wherein two neurotic Ohio residents try to make sense of a world gone mad

Friday, September 07, 2007

PTSD and the "volunteer Army"

Yes, I know, it's been quite a while since I have posted here. I moved from my rural area, complete with hot and cold running rodents (but not hot and cold running water), to Cleveland.

Now I am nearer to the doctors at the Veterans Hospital who are supposed to be treating my various illnesses. Of course, VA health care continues to be second to none. Or almost second to none. I am still not being treated with real honest-to -goodness treatments for my disorders. So my health continues to be poor.

With the stress of moving, ,I simply did not have the time or energy to post. I am sorry about that. Of course I am sorry about many things.

I am mostly sorry about being mentally ill. I have PTSD, as those who may have read previous posts have discovered. This was an illness that I acquired as a direct result of serving in the Armed Forces in 1974. I joined voluntarily, thinking I could make a difference and serve my country, as my brother and father had. Wow. It didn't take long (Advanced Individual Training at Ft. Dix, New Jersey), to find out that some of my "brothers in arms" did not welcome female soldiers, other than in a primal way. After 40 days in a military hospital I was discharged from the service with a "personality disorder," which is something people are born with. Hmm.

Years of arguments, claims, and appeals finally resulted in the VA admitting that "more likely than not" my diagnosed PTSD was the result of military sexual trauma. MST, they call it. Sounds better than raped and bleeding, don't ya think?

Anyway, I had a counseling appointment with a new counselor in Brecksville yesterday. She dresses nice. Pretty dress, diet thin, nice impractical shoes. Smiles a lot. She can help me. We talked about my dissociation, which is when I'm not really here. This is a severe symptom. I lose time. I lose memory of events. I get lost. It can last for hours. Happens a lot to me.

Scary, huh? Not to her. She doesn't think most people are afraid of these symptoms. Hmm, sort of like being drunk or on roofies, although not with the fun parts. And there is a reason they call that the date rape drug, isn't there?

Anyway, she wanted to help me set some short-term goals. For example, would I like to reduce my dissociation from spells that last for hours to spells that last an hour, or from having spells seven days a week to having them four or five days a week. I replied that is sort of like asking me if I want to bleed for five days a week or seven, or for five minutes or an hour. I don't think that was the right answer. Then again, I am out of answers. I only have questions.

One of my questions is "Why the hell are we still in Iraq?" We know war causes injuries and mental illness, so why are we still sending overseas our people with no options, the poor, the rural, the residents of the inner city, the people society doesn't care about, to fight in the fucking desert over nothing? I don't need more members in my PTSD club! Society has no way to deal with the problems of these returning soldiers, and the VA doesn't care, even though caring for us is their stated mission.

Sorry, I guess I'm bleeding again. The pain is overwhelming.

Please watch this video that someone sent to me. I know it's long, but watch the whole thing.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


The other blog I used to post at (at which I used to post?), Waffle Ass, is no more. The way I like to think of it is that it got sick and died.

Anyway, I'm keeping it online for as long as Blogger will let me, although there will be no more new posts there (well, maybe one).

I have begun a new solo blog called Yazoo Street Scandal. If you liked Waffle Ass--and it's okay to admit it now--then you might like YSS as well.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

more $ for Veterans Affairs?

Chris Adams of the McClatchy Newspapers reports:
Congressional appropriators are pushing a huge increase in spending for the Department of Veterans Affairs, despite some resistance from the White House.
The congressional bills call for increases of approximately $43 billion for health care. The White House wants to see the increases limited to $39 billion, calling the larger figure "an excessive level of spending."

Well, since we've already spent more than $436 billion on the Iraq war, I personally don't think that spending approximately 1.15% of that total to care for disabled veterans constitutes "an excessive level of spending."

You can read the rest of Adams's article here.

Friday, February 02, 2007

help is a phone call away? not so much

Is help for veterans a phone call away? Ask Jonathan Schulze. Oh, I guess you can’t.

He committed suicide in New Prague, Minnesota on January 16th this year. He was a veteran of the Iraq War. He had called two separate VA facilities for mental health help just days before he killed himself. According to his mother, he told officials that he was suicidal.

There was a waiting list for care. Gee, I bet there wasn’t a waiting list when he enlisted. But when the service is done with you, good luck getting help with medical or mental problems.

The system is underfunded and the staff is overwhelmed. Unfortunately so are the patients. So people die. Some dramatically, like Jonathan Schulze. Some less dramatically, of medical neglect. You know, the patients who can’t get appointments, the patients who get out dated treatments, or can’t get diagnosed at all.

It’s a nightmare, trying to get help in the VA system. And to those folks who say, well, just get treatment in the community, I say: with whose money? Medical care is expensive, and for former soldiers who are out of work, unable to work, there is no insurance. The VA becomes the only medical provider available. Except they aren’t.

I know whereof I speak. I am a veteran. I have been struggling with long commutes to the nearest VA hospital, which is an hour and a half away from where I live. After years of appointments with specialists, the docs finally admit that I am sick, but still have not given me a diagnosis. Or rather, I have a diagnosis, but it changes regularly. Some sort of autoimmune disease. Oh, and I need a heart catheterization because I have, or probably have, pulmonary hypertension, and some day they will schedule that.

After the test they may treat the life-threatening condition. Maybe. In the meantime, I have more fatigue, more pain, am less able to function, and am living on $900 and some dollars a month disability pay. A lot of days I don’t care about the test. I don’t care about the outdated and ineffective treatments, I just want the pain to end. Physical and mental. I have PTSD too, so I know about the nightmares, the cynicism, the disillusionment.

Oh, but there is going to be a team of federal investigators at the Minnesota VA facilities. Too little, too late, and will anyone care?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

mental health hotline

From the Associated Press:
U.S. troops who have been reluctant to seek help for mental health problems soon be able to find it with a phone call.

A new automated phone-in assessment program is the latest effort by the military to reach out to soldiers and family members who might not otherwise seek help for post-traumatic stress or other psychological issues.

You can read the entire story here.

The new program will begin on February 12. The phone number is 877.877.3647.

Monday, January 08, 2007

an American hero

What if they gave a war and nobody came? First Lieutenant Ehren Watada, who faces court-martial for refusing to serve in Iraq, is about to find out.

Since last June, Watada, a 28-year-old native of Hawaii, has refused Iraq deployment orders, calling the war illegal. Rather than accept reassignment, he has remained on his Army base in Fort Lewis, Washington. A six-year prison term could result. Preliminary hearings began last Thursday.

Army Times has more, as does the Inter Press Service News Agency.

Kevin Sites of Hot Zone has a recent interview with Watada. The sentiments below are Watada's, from that interview:
Since then I think I, as many, many Americans are realizing, that those justifications [for the Iraq war] were intentionally falsified in order to fit a policy established long before 9/11 of just toppling the Saddam Hussein regime and setting up an American presence in Iraq.

. . .

I think that when we take an oath we, as soldiers and officers, swear to protect the constitution — with our lives as necessary — and those constitutional values and laws that make us free and make us a democracy. And when we have one branch of government that intentionally deceives another branch of government in order to authorize war, and intentionally deceives the people in order to gain that public support, that is a grave breach of our constitutional values, our laws, our checks and balances, and separation of power.

. . .

I felt, well, in a general sense I felt that when we put our trust in the government, when we put our lives in their hands, that is a huge responsibility. And we also say that "when we put our lives in your hands, we ask that you not abuse that trust; that you not take us to war over flimsy or false reasons; that you take us to war when it is absolutely necessary." Because we have so much to lose, you know — the soldiers, our lives, our limbs, our minds and our families — that the government and the people owe that to us.

. . .

The Constitution was established, and our laws are established, to protect human rights, to protect equal rights and constitutional civil liberties. And I think we have people in power who say that those laws, or those principles, do not apply to them — that they are above the law and can do whatever it takes to manipulate or create laws that enable them to do whatever they please. And that is a danger in our country, and I think the war in Iraq is just one symptom of this agenda. And I think as soldiers, as American people, we need to recognize this, and we need to put a stop to it before it's too late.
Remember, if you oppose the continuation of the war in Iraq, it's important to let your representatives know.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

rural deaths higher

One of our readers pointed this out to me:
U.S. soldiers from rural communities are dying at a higher rate in Iraq and Afghanistan than soldiers from larger metropolitan areas. This is according to a study by the Carsey Institute, a think tank at the University of New Hampshire. With more rural men and women seeking military job opportunities, their small communities are in turn suffering higher rates of loss.

Please take the time to watch the video, which is also from The Center for Rural Strategies. Just another war fact to be sad about. The young and optionless being let down by our leaders.

Those interested in the full report from the Carsey Institute can get the .pdf here.

PTSD linked to heart disease

This article from Army Times ought to interest readers of this blog:
A groundbreaking study of 1,946 male veterans of World War II and Korea suggests that vets with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are at greater risk of heart attacks as they age.

The new study is the first to document a link between PTSD symptoms and future heart disease, and joins existing evidence that vets with PTSD also have more autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and psoriasis.

A second study, funded by the Army, found that soldiers returning from combat in Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder reported worse physical health, more doctor visits and more missed workdays. The Army study is based on a survey of 2,863 soldiers one year after combat.
I'm tempted to just post the entire story, but you can read the whole thing here.

I can't resist quoting one more segment, though:
Dr. Gary J. Kennedy, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center, called the study “impressive.” He said one symptom of PTSD is avoiding activity, which could account for some of the effect on the heart.

. . .

“We’ve got a whole generation of veterans coming back [from Iraq and Afghanistan] and their health needs are just going to be tremendous,” Kennedy said.
Oh well, if they want to be able to pay for their own health care, they'll just have to go out and get three jobs. I have it on good authority that to do so is uniquely American.

legislation and frustration

Recently Anthony wrote about the new legislation that was just passed. Among other things, this bill allows veterans to have attorneys represent them earlier in the compensation claim process. While on the surface this seems to be good news for veterans, I don't believe that it is, at least not initially.

Veterans are currently represented by claims specialist from National Veterans Organizations, such as the American Legion or the Disabled American Veterans. These groups assist veterans with the paperwork and hearings necessary to pursue their service-connected compensation claims, such as loss of limb, PTSD, etc. Where these organizations fall short is in giving advice to veterans about how best to document and support a claim.

Maybe there just isn't time, but it seems that most veterans end up doing the supportive work on their own, and often after finding out what additional supportive information they need when their claim is rejected or denied by the VA. In theory, the VA also would help the veteran support their claim. In reality, it is a very adversial process.

So, in march the attorneys. Well, VA claims procedures are not taught in law school. It's not a regular court of law. It's a bureacracy with mountains of rules and procedures, and case precedents. How will these attorneys be trained? On the job?

The other issue is payment. Many times a VA comp claim can take ten years or more to go through the system before the veteran is compensated. This is called back pay, paid in a lump sum. There is no interest paid on these delayed payments, even if (as is often the case) VA errors and/or delays caused the late payment. The attorneys will be paid up to 20% of this back pay for their services, minus a 5% or $100 payment to the VA for their processing of the fee check.

So, not only will claims still be a time-consuming experience for veterans, more veterans will now pay out of the back pay for which they have been waiting so long.

Not to worry though, the bill also allows for 500 rental vouchers for homeless veterans for 2007. And a few more for the years following. Surely that will help!

On to rural health care. Right now VA medical facilities are located in large cities, although the majority of recruits are from small towns. So when soldiers return home, most of them go back to their home towns.

The present medical situation makes for long commutes for medical care for many rural veterans. We are talking hours of travel each way. Sick veterans with limited financial resources are trying to access health care that is only available in urban areas. It's not easy.

The new legislation allows for funding to explore better ways of providing health care to rural veterans, including something called "fee basis" which provides for local health care from non-va providers. If this happens it would be good, I think, but expensive. So I'm not at all convinced it will be implemented on a meaningful basis.

In the meantime, our country is seeing, and will continue to see, more wounded soldiers returning to civilian life, and needing these services. Let's hope that our country provides for them. Better yet, write to your congressperson and senators and let them know that support for veterans, compensation claims, and medical care is important to you, a voter.

Remember, supporting veterans is a good way to show the government the true cost of war.