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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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
Fitchett plans a public screening of the film at the institute on Dec. 14.
WWII in Color: NY
Vet's Rare Footage Made Into DVD, NYT, 10.11.2011,
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
“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,
The Wrong Way to Help Veterans
August 19, 2011
The New York Times
By SALLY L. SATEL
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
Survivor of Bataan March, Dies at 105, NYT, 15.8.2011,
Trade Their Swords for Plows
The New York Times
By PATRICIA LEIGH BROWN
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
“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
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
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
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
“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
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
“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
“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,
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