Sunday, November 26, 2006

Vets with PTSD are in a "Catch 22"

The article after this
post covers a subject
very near and dear to
my heart—veterans
suffering from mental
conditions such as
Post Traumatic Stress
Disorder or PTSD.
Here’s the thing, many
mentally ailing vets
just aren’t getting
the help they need.

They go it alone while they are in
service, and then once they are out,
the Veterans Administration (VA)
starts in with it’s stupid games. I know
of this from the guys who have suffered
through it, having heard it from them as
I try to get them the help they need
post service. The points brought out in
Kathleen Parker’s article below only begin
to touch on the problems.
 Since my discharge, from what I’ve seen,
I swear that the armed services and the
VA must be in collusion to deny vets the
help they need to recover and maintain
through the tribulations of their mental
issues. It starts on active duty.
Troops still in service don’t dare report
to Mental Health if they feel they are
having a problem. They know that the
second they do that their careers are
effectively over. This is not a rumor.
It is true. Mental health specialists in
the hospital corps like to advertise that
receiving treatment won’t be career
threatening, but that is utter bunk.
 In any other venue what happens between
patient and “shrink” is confidential,
however, in the military no such confidentiality
exists, even though they claim otherwise.
The very second a military psychiatrist
or psychologist feels that a patient’s condition
is at odds with a security clearance, or
if suicidal ideations are involved, no matter
how fleeting, the patient’s superiors
are informed. At that point it’s all over,
especially if the patient has any rank at all.
So, they suck you in, lie to you, and then
they spit you out. I have run into several
discharged servicemen who have gone through
this career meat grinder still bitter
over the experience. The word gets out, so
as long as folks have intentions of continuing
in uniform they don’t dare get help.
 Ms. Parker states that many of today’s combat
vets will end up on the streets and I believe
that’s true,especially now that the VA seems set
on denying veteran’s claims for help outright,
thus forcing ex-servicemen to medically prove
that they have a mental condition and that the
illness was caused by their service. Should
be easy right? Wrong! As I continue to think
about what I’m going to write next I feel anger
building inside my chest and flowing out to my
stiff arthritic fingers trying to type out my
thoughts.
 Without someone with experience to help them
“navigate” the unnecessarily convoluted VA claims
system, such as a Veterans Service Officer like me,
albeit a volunteer one, most vets with mental a
nd emotional problems do not have a snowball’s
chance in hell to “win” the support they need. It’s
a “Catch 22” situation—an adequate mental capacity
is necessary to negotiate a complicated VA
claim, and most of them are complicated, but
many veterans are just too emotionally fatigued
to fight it out, or can’t wait for the months
and even years it can take for the VA to finally
make the award.For me, it’s maddening!
 I’ll be honest. I have a hard time dealing
with some of these disturbed veterans myself.
Many of these guys are mad at the world and
most of the people in it, including with me.
Understandably, they are especially angry
at the Veterans Administration. Then again
some are too drugged up to be angry. A huge
percentage of foggy-minded vets go through
life never seeking help because of the very
nature of their condition. I can assure you
that these are the VA’s favorite type of
veterans—those that quietly suffer without
seeking any help from anyone, and they are
the men who end up on the street, homeless
and forgotten.
 For the VA, it’s all about money. It is a
soulless institution totally consumed with
the “bottom line.” It is for this reason
that I get so angry at the very politicians
responsible for sending veterans into harm’s
way in the first place, who should be going
out of their way to intervene and make VA claims
easier for those suffering veterans. Members
of one particular political party, recently
voted from power, seem very intent on reducing
the costs incurred by the VA to treat and
compensate veterans with disabilities, a fact
that I find very disconcerting since I’ve mostly
voted for that party. And now,the GAO has also
been hounding the VA about cutting costs, which
is not surprising since the GAO hounds everyone
about watching their pennies. That’s what they do,
but the VA gleefully uses every GAO recommendation
as a mandate to screw veterans. From what I’ve
been observing, I have more than enough reason to
detest the whole lot of them!
 None of those fiscal realities means anything
to veterans with PTSD and chronic depression
lost in the VA claims procedures shuffle.
While the VA struggles to stay within its under
funded budget,partly by strictly enforcing their
eligibility requirements codes, many mentally
challenged vets are too emotionally ruined to
do what’s required of them to “win” their cases.
Even with my four years of experience, I have
had a hard enough time helping my guys manage
their applications to success.
 Kathleen Parker is absolutely correct that a
nonpartisan effort by Congress needs to happen
to make it easier for vets to get the support
they need. I’ve never been in combat, but from
the men I’ve helped who have, I know that the
experience is ruinous. We owe it to them to do
whatever is necessary to compensate and care
for them. The fact that I have to do what I do
before my guys can “beat” the VA at their silly
games is a national travesty.
      
 Veterans need more than applause 
By Kathleen Parker http://www.JewishWorldReview.com  
 The next time you pass a homeless man on the street, you might
ask in which war he served. In the next several years, chances
are good that he (and increasingly she) will say
Iraq or
Afghanistan
.
 That grim prediction is based on several facts: One in three
adult homeless males is a veteran and 45 percent of those suffer
from mental illness, according to the National Coalition for
Homeless Veterans.
 A recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine,
meanwhile, found that one in four veterans of
Iraq and Afghanistan
were diagnosed with some kind of mental health problem.
 And those are just the ones who found their way to a VA hospital.
Many don't. Returning veterans are either embarrassed, untrusting
of government, frustrated by bureaucratic gridlock, or simply
incapable of navigating the system.
 With large numbers of troops likely headed home in the next year,
the U.S. faces a tsunami of psychologically and emotionally
damaged veterans who have no place to go. Those who don't find
the support they need may end up on the streets.
 
Or in prison. In 1998, an estimated 56,500 Vietnam War-era
veterans and 18,500 Persian Gulf War vets were held in state
and federal prisons, according to the 2000 Bureau of Justice
Statistics report, ``Veterans in Prison or Jail.''
 Obviously, not all were model citizens who turned to crime
because of their war experiences. One in six of incarcerated
veterans was not honorably discharged from the military. But
the report says veterans are more likely than others to be in
prison for a violent offense.
 Families of veterans aren't surprised. Men and women trained
to survive in a war zone bring those same skills home and find
themselves unable to function in an alien environment.
 Readjustment symptoms include hyper-vigilance, insomnia,
irritability, exaggerated startle response, withdrawal, isolation,
depression and anger. An act-first-think-later approach to problem
solving may keep one alive in combat, but it's not helpful to
family harmony.
 Cynde Collins-Clark — none other than Oklahoma's 2006 Mother of
the Year — has experienced these problems firsthand. Her son,
Joe, left for
Iraq at 19 with the Army Reserve and returned a
year later 100 percent mentally disabled by post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. Unable to work, Joe
lives at home with his mother, a licensed professional counselor,
and his stepfather.
 Collins-Clark has her son's permission to tell their story in
hopes of helping others. She's especially concerned about those
who will be overwhelmed by a system that even she finds
challenging and maddening. She wonders how a young wife with
small children copes with a sick soldier without any help.
 The biggest problem is simply not enough qualified counselors
— and not enough government funding to meet current needs.
Those needs have grown exponentially, as the number of vets
seeking treatment for PTSD and other mental health issues
doubled from 4,467 to 9,103 between October 2005 and June
2006, according to a report last month by a House subcommittee.
That's just the beginning of the wave building now.
 The Senate last year passed a bill to increase funding for
veterans' mental health programs. Specifically, it would have
increased the number of clinical teams dedicated to the
treatment of PTSD and allowed licensed mental health counselors,
as well as marriage and family therapists, to work at the VA.
The House, however, failed to take action.
 Even without additional funding, the Department of Defense
could help by increasing access to mental health care for
military personnel and their families. Currently, individuals
on TRICARE, the military's health insurance program, can seek
counseling from licensed practitioners only after referral
from a primary physician.
 This process is often too cumbersome for people suffering
mental problems, says Brian Altman, legislative representative
for the American Counseling Association. Also, physicians
untrained in post-combat symptoms frequently misdiagnose and
fail to send patients to counseling.
 A veteran's wife testified before a VA committee last year
that her husband, Capt. Michael Jon Pelkey, was treated for
everything from back pain to erectile dysfunction rather than
PTSD. Pelkey finally was diagnosed properly by a civilian
therapist — one week before he killed himself.
 There can be no more shameful legacy of any war than ignoring
veterans' needs. As Republicans and Democrats vow bipartisan
cooperation, they have no greater priority than to simplify
veterans' access to mental health services.
 Meanwhile, citizens can help. Russ Clark, a Vietnam Marine
vet and minister who counsels veterans through Point Man
International Ministries of Central Ohio, says he'd like to
see community-based ``Welcome Home'' programs in every
village, town and city in America.
 Veterans don't necessarily need a parade, he says,
but they do need acknowledgement, affirmation, counseling,
jobs and housing.
 And a parade wouldn't hurt a bit.

2 comments:

P.O. said...

PJ, YOU WOULD THINK THAT WITH ALL THE EFFORT THAT THE SERVICE INVESTS TO TURN THESE CIVILIANS INTO COMBAT MACHINES IE.BASIC, COMBAT, SURVIVAL, URBAN SWEEP, TERRORIST COMBAT TRAINING AND THEN PLENTY OF RECURRING TRAINING TO HONE THEIR SKILLS THAT WHEN THESE TROOPS ARE RETURNED TO CIVILIAN LIFE THAT THEY WOULD BE OBLIGATED TO UNDO ALL THAT PROGRAMMING. YOU KNOW; BRIEF/DEBRIEF. WITH ALL THE EXPERTS DESIGNING ALL THIS CONDITIONING FOR MILITARY DUTY; YOU KNOW THEY ARE NOT TAKING THIS INTO CONSIDERATION. MILITARY TRAINING TODAY HAS A LOT OF SOPHISTICATION DESIGNED INTO IT BY YEARS OF STUDIES BY ALOT OF PHD'S. ONE WOULD THINK WITH ALL THEY DO TO A GUY GOING IN; THEY WOULD BE REQUIRED TO UNDO WHEN HE GOES OUT. I KNOW IT SOUNDS SIMPLE MINDED BUT SOMETIMES THE OBVIOUS IS JUST THAT.IT'S JUST A THOUGHT. P.O.

PhilippinesPhil said...

You're right P.O. I can tell you this from the vets I've worked with, and it includes WWII combat vets all the way up to contemporary ones, eventually ALL of them are affected by their experiences. Some are worse than others. Some handle it pretty well for decades then POW! A good example is my WWII buddy, Ken, who lived through a maelstrom as a POW "guest" of the Japanese. He made it through an entire second career as a county sheriff and well into into his 70s before he needed help. I interviewed him in 2000 and posted it under "Amazing Survival... " So in partial response to your rhetorical question concerning why can't we do a better job of "deprogramming" our returning combat vets, I think the answer is money. The VA is ultimately responsible for taking care of these guys and they don't have the resources. Still, you ask why we can't "fix" them before we turn them loose. Again, the partial answer is still the same...money. We've rotated how many tens of thousands of people through a war environment since 2001? Its astonomical. We don't have enough psychs and shrinks available to do a proper job and to do what needs to be done. Most guys hide their symptoms anyway. My psychologist buddy always tells me that I can ONLY help myself if I choose to. The same applies to these guys coming back from war, and if they don't ask for help then no one can help them. No one wants to admit that they have a problem. They look around and see others doing okay, so they suck it up and do the best they can. Usually, the people who see the problems are those at home. Its why so many marriages don't make it. I'm sure the services have "programs" designed to "defuse" these returnees, but obviously they can only do so much. I'll ask "S.F Forever" to weigh in on your question since he's seen both sides of it, as both PTSD sufferer and treater.