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Vocapedia > War > Soldiers > Veterans > USA > Veteran Affairs Department    VA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Veterans Affairs Department / Veteran Affairs    VA        USA

 

https://www.nytimes.com/topic/organization/veterans-affairs-department 

https://www.va.gov/

 

 

https://www.npr.org/2018/12/18/
677346997/va-still-arbitrarily-cutting-caregivers-from-program-even-as-it-aims-to-expand

 

https://www.npr.org/2018/08/28/
640918694/a-vets-suicide-pushes-the-va-to-do-better

 

https://www.npr.org/2018/08/15/
638653419/overcoming-a-shameful-past-va-plans-haven-for-homeless-vets-in-west-los-angeles

 

https://www.npr.org/2018/07/19/
630511652/va-whistleblowers-10-times-more-likely-than-peers-to-receive-disciplinary-action

 

https://www.npr.org/2018/06/21/
601127245/for-va-whistleblowers-a-culture-of-fear-and-retaliation

 

https://www.npr.org/2018/06/21/
601127245/for-va-whistleblowers-a-culture-of-fear-and-retaliation

 

https://www.npr.org/2018/05/21/
611733148/vas-caregiver-program-still-dropping-veterans-with-disabilities

 

https://www.npr.org/2018/03/05/
590974647/washington-state-attorney-general-housing-discrimination-against-veterans-is-evi

 

 

 

 

http://www.npr.org/2017/10/28/
560373295/in-thank-you-for-your-service-the-fight-begins-after-iraq

 

http://www.npr.org/2017/04/05/
522690583/caregivers-for-veterans-dropped-from-va-plan

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/11/
opinion/sunday/a-lifeline-for-troubled-veterans.html

 

http://www.npr.org/2017/01/31/
512052311/va-hospitals-still-struggling-with-adding-staff-despite-billions-from-choice-act

 

 

 

 

http://www.npr.org/2016/03/23/
471478050/for-the-vas-broken-health-system-the-fix-needs-a-fix

 

 

 

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/
opinion/sunday/the-vas-woman-problem.html

 

http://www.npr.org/2015/02/25/
387298633/at-va-hospitals-training-and-technology-reduce-nurses-injuries

 

 

 

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/07/us/
buying-upstate-new-york-land-va-closes-chapter-in-building-cemeteries.html

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/03/
opinion/addressing-the-problems-at-the-va.html

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/31/us/
politics/eric-shinseki-resigns-as-veterans-affairs-head.html

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/27/us/
politics/obama-honoring-the-fallen-says-va-problems-must-be-faced.html

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/26/
opinion/thank-you-for-being-expendable.html

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/24/
opinion/why-i-blew-the-whistle-on-the-va.html

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/21/us/
obama-faces-new-test-in-mismanagement-at-veterans-hospitals.html

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/02/us/
va-hospital-officials-in-phoenix-are-placed-on-leave.html

 

 

 

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/20/us/
veterans-affairs-aims-to-reduce-backlog-of-disability-claims.html

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/19/us/
veterans-affairs-dept-to-increase-mental-health-staffing.html

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/08/us/
08vets.html

 

http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2006-05-24-
agencies-data_x.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Soldier Disfigured in War,

a Way to Return to the World

 

January 30, 2012

The New York Times

By JAMES DAO

 

Specialist Joey Paulk awoke from a coma in a Texas hospital three weeks after he was burned nearly to death in Afghanistan. Wrapped in bandages from head almost to toe, he immediately saw his girlfriend and mother, and felt comforted. Then he glanced at his hands, two balls of white gauze, and realized that he had no fingers.

So it began: the shock of recognition. Next came what burn doctors call “the mirror test.” As he was shuffling through a hallway at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, he passed a large mirror that he had turned away from before. This time he steeled himself and looked.

His swollen lower lip hung below his gums. His left lower eyelid drooped hound dog-like, revealing a scarlet crescent of raw tissue. His nostrils were squeezed shut, his chin had virtually disappeared and the top half of one ear was gone. Skin grafts crisscrossed his face like lines on a map, and silver medicine coated his scars, making him look like something out of a Terminator film.

“This is who I am now,” he told himself.

Every severe injury is disfiguring in its own way, but there is something uniquely devastating about having one’s face burned beyond recognition. Many burn victims do not just gain lifelong scars, they also lose noses and ears, fingers and hands. The very shape of their faces is sometimes altered, forged anew in heat and flame.

More than 900 American service members have been severely burned in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001, typically from roadside bombs, the military says. Almost all receive extraordinary emergency care and rehabilitation at Brooke. But many will never have their faces restored.

Mr. Paulk, though, has come close. After leaving Texas, and the Army, in 2009, his mouth and eye still deformed, he returned home to California and became something of a recluse, hiding beneath hooded sweatshirts, baseball caps and dark glasses when he went out, if he went out at all.

But he found his way to a program at U.C.L.A. Medical Center called Operation Mend that provides cosmetic surgery for severely burned veterans at no cost — and the operations fundamentally realigned his face, restoring not just the semblance of his former visage, but also a healthy chunk of his self-confidence.

He is venturing out again, to bars, beaches and ball games. On Veterans Day last year, Mr. Paulk, 26, rode in the lead car of the New York City parade, his head bared for tens of thousands to see.

“The burns on a soldier’s face are huge: It’s your military uniform and you can’t take it off,” he said. “The surgery changed so much on my face that it completely changed my whole outlook on life.”

The story of Mr. Paulk’s cosmetic and emotional revival says much about the ways private philanthropy can complement the overtaxed military and veterans health care systems. Now in its fifth year, Operation Mend has provided free cosmetic surgery to more than 50 badly burned veterans of the current wars. The program estimates it spends $500,000 on each of its patients.

But the story also underscores the difficulties of bringing private care into the military world. Though Operation Mend’s founder envisioned the program as a model for public-private cooperation in treating wounded soldiers, it remains one of only a few such ventures, which include Center for the Intrepid rehabilitation centers and Fisher Houses for military families.

Part of the problem, said Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the outgoing Army vice chief of staff who has embraced Operation Mend, is that many military doctors remain uncomfortable referring patients out of their system, which they view as a protective cocoon for troops and their families. But that attitude is changing, said General Chiarelli, who is pushing for a private program similar to Operation Mend for treating traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. “Our problems are so big, we have to reach out beyond ourselves,” he said.

Mr. Paulk, who grew up and still lives in the town of Vista in northern San Diego County, joined the Army a year out of high school in 2004, thinking it might help him get a job in law enforcement.

On his first deployment, with a military police unit in eastern Afghanistan in 2007, he was in a Humvee when it struck a buried mine that ignited the fuel tank and instantly killed his team leader. Mr. Paulk regained consciousness 20 feet from the truck, engulfed in flames.

In searing pain yet shivering with cold in the 90-degree heat, an odd question popped into Mr. Paulk’s head as he waited to be evacuated: Do I still have hair? Yes, another soldier said; his Kevlar helmet had saved it. “Maybe,” Mr. Paulk told himself, “the burns aren’t so bad, and I’ll still look like me.”

But it was not to be. By the time he awoke in San Antonio from a medically induced coma, he had already undergone numerous operations and skin grafts to patch his charred face, arms and legs. With his mother’s permission, a surgeon had removed all his fingers, which had been burned black and to the bone and were all but certain to become infected. He had lost 50 pounds in barely four weeks.

Over many months, his body accepted the vast majority of his skin grafts and he regained strength. But the one attempt by a surgeon to replace scar tissue on his face had failed, Mr. Paulk felt. After nearly 30 operations in 18 months, he began to resign himself to his appearance, and prepared to return to Vista, suffering from what his doctors called “surgery fatigue.”

“Everyone has a limit,” said Dr. Ivan Renz, the director of the burn unit at Brooke who Mr. Paulk says saved his life. “You get to a point where you go: ‘hold it, I’ve got to go through anesthesia again?’ ”

But before he left Brooke in December 2008, Mr. Paulk met a representative from Operation Mend who urged him to visit U.C.L.A. He took her card, skeptical that anyone could make him look good again.

The program had its origins in late 2006 when a wealthy philanthropist, Ronald A. Katz, was watching a Lou Dobbs interview with a badly burned Marine named Aaron Mankin. Charmed by the Marine but appalled at the extent of his wounds, Mr. Katz’s late wife, Maddie, poked him in the ribs and practically issued an order: “You have to do something!”

The military already had a state-of-the-art burn center at Brooke. But while the center offered reconstructive surgery, its focus was on saving lives and getting the wounded back on their feet. The Department of Veterans Affairs did not provide reconstructive surgery unless it was deemed medically necessary to restore, promote or preserve health — criteria that did not seem to include making someone look better.

During the coming year, Mr. Katz enlisted the support of U.C.L.A. and a respected reconstructive surgeon on its faculty, Dr. Timothy Miller, a Vietnam veteran. One of Mr. Katz’s daughters-in-law began assembling volunteer “buddy families” to meet patients at the airport, entertain them and accompany their families to the hospital. He met with General Chiarelli and began to slowly win over the doctors at Brooke.

Mr. Paulk remained a tough sell. But the smaller indignities of his injuries made him relent when an Operation Mend representative called again. He could not open his mouth wide enough to eat a hamburger. Could Dr. Miller fix that? And what about his misshapen lips, which made it impossible for him to pronounce his own name? Dr. Miller pledged to have Mr. Paulk whistling and eating double cheeseburgers again.

With the first surgery, Dr. Miller removed scar tissue, raising the eye lid and lower lip. With second and third operations, he improved the alignment of Mr. Paulk’s eyes and lips by replacing scars with healthy tissue. A fourth surgery implanted silicone to add definition to his chin.

At a recent checkup in Dr. Miller’s office, Mr. Paulk admired his new profile in the mirror. “From a distance, you can’t tell I was injured,” he said.

There are still uncomfortable moments. Some drunks taunted him about his looks at a baseball game, nearly starting a brawl. And Mr. Paulk admits to moments of self-consciousness about his hands. When, for instance, a little girl gawked at him at U.C.L.A. recently, he reflexively tucked his palms under his armpits.

But he has also learned how to function: to put on socks, pull up zippers and tie shoes. He can send texts and drive. He can’t play his beloved baseball, and video games remain a challenge, but he manages to catch a football and spike a volleyball with his palms.

And he looks remarkably comfortable holding a drink at a party.

“Sometimes I’ll hold my cup against my body so I can talk with my hands, and I’ll maneuver and pick it up and everyone thinks it’s so intriguing,” he said. “But I’m just doing what I’m doing to survive.”

For Soldier Disfigured in War, a Way to Return to the World,
NYT,
30.1.2012,
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/31/us/
for-soldier-disfigured-in-afghanistan-a-way-to-return-to-the-world.html

 

 

 

 

 

WWII in Color:

NY Vet's Rare Footage

Made Into DVD

 

November 10, 2011
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. (AP) — Edwin Fitchett, home movie camera in hand, had no plans to get close-ups of his boss that rainy, steamy day in the Philippines 65 years ago. He just wanted to capture the commotion of the Independence Day celebration in Manila.

But the boss was Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander of Allied forces in the Pacific, and when Fitchett, a junior officer who was off duty, found himself within arm's length of one of the world's most recognizable figures, he took advantage.

With his khaki uniform helping him blend in with the military photographers in the crowd, the 24-year-old second lieutenant eased his way into the throng of press cameramen covering the festivities on July 4, 1946, the day independence was declared. He trained his Kodak Model K on the American general who two years earlier had carried out his famous vow to return to the Philippines.

"I felt a little queasy about it," Fitchett recalled recently in the den of his home in Poughkeepsie, in New York's Hudson Valley. "He could have banished me off to the moon if he wanted to."

Instead, he captured rare color footage of a hatless MacArthur, sans his signature corncob pipe and aviator sunglasses, chatting with newly elected Filipino president Manuel Roxas and other officials as Filipinos celebrate their first day of independence from the United States. The scenes are among the highlights of "Ed Fitchett's Army Memories, 1945-1946," a 71-minute DVD Fitchett produced from the home movies he filmed while serving in the Pacific at the end of World War II.

Much of his DVD resembles a 1940s movie travelogue rather than a wartime newsreel: young, shirtless American soldiers toss a football on a sunny beach; friendly locals wave from a dugout canoe gliding in front of a jungle waterfall; merchants peddle their goods on crowded streets.

But the aftermath of the just-concluded war also fills many scenes, from battle-damaged government buildings in a devastated Manila to sunken Japanese ships dotting a harbor in Formosa (now Taiwan). Stored for the past 65 years in the basement of Fitchett's house, the footage offers a GI's view of street and country life in the Philippines and Japan not usually seen in official military films from World War II.

"Not many people were interested" in seeing his Pacific movies once he returned from the war, said the 89-year-old retired dairy company executive.

"There was so much war news that most people had enough of it by this point," Fitchett said. "My stuff didn't impress them much."

Because the U.S. military prohibited troops from having unauthorized cameras in a war zone, such home movie-style films are uncommon, said Seth Paridon, manager of research services National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

"Overseas home movies from World War II are rare, period," he said.

Black-and-white newsreels of the Filipino Independence Day ceremonies exist, said Nick Cullather, associate professor of history at Indiana University, but Fitchett's film is the only color footage of the event he has seen. The film includes a brief glimpse of the U.S. flag being lowered during the ceremony while the Filipino flag is being raised, an image that appears on the Philippines' 100-peso bill.

"It was very well-shot, very professionally done," said Cullather, author of a 1994 book on U.S-Philippines relations during the war years.

Fitchett got his first movie camera at 15 and recorded family trips and holiday gatherings. He continued his hobby when he entered Cornell University in 1940, filming college and fraternity life on the Ivy League campus in Ithaca, N.Y. He enlisted in the Army in September 1942 but remained stateside until July 1945, when his artillery battalion was shipped to the Pacific. His unit was training for the pending invasion of Japan when the war ended just weeks after they arrived in the Philippines.

With U.S. military censorship restrictions lifted, Fitchett had his camera sent from home, along with any rolls of Kodak color film his parents could find. Soon he was taking the camera along on sightseeing trips to Manila and the Philippines countryside, often in the battalion's flimsy two-seater planes used as aerial spotters.

From the air, he filmed battle damage in Manila Bay, the city of Manila and on the battered island of Corregidor. On the nearby Bataan peninsula, scene of the infamous Death March in 1942, Fitchett's buddies used the beaches as a landing strip and spent a day swimming, tossing a football and visiting a fishing village.

His film also includes footage from a Japanese POW camp Fitchett commanded after the surrender. The prisoners included hundreds of Formosans and Koreans conscripted into the Japanese military as soldiers and laborers. The footage shows the POWs in their camp and later aboard the U.S.S. John L. Sullivan, which transported them back home.

A longtime supporter of a travel and adventure film series at the Vassar Brothers Institute in Poughkeepsie, Fitchett hadn't given much thought to his footage until one a speaker at the series told him they may have some historical importance. So this year, Fitchett had the films edited and transferred to DVD, adding music, sound effects and his own narration. He's selling them to cover his costs.

Fitchett plans a public screening of the film at the institute on Dec. 14.

___

Online:

http://www.FitchettFilm.com

    WWII in Color: NY Vet's Rare Footage Made Into DVD, NYT, 10.11.2011,
    http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2011/11/10/us/AP-US-WWII-Veteran-Film-.html

 

 

 

 

 

Discharged for Being Gay,

Veterans Seek to Re-enlist

 

September 4, 2011
The New York Times
By JAMES DAO

 

They lived shadow lives in the military, afraid that disclosure of their sexuality would ruin carefully plotted careers. Many were deeply humiliated by drawn-out investigations and unceremonious discharges.

Yet despite their bitter partings with the armed forces, many gay men and lesbians who were discharged under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy say they want to rejoin the service, drawn by a life they miss or stable pay and benefits they could not find in civilian life.

By some estimates, hundreds of gay men and lesbians among the more than 13,000 who were discharged under the policy have contacted recruiters or advocacy groups saying they want to re-enlist after the policy is repealed on Sept. 20.

Bleu Copas is one. He had been in the Army for just three years when someone sent an anonymous e-mail to his commanders telling them he was gay. After he was discharged in 2006 under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the military’s ban on openly gay troops, “It took away all my value as a person,” he recalled.

Michael Almy is another. When the Air Force began its investigation into whether he was gay, it suspended his security clearance and relieved him of his command. On his final day in service in 2006, police officers escorted him to the gate. “It left kind of a bitter taste,” he said.

Though the Pentagon says it will welcome their applications, former service members discharged for homosexuality will not be granted special treatment. They will have to pass physical fitness tests and prove that they have skills the armed services need right now. Some will have aged to the point that they will need waivers to get back in.

Even if they pass those hurdles, there is no guarantee that they will go back to their former jobs or ranks. And because the armed services are beginning to shrink, some will be rejected because there are no available slots.

People discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell” who wish to return to service “will be evaluated according to the same criteria and requirements applicable to all others seeking re-entry into the military,” said Eileen Lainez, a Pentagon spokeswoman. “The services will continue to base accessions of prior-service members on the needs of the service and the skills and qualifications of the applicants.”

To be eligible for re-enlistment, former service members cannot have been discharged under “other than honorable conditions,” Ms. Lainez said. The majority of people released under the policy since 1993 — a significant number of them highly trained intelligence analysts and linguists — received honorable discharges.

As with all people who join the military, the reasons for wanting to rejoin vary widely. Some say they want to finish what they started, but on their own terms. Others point to the steady pay, good health care and retirement benefits. Still others talk idealistically about a desire to serve and be part of an enterprise larger than themselves.

“It’s a hunger,” said Mr. Copas, who now works with homeless veterans in Knoxville, Tenn. “It doesn’t necessarily make sense. It’s the idea of faith, like an obligation to family.”

Jase Daniels was actually discharged twice. Because of a clerical error, the Navy failed to note on his records that the reason for his first discharge in 2005 was homosexuality. So the following year, when his services as a linguist were needed, the Pentagon recalled him.

“I wanted to go back so bad, I was jumping up and down,” he said. “The military was my life.”

He was open about his sexual orientation while deployed to Kuwait for a year, he says. But a profile of him in Stars and Stripes led to a new investigation, and he was discharged a second time upon coming home in 2007.

Now 29, Mr. Daniels says that in the years since, “I’ve had no direction in my life.” He wants to become an officer and learn Arabic, saying he is confident he will be accepted because he has already served as an openly gay man.

“No one cared that I was gay,” he said of his year in Kuwait. “What mattered was I did a good job.”

The issue of rank could discourage many from rejoining. Because there are fixed numbers of jobs or ratings in each of the armed services, some people might have to accept lower ranks to re-enlist. And those allowed to keep their former ranks will still find themselves lagging their onetime peers.

“I’ve been out six years, so my peers are way ahead of me in the promotion structure,” said Jarrod Chlapowski, 29, a Korean linguist who left the Army voluntarily in 2005 as a specialist because he hated keeping his sexual orientation a secret. He is now thinking about rejoining.

“It’s going to be a different Army than the one I left,” he said. “And that’s a little intimidating.”

Mr. Almy, 41, Mr. Daniels and another former service member have filed a lawsuit asserting that they were unconstitutionally discharged and should be reinstated, presumably at their former ranks. A former major, Mr. Almy, who was deployed at least four times to the Middle East, was among the highest-ranking members removed under the ban.

But even advocates for gay and lesbian troops say it might not be practical for the military to adopt a blanket policy of allowing all service members discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell” to return to their previous ranks.

“You have to think long and hard from a policy perspective whether you want to put somebody who’s been out 5 or 10 years back into the same billet just because an injustice was done,” said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, a gay rights advocacy group. Mr. Nicholson, 30, who was discharged in 2002, is considering going to law school and trying to become an officer.

For Mr. Copas, who is 35, age could be a factor in whether he gets back in. An Arabic linguist during his first enlistment, he is thinking of learning Dari or Pashto so he can go to Afghanistan. He also is a musician and has a master’s degree in counseling.

But the Army may consider him too old and demand that he get a waiver. Even as he searches the Web for potential Army jobs, he worries that he will jump through many hoops only to be rejected again.

“It almost feels like I’m getting back in bed with a bad lover,” he said. “I’m still dying to serve. But I don’t know how realistic it is.”

    Discharged for Being Gay, Veterans Seek to Re-enlist, NYT, 4.9.2011,
   
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/05/us/05reenlist.html

 

 

 

 

 

Wounded Iraqi Veterans

Face a New Battle

 

September 3, 2011

The New York Times

By TIM ARANGO

and YASIR GHAZI

 

BAGHDAD — It is hard to say which is a worse indignity to the thousands of Iraqi soldiers and police officers who have suffered crippling injuries fighting alongside the Americans in a war that continues today: receiving subpar medical care from the government they fought to preserve, or a new law that could slash their already paltry benefits.

“We are defending the Iraqi people,” said Ali Mohammad Heaal, who was a police trainee when he lost his left arm in a car bomb attack in 2005 and now works at a nongovernmental organization that advocates on behalf of wounded members of Iraq’s security forces. “Right now, we feel humiliated.”

Mr. Heaal’s organization, the Lanterns of Mercy, is trying to overturn the new law, passed in July by Parliament, that raises the salaries of active-duty soldiers and police officers but reduces government payments to those who have been wounded, including those who have lost limbs and have been unable to obtain prosthetics to enable them to work again. The law could be put into effect as soon as this month.

His efforts appear to be paying dividends, as some members of Parliament now say they never intended to reduce compensation for war veterans and plan to consider amending the legislation. Even in Iraq, it seems, politicians are finding that there are risks to laws that appear to abandon veterans.

“We are studying it,” said Abbas al-Bayati, a lawmaker and a member of the security committee. “If we find there are problems, we are ready to modify it in a way that keeps the level of compensation for their sacrifices.”

As it is written now, the law would also reduce lump-sum payments to those who were severely wounded and rescind a provision from a previous law that awarded land to victims — even though many have not received any property.

Mr. Bayati said that the intention of the law was to raise salaries for active-duty soldiers and police officers, and that he was unaware of the provisions that reduced compensation for veterans. “This is an unintentional mistake, and we will address it through amendment as soon as possible,” he said.

Another lawmaker, Najiha Abdulamir, a member of a parliamentary commission for wounded veterans, said that if Parliament did not change the law, then veterans should “demonstrate and demand their rights.”

The controversy comes as the American military prepares to withdraw, leaving the fighting to Iraq’s soldiers and police officers, who continue to take casualties from insurgent attacks almost daily, and who face those dangers without the comfort of knowing that their country will care for them and honor their sacrifices if they are hurt.

The new law that will reduce veterans’ benefits has Iraq’s wounded feeling dishonored and ignored. Many recall Saddam Hussein’s time, when those who sacrificed to preserve a dictator’s power were rewarded with land and money. “If you compare now to the previous regime, it would have been better,” Mr. Heaal said. “And they call this a democracy.”

Many joined Iraq’s new army after it was reconstituted in 2005 for a mix of motives, economic and patriotic.

“There were no opportunities for work in 2003,” said Ali Jasim, 39, who fought alongside American soldiers and Marines before losing a leg in 2005 when he was struck by a roadside bomb while securing polling sites for a national referendum that year on Iraq’s new constitution. “I also felt I needed to protect my country.”

He and his sister, and their children, are squatters in a ramshackle and boxlike home constructed of concrete blocks in a poor Shiite neighborhood that is a maze of dirt alleys.

On a recent afternoon, Mr. Jasim was spending his day as he always does: lying on the floor, his head propped up on a pillow, sweltering from the lack of air-conditioning and surrounded by his children. Like many men in his position, he is experiencing a severe economic hardship that, with the passage of the new law, could get worse.

After his injury, Mr. Jasim continued to receive his full pay — which had included a combat bonus and allowances for food — of $700 a month. It was then reduced to $450 when the government stopped paying the extra danger pay. Under the new law, he said, his pay will fall to $200.

Mr. Heaal, the former police trainee, was forced to sell his house to pay for medical treatment after being wounded. He receives $530 a month, and he could see his compensation fall to under $200 a month.

The law has added a new layer of resentment toward politicians who operate in a sphere of corruption and favoritism, and who are widely seen as out of touch with most of the Iraqi people.

“I joined the police to protect my country in a time when you were afraid of going outside the Green Zone,” said Falah Hassan Abed, who was displaced from his home because he could not work after losing his right leg in 2005, directing his rage at lawmakers. “I was face to face with the ruthless killers, the terrorists. In return, I just want to live in dignity, me and my family, and not be forced to beg to feed my family. I want to feel that there is someone who is grateful for what I did and what I lost.”

In some ways the thousands of casualties among Iraq’s army and police are the forgotten victims of the war, overshadowed in many accounts of the conflict’s toll by the numbers of American troops and Iraqi civilians who have been killed or wounded. Those numbers are familiar and easily referenced: close to 5,000 American military personnel killed, and nearly 100,000 Iraqi civilians killed, according to some accounts. Among Iraq’s security forces, more than 10,000 have been killed, according to the Iraq Index compiled by the Brookings Institution, and while there is no precise estimate for the number wounded, that figure is certainly in the tens of thousands.

A further grievance for these soldiers and police officers is the knowledge that the American soldiers and Marines who fought with them returned home to a country that may not have supported the war, but supported them. They have glimpsed television images of American presidents visiting the wounded in military hospitals.

“Here in Iraq, we don’t have any officials visiting us,” Mr. Heaal said. “And now they are punishing us with this new law.”

 

Duraid Adnan contributed reporting.

    Wounded Iraqi Veterans Face a New Battle, NYT, 3.9.2011,
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/world/middleeast/04iraq.html

 

 

 

 

 

The Wrong Way to Help Veterans

 

August 19, 2011
The New York Times
By SALLY L. SATEL

 

Washington

IF all goes according to plan, by the end of the year, 10,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan will be home with their families — and their memories. As many as 20 percent of them will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression, while suicide rates have reached tragic new highs among veterans. In response, the Department of Veterans Affairs has greatly expanded its mental health services and made veterans well aware that disability benefits are available.

It seems only logical that a veteran who thinks he has a long-lasting impairment as a result of military service would file a disability claim. The problem is that the system allows him to receive these benefits for a condition without ever having been properly treated for it. As a result, a system intended to speed up entitlements for veterans could end up hurting them.

Currently, for a disability determination, Veterans Affairs requires the claimant to go through a psychiatric exam, also known as a “comp and pension.” But the session typically lasts just 90 minutes and does not provide enough information for an examiner to make a firm decision about a veteran’s future function — that is, whether he or she will continue to be sick in a way that impairs the ability to work, and thus require compensation.

After all, gauging the prognosis of mental injury in the wake of war is not as straightforward as assessing a lost limb. What’s more, it is very difficult to predict the pace and extent of a patient’s progress when the odds of success also depend heavily on nonmedical factors: the veteran’s own expectations for recovery, availability of family and social support, and the intimate meaning the patient makes of his or her distress, wartime hardships and sacrifice. And there is an even more delicate risk: awarding disability status prematurely can actually complicate a veteran’s path to recovery.

Consider a real-life case, a young soldier returning from Afghanistan, whom I’ll call Joe. He is 23 years old and suffers from classic P.T.S.D. He is plagued by bloody nightmares. When awake, he can barely concentrate, twitches with anxiety and feels emotionally detached from everything and everybody. He fears he’ll never be able to hold a job, have a family or fully function in society. He applies for “total” disability compensation for P.T.S.D., about $2,600 a month. The only humane thing to do, it would seem, is to grant the poor man those benefits.

But it’s more complicated than that. In fact, total disability is probably the last thing Joe needs, because it will confirm his fears that he will remain deeply impaired for years, if not for life.

While a sad verdict for anyone, it is especially awful for someone so young. Imagine telling someone with a spinal injury that he’ll never walk again — before he has had surgery and physical therapy.

This isn’t a problem unique to veterans. Anyone who is unwittingly encouraged to see himself as seriously and chronically disabled risks fulfilling that prophecy. “Why should I bother with treatment?” he might think. Once someone is caught in such a downward spiral of invalidism, it can be hard to reverse course.

It’s not just a matter of self-doubt. Such premature decisions create dependency, leading a capable veteran to fear losing the financial safety net if he leaves the disability rolls to take a job that ends up demanding too much.

Of course, some veterans will remain so irretrievably wounded by their war experiences that they are not likely to ever participate in the competitive workplace, and generous support is due them. But it borders on malpractice to allow young veterans to surrender to psychological wounds without first urging them to pursue recovery.

Instead, Veterans Affairs should adopt a treatment-first approach. The sequence would begin with treatment, move to rehabilitation and then, if necessary, assess a patient for disability status, should meaningful functional deficits persist.

At the same time, veterans too fragile for employment while in intensive therapy and rehabilitation — which, for some, could last up to a year — should receive financial support. Not disability payments, mind you, with their specter of permanent debilitation; call it a “recovery benefit” — as generous as total disability, but temporary.

With some exceptions, it is both realistic and important to instill the expectation in veterans that they will get better and find a comfortable and productive niche within the community and family. The road home from war is already an arduous one — the mental health system shouldn’t make it any longer than it already is.

 

Sally L. Satel, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute

and a lecturer in psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine,

is co-author of “The Health Disparities Myth:

Diagnosing the Treatment Gap.”

The Wrong Way to Help Veterans,
NYT, 19.8.2011,
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/20/
opinion/the-wrong-way-to-help-veterans.html

 

 

 

 

 

Albert Brown,

Survivor of Bataan March,

Dies at 105

 

August 15, 2011
The New York Times
By DENNIS HEVESI

 

Albert Brown, the oldest American survivor of the Bataan Death March, in which as many as 11,000 soldiers died at the hands of the Japanese in the Philippines in 1942, and perhaps the oldest American veteran of World War II, died Sunday in Nashville, Ill. He was 105 and lived in Pinckneyville, Ill.

His death was confirmed by Kevin Moore, co-author with Don Morrow of “Forsaken Heroes of the Pacific War: One Man’s True Story” (2011), a biography of Mr. Brown.

In 2007, Mr. Brown was acknowledged by other members of the veterans organization American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor as the oldest living survivor of the six-day death march. The American War Library in Gardena, Calif., lists Mr. Brown as the nation’s oldest World War II veteran, but that could not be confirmed.

Mr. Brown, then an Army captain, was among the approximately 76,000 Americans and Filipinos forced to march 66 miles on the Bataan peninsula starting on April 10, 1942.

The Japanese had invaded the Philippines two weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. American and Filipino forces were overmatched and retreated into the mountainous jungles of Bataan. After four months of intense fighting — their ranks reduced by hunger and disease and with no reinforcements in sight — they surrendered.

With many already close to death, they were forced to trudge toward a prisoner-of-war camp during a torrid time of year with little food or water. Those who stopped were killed. Japanese soldiers fractured skulls with rifle butts and cut off heads. Prisoners who tried to help fallen comrades were bludgeoned or stabbed. “One 18-year-old I knew, he fell down,” Mr. Brown said in the book. “A guard came along and put a gun to his head, pulled the trigger and walked away.”

The nightmare was hardly over when the survivors arrived at the camp, or at the other camps in Japan to which many, including Captain Brown, were later taken. In three years in captivity Captain Brown was regularly beaten; thrown down stairs, seriously injuring his back; and struck in the neck by a rifle butt, causing a fracture. Though nearly 6 feet, he weighed 90 pounds when he was freed after the Japanese surrender.

Albert Neir Brown was born in North Platte, Neb., on Oct. 26, 1905, to Albert and Ida Fonda Brown. His father was a railroad engineer; his mother was an aunt of the actor Henry Fonda.

Young Albert was in the R.O.T.C. in high school and at Creighton University, from which he graduated in 1927 with a dentistry degree. A decade later, at 32, he was called into the Army.

Mr. Brown is survived by a daughter, Peggy Doughty; a son, Graham; 12 grandchildren; 28 great-grandchildren; and 19 great-great-grandchildren. His wife of 58 years, the former Helen Johnson, died in 1985.

Promoted to major, Mr. Brown spent two years in an Army hospital after the war. He later moved to Los Angeles, where he bought property and rented apartments. War injuries prevented his working as a dentist.

He moved to Illinois in 1998 to live with his daughter.

In the P.O.W. camps, Mr. Brown said: “We were listed in groups of 10. If one escaped out of the 10, they eliminated the rest of them, killed them. So, at night, just before roll call, you tried to find out if your 10 were still there.”

    Albert Brown, Survivor of Bataan March, Dies at 105, NYT, 15.8.2011,
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/16/us/16brown.html

 

 

 

 

 

Helping Veterans

Trade Their Swords for Plows

 

February 5, 2011
The New York Times
By PATRICIA LEIGH BROWN

 

VALLEY CENTER, Calif. — On an organic farm here in avocado country, a group of young Marines, veterans and Army reservists listened intently to an old hand from the front lines.

“Think of it in military terms,” he told the young recruits, some just back from Iraq or Afghanistan. “It’s a matter of survival, an uphill battle. You have to think everything is against you and hope to stay alive.”

The battle in question was not the typical ground assault, but organic farming — how to identify beneficial insects, for instance, or to prevent stray frogs from clogging an irrigation system. It was Day 2 of a novel boot camp for veterans and active-duty military personnel, including Marines from nearby Camp Pendleton, who might be interested in new careers as farmers.

“In the military, grunts are the guys who get dirty, do the work and are generally underappreciated,” said Colin Archipley, a decorated Marine Corps infantry sergeant turned organic farmer, who developed the program with his wife, Karen, after his three tours in Iraq. “I think farmers are the same.”

At their farm, called Archi’s Acres, the sound of crickets and croaking frogs communes with the drone of choppers. The syllabus, approved by Camp Pendleton’s transition assistance program, includes hands-on planting and irrigating, lectures about “high-value niche markets” and production of a business plan that is assessed by food professionals and business professors.

Along with Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots, a new program for veterans at the University of Nebraska’s College of Technical Agriculture, and farming fellowships for wounded soldiers, the six-week course offered here is part of a nascent “veteran-centric” farming movement. Its goal is to bring the energy of young soldiers re-entering civilian life to the aging farm population of rural America. Half of all farmers are likely to retire in the next decade, according to the Agriculture Department.

“The military is not for the faint of heart, and farming isn’t either,” said Michael O’Gorman, an organic farmer who founded the nonprofit Farmer-Veteran Coalition, which supports sustainable-agriculture training. “There are eight times as many farmers over age 65 as under. There is a tremendous need for young farmers, and a big wave of young people inspired to go into the service who are coming home.”

About 45 percent of the military comes from rural communities, compared with one-sixth of the total population, according to the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. In 2009, the Agriculture Department began offering low-interest loans in its campaign to add 100,000 farmers to the nation’s ranks each year.

Among them will probably be Sgt. Matt Holzmann, 33, a Marine at Camp Pendleton who spent seven months in Afghanistan. He did counterinsurgency work and tried to introduce aquaponics, a self-replenishing agricultural system, to rural villages.

His zeal for aquaponics led him to the farming class. “It’s a national security issue,” he said the other day outside a garage-turned-classroom filled with boxes of Dr. Earth Kelp Meal. “The more responsibly we use water and energy, the greater it is for our country.”

Mr. O’Gorman, a pacifist and a pioneer of the baby-lettuce business, started the coalition after his son joined the Coast Guard. The group recently received a grant from the Bob Woodruff Foundation, co-founded by the ABC News journalist who was wounded in Iraq, to provide farming fellowships for wounded young veterans.

“Beginning farming has become the cause du jour among young people with college degrees and trust funds,” Mr. O’Gorman said at the farm, where there were stacks of Mother Earth News magazines in the bathroom and a batch of fresh kale in the sink. “My gut sense is a lot of them won’t be farming five years from now. But these vets will.”

Mr. Archipley’s own journey into organic farming was somewhat serendipitous. He joined the Marines in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and married between his second and third tours in Iraq. The couple bought three acres of avocado orchards north of San Diego.

Mr. Archipley, whose looks bring to mind a surfer dude, found pleasure tending his grove after leaving the Marines and eventually secured a loan from the Agriculture Department to build a greenhouse. His farm now sells organic produce to Whole Foods Markets in San Diego and Los Angeles.

In 2007, the couple started training veterans informally, financing the effort themselves. The new course, administered through MiraCosta College, costs $4,500, with Camp Pendleton offering assistance for active-duty Marines.

Farming offers veterans a chance to decompress, Mr. Archipley said, but, more important, provides a sense of purpose. “It allows them to be physically active, be part of a unit,” he said. “It gives them a mission statement — a responsibility to the consumer eating their food.”

Even in this idyllic setting, it can be a challenging process. Mike Nelson Hanes, now 34, enlisted in the Marines at 18. In 1994, six days into his basic training in South Carolina, his drill instructor committed suicide with an M-16 rifle in front of 59 recruits.

“He blew his head off,” Mr. Hanes said. “That was right from the get-go, at age 18.”

In Baghdad, Mr. Hanes served as a .50-caliber machine gunner atop a Humvee. “I was the one they were trying to kill,” he said. He returned home with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and a traumatic brain injury. He was homeless for over a year, managing nevertheless to get a degree in environmental social services.

“Being outside was my comfort zone — still is,” he said. Two years ago, he stumbled upon the Archipleys’ “Veterans for Sustainable Agriculture” booth at an Earth Day festival in Balboa Park in San Diego. Mr. Hanes still struggles but is gaining ground.

“One thing I’ve noticed about agriculture is that you become a creator rather than a destroyer,” he said amid ornamental eucalyptus shrubs.

John Maki, Camp Pendleton’s transition assistance program specialist, said the life experiences of young veterans equip them for demanding work. “For a comparable age, you won’t find people who have had as much responsibility,” he said. “They’ve been tasked with making life-and-death decisions.”

Weldon Sleight, dean of the University of Nebraska’s College of Technical Agriculture, which has six enrolled veterans, said discipline — a mainstay of the armed forces — was critically important in agriculture. “A lot of these rural vets have this wonderful knowledge base about agriculture,” he added. “But we’ve told them for years there’s no future in it.”

In Central Florida, Adam Burke, who left farming to join the military, came full circle, designing a wheelchair-accessible farm in which his signature “red, white and blueberries” grow in containers on elevated beds.

Mr. Burke, a Purple Heart recipient who suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq, recently opened a second farm. “Squeezing a ball in physical therapy gets monotonous,” he said. “And you don’t get the mist from the sprinklers or a cool breeze in a psychologist’s office.”

Matthew McCue, 29, formerly Sergeant McCue, runs Shooting Star CSA outside San Francisco with his partner, Lily Schneider, delivering boxes of organic produce directly to consumers.

He recalled how orchard farmers in Iraq pridefully shared their pomegranates, tomatoes and melons.

“You learn how to face death,” he said of his service in Iraq. But in farming, he learned, “There was life all around.”

Helping Veterans Trade Their Swords for Plows,
NYT,
5.2.2011,
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/06/us/06vets.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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