one headline for an Associated Press (AP) article this last weekend in Kuwait’s ARAB TIMES read: “U.S. Can’t Handle Care Demand”.

It sounded like the phrase in the Jack Nicholson & Tom Cruise film where Nicholson shouts, “You can’t handle the truth!”--doesn’t it?

Americans and American congressmen need to come to handle the truth about war costs and healthcare expenses.

The AP article above noted statistics in recent US military reports that show that during the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are “15 soldiers wounded for every fatality, compared with 2.6 per death in Vietnam and 2.8 in Korea.”

This huge shift in war statistics involving the huge percentage of those surviving--but injured—American veterans in war these days results (1) from U.S. advances in medical handling of injuries and (2) from the fact that the weapons of choice in these 2 locations of asymmetric-warfare have often been roadside bombings.


MENTAL HEALTH AND THE VETERANS ADMINISTRATION

Two sets of recent official governmental reports have indicated that already, over 29,000, U.S. soldiers have been treated for physical injuries--while more than 31,000 other cases of non-combat related illnesses and injuries have been reported stemming from both battle field theatres.

Veterans for Common Sense provides a helpful advocacy forum & website for veterans (and their loved ones) looking for support.

http://www.veteransforcommonsense.org/

Paul Sullivan is executive director for Veterans for Common Sense, and he is cited as stating recently that “the VA’s budget request for 2009 … does not pay adequate attention to chronic problems facing Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, such as drug and alcohol addictions.”

Here is the Veteran Administration’s mental health care website:

http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/MENTALHEALTH/Services.asp

However, it needs to be noted that there is currently a backlog of 400,000 medical claims at the VA.

On the other hand, as of last Autumn 2007 it is reportedly a bit easier to have a claim reviewed. (Also, budget expenditures on the VA have increased a little bit over the past year.0

Meanwhile, Dr. Gerald Cross of the Veterans Administration notes that already 68,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan wars have or will have post-traumatic stress disorders.

The same ARAB TIMES article (cited above) noted that 120,000 veterans have filed a class action suit which is now holding hearing in the U.S. courts.

AL-WATAN DAILY in Kuwait also ran these headlines on a related set of recent reports from Washington, D.C: “U.S. Troops in Iraq, Afghanistan Find Harder Time Getting Mental Health Care”.

In this article (printed in a country where nearly 35,000 U.S. troops are regularly based), it is noted: “More than 27 percent of troops on their third or fourth combat tour [in Iraq or Afghanistan] suffered anxiety, depression, post-combat stress and other problems. That compared with 12 percent among those on their first tour.”

In rugged Afghanistan, many soldiers have had a particularly tough time getting mental health treatment. In 2003, three soldiers who were veterans of Afghanistan occupation & fighting returned home and killed their wives.

Suicide is also rife in both Afghanistan and Iraq for American soldiers, too. On the other hand, whereas in Afghanistan there were only four reported suicides this past year, in Iraq some 34 Americans have reportedly killed themselves—the highest rate during the past 5 years.


CURRENT RECOMMENDATIONS & CONTINUED UNDERCOUNTS

A series of military, medical and governmental reports and draft-reports have reviewed the mental health of veterans.

The following are some of the recommendations which have been made time-and-again to help troops in-and-out of battle zones:

(1) Give them longer home time between deployments
(2) Undertake more focused suicide prevention training
(3) Give more insurance for marital and family counseling

Since the wars began, the U.S. military has actually raised the length of the tour of duty for U.S. forces in both war theatres.

In addition, it has also been recommended in a recent Army report that much additional private or civilian psychiatric help for the battlefield areas needs to be hired and deployed, i.e. as the VA and military are currently overwhelmed.

Interestingly, it would seem that the overall number of veterans with mental issues, such as depression, are still being undercounted by the U.S. government and the U.S. military.


Some years back, a much more independent report on the psychiatric needs of Americans in war zones, like Afghanistan and Iraq, was issued by the New England Journal of Medicine. The article was called “Combat Duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mental Health Problems, and Barriers to Care”, and it notes that there were in 2004 already 103,000 instances of mental health disorders among veterans at that stage, i.e. stemming from these two wars.

I really doubt the numbers have gone down annually since that time.

Moreover, the lack of sleep felt by soldiers—few of whom get their nightly ration of sleep while living and operating in war zones—reinforces both long and short-term psychological stress.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan alone, up to 16 percent of U.S. troops have reported taking some sort of mental health medication.

If the Vietnam War-era rise in PTSD reported cases is matched, mimicked, or surpassed by those soldiers who have been involved in the Wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan in this decade, this following re-run is surely to be expected.

The following abstract of a 1988 Science magazine article, “The Psychological Risks of Vietnam for U.S. Veterans: A Revisit with New Data and Methods” is sobering. If the Vietnam War-era rise in PTSD reported cases is matched, mimicked, or surpassed by those soldiers who have been involved in the Wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan in this decade, a re-run of heavy societal and financial costs is surely to be expected:

“In 1988, the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS) of a representative sample of 1200 veterans estimated that 30.9% had developed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during their lifetimes and that 15.2% were currently suffering from PTSD. The study also found a strong dose-response relationship: As retrospective reports of combat exposure increased, PTSD occurrence increased. Skeptics have argued that these results are inflated by recall bias and other flaws. We used military records to construct a new exposure measure and to cross-check exposure reports in diagnoses of 260 NVVRS veterans.”

That abstract continued as per its findings, “We found little evidence of falsification, an even stronger dose-response relationship, and psychological costs that were lower than previously estimated but still substantial. According to our fully adjusted PTSD rates, 18.7% of the veterans had developed war-related PTSD during their lifetimes and 9.1% were currently suffering from PTSD 11 to 12 years after the war; current PTSD was typically associated with moderate impairment.”


WINTER SOLDIERS IN 2008

It is timely that as the 5th year of the War and Occupation of Iraq approaches, a new group of Winter Soldiers are converging on Washington to make the case that these two wars need to be ended.: NOW!

What this weekend’s veterans have to say about the war can be seen at Iraq Veterans Against the War:

http://ivaw.org/wintersoldier/howtowatch

Support can also be made at this organization’s website:

http://www.couragetoresist.org/x/content/view/540/1/

One hopes that, while making their case to the nation to end the war, these same activist veterans can also call attention to the needs for medical and mental health treatment which most veterans have been succumbing to while making their case to the nation.

In the meantime, U.S. citizenry need to recall that Middle Eastern oil countries might bail out Citicorp and the banking sector.

However, who will bail out the victims of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? That would be--the veterans and the U.S. taxpayers in North America—wouldn’t it?

Americans cannot depend on foreign countries—like Saudi, Kuwaiti, UAE or other Gulf countries--to take care of U.S .veterans and their needs.

America must do it. Moreover, companies profiting from war should be charged a bill by U.S. taxpayers.

This week Americans and other war veteran supporters can take these issues of veteranmedical care and mental health costs to the politicians in Washington and demand that Washington take better care of patriots, citizens, and the U.S. economy—and do it immediately!!!.




NOTES


Dohrenwend, et. a l. “The Psychological Risks of Vietnam for U.S. Veterans: A Revisit with New Data and Methods”, http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/313/5789/979

Hoge, Charles W. , Castro, Carl A., Messer, Stephen C., McGurk, Dennis, Cotting, Dave I., & Koffman, Robert L. “Combat Duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mental Health Problems, and Barriers to Care”, http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/351/1/13

Jelenek, Pauline, “U.S. Troops in Iraq, Afghanistan Find Harder Time Getting Mental Health Care”, Al-Watan, 8-9 March 2008, p. 19.

Laurence, Charles, “Soldiers Kill Wives after Serving in Afghanistan”, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2002/07/28/wbragg28.xml

“U.S. Can’t Handle Care Demand”, ARAB TIMES, 8 March 2008, p. 39.
Roehr, Bob, “High Rate of PTSD in Returning Iraq Veterans”, http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/565407

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